I GREW UP HEARING the refrain “Baseball and Ballantine” sung on endless commercials while watching Phillies games on television in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the early ’60s. Ballantine was a local brewery and its beer was very affordable and very popular. They sponsored the broadcast of the games because and what goes better together than beer and baseball?
Well, how about LSD and baseball? And rather than answer that question, take a few minutes out of your day and watch this brief, entertaining, enlightening video about just that topic.
On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres. But not any no-hitter: Ellis claims to have been under the influence of LSD when he did what relatively pitchers have ever done. The feat remains a bone of contention forty-five years later!
It was a Friday
Journalist Patrick Hruby wrote “The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis” for ESPN’s Outside the Lines in August 2012. Hruby cooly and cleverly refers to the game as an “Electric Kool-Aid No-No.” This is an allusion to Tom Wolfe’s 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, a non-fiction novel that chronicles the doings of novelist Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and his band of Merry Pranksters.
Hruby notes, “It was a Friday. That much is certain.” And little else about the events of that day are certain. Hruby states:
“For the psychedelically inclined, the mere notion of [an] LSD no-no stands as the counterculture answer to Babe Ruth’s called shot, the pinnacle of mastering one’s high. For everyone else, the game is far out, man, a funky bit of sports folklore, appropriated and embellished, passed around like an old baseball card.”
Hruby quotes Pirates trainer and Ellis’s friend Tony Bartirome, as saying, “Dock only gave up one hard hit that night, on a ball fielded by Mazeroski. He might have said that just to jerk somebody off.”
The mere notion of an LSD no-hitter stands as the counterculture answer to Babe Ruth’s called shot.
Hruby notes that the Ellis no-hitter has been used by comedian Robin Williams during a stand-up routine, an art gallery displayed a baseball coated with acid, and that it has been the subject of paintings, T-shirts, and surfboard designs.
There was even a petition demanding that Major League Baseball release footage of the game. “No such footage is believed to exist, although a Pirates team photographer did record a few grainy, black-and-white minutes of Ellis throwing and slipping on the mound, later broadcast by HBO.”
This being 21st century America, the fact that MLB claims that there is no footage has led to various non-sensical conspiracy theories.
Hruby notes an article in High Times magazine that reported that Ellis saw a comet tail behind his pitches and a multicolored path to catcher Jerry May. But, in the end, Hruby concluded:
“Fact is, Ellis didn’t remember much: When sportscaster Curt Gowdy interviewed him the next day during a nationally televised game, the pitcher was still blotted out, as high as a Georgia pine. This was by design.”
Hruby’s piece is lengthy: It will take you an hour to read it but it is worth it. Although it has an annoying website design (the too busy parallax scrolling effects), it has several fabulous illustrations by Joe Ciardiello!
This is the opening illustration by Joe Ciardiello for Patrick Hruby’s article “The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis.”
A difficult game to play
The folks at Snopes.com took a far more skeptical look at the situation (and this is slightly edited for this blog):
“Only Dock Ellis knows whether or not he actually took LSD the day he pitched his no-hitter, and therefore we have to take him at his word. Even if Ellis did ingest LSD that day, however, judging by the extent to which the drug was affecting him by the time he took part in the evening’s game is problematic.
Baseball is a difficult game to play at the major league level, even for skilled professionals free from the effects of mind-altering substances, yet Ellis managed to pitch a complete game that evening; [he] apparently did not act so unusually that his teammates or manager took notice; and [he] was quite lucid while conducting post-game interviews with the press.
Although Ellis might correctly be described as having ‘been under the influence of LSD’ during his no-hitter, quite possibly the drug’s primary effects had peaked and were wearing off by game time.”
Long Strange Trips
I have experienced (as in Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?) more than a few long, strange trips in my life. I can verify that the view taken by the Snopes people makes sense: The effects of LSD vary dramatically from trip to trip based on such things as the manufacturer and the dose. By 1970, the majority of the acid on the street was being made by illegal “bathtub chemists.”
While a well-connected individual could easily find some pharmaceutical-grade LSD from Sandoz or Lilly, it was easier and far less expensive to find some made by Owsley or the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Street acid in 1970 was considerably more potent than the acid available to most people in 2019. Hits of acid (pills and blotter were most common then) with 250 to 400 micrograms of LSD were not unusual.
When I did acid forty years ago, the only thing I knew about the dosage was whatever the person selling me the acid told me. At the time, I usually bought acid from people I knew and they always sampled their wares before selling them. But that was the extent of the knowledge most of us had. We “dropped” the acid and hoped for the best—and most of the time, the best is what we got!
Street acid in 1970 was considerably more potent than the acid available to most people in 2019.
Exactly what I or anyone else was capable of doing on any given trip varied: I have driven a car in busy traffic when I was so high that I couldn’t afford to look too long at the magical red brake lights of the cars in front of me (it was an emergency that had me behind the wheel). I have also done acid where saying anything more intelligible than, “Oh, wow!” was nigh on impossible!
It’s quite common to see tails (or trails) behind a moving object while tripping as Ellis claims he saw behind each ball he pitched. It’s possible to have pinpoint control over those pitched balls, although that would seem to be a rare occasion. It would be just as likely that Ellis would have been so entranced by the colored trails that he would throw the ball anywhere, including straight up and play catch with himself!
(And I want to tell the non-experienced reader that no matter how high you have been on marijuana, you ain’t never been remotely close to what happens on acid. And the only way you can ever know that I’m speaking the truth is to drop some acid.)
I can also verify anything Ellis claims did happen could have happened but that any skepticism of those claims is justified. To repeat Snopes: “Only Dock Ellis knows whether or not he actually took LSD the day he pitched his no-hitter, and therefore we have to take him at his word.”
Still, had Ellis been ‘rushing’ (the first few hours of a trip) or ‘peaking’ (the middle of a trip) on anything resembling a decent dose of acid, it is difficult to imagine that it was not evident to his teammates.
Many trippers have a difficult time forming a pair of back-to-back sentences that are both coherent and related to one another. That Ellis pitched nine innings and then gave a lucid post-game interview would argue that he was, at best, way past the peaking period and possibly past the ‘coming down’ stage.
The truth of whatever happened that day, it went to the Void with Dock Ellis on December 19, 2008, when he died at the age of 63 from a liver disorder after a long addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Still, Dock Ellis and his psychedelicized no-hitter are now a part of baseball lore, American lore, and psychedelic lore.
And a fine piece of lore it is.
FEATURED IMAGE: Here is a nice photo of Dock as he appeared to the batters he faced every fifth day in 1970. Dock Ellis pitched 2,128 innings and gave up 2,067 hits, with an ERA of 3.46. He finished his career 138-119 for a Winning Percentage of .537. Dock had a solid, respectable career that would have ensured him a position on any team’s rotation.