High and Tight: Our Rock & Roll Baseball Experts Remember Dock Ellis and His LSD No-Hitter
Last Friday night, six Seattle Mariners pitchers combined forces to hurl a no-hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. A quirky affair, to say the least, the Seattle no-no was only the second in MLB history to require that many arms (a sextet of Houston Astros pulled off the same feat in 2003). M's starter Kevin Millwood left the game after six innings with a no-decision and a sore groin; amid the flurry of pitching changes that followed, only Seattle catcher Jesus Montero seemed aware that the Dodgers still hadn't put an "H" on the scoreboard – closer Tom Wilhelmsen notched the game's final out without having any idea that he'd just made baseball history.
But as weird no-hitters go, the M's six-man band didn't have anything on the late, great Dock Ellis. Forty-two years ago this week, while pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ellis no-hit the San Diego Padres in a game that was shrouded by fog and continues to be cloaked in legend – though it didn't achieve its legendary status until long after the last out actually occurred. Dock – who didn't realize until the last minute that he was supposed to pitch that day – happened to be "high as a Georgia pine" at the time on LSD and Dexamyl, a situation which surely accounted for his uncharacteristic wildness (he walked eight Padres batters and hit another), and which he understandably waited until well after his retirement to reveal.
This belated revelation turned Dock into something of a folk hero, especially among those of us who prefer our baseball heroes a trifle more colorful than the bland, clean-cut ideal that's been foisted upon us since the days of Frank Merriwell. Instead of talking about how he "just went out and gave 110 percent" that day, the gregarious Ellis (who sadly passed away in late 2008) reminisced to interviewers about the challenges of throwing a ball that kept changing size and weight to a shadowy series of batters – one of whom appeared to be Jimi Hendrix swinging a guitar – with President Richard Nixon umpiring the game from behind the plate.
Dock's lysergic outing has inspired songs (Barbara Manning's "Dock Ellis," Todd Snider's "America's Favorite Pastime"), animated shorts (James Blagden's "Dock Ellis and the LSD No-No," which has racked up nearly 2.5 million YouTube views to date), a feature-length film (the forthcoming No No: A Dockumentary) and, in its own indirect way, this column. But as Donnell Alexander's fascinating new multi-media iBook Beyond Ellis D reveals, there was so much more to the man's complex life and career than just that acid asterisk: He was an intense competitor, an incorrigible prankster and a righteous crusader for social change, who steadfastly refused to draw a distinction between the way he lived between the foul lines and the way he lived outside of them. "Whatever goes on in life," he told Alexander, "it goes on in life in sports."
A respected drug counselor during his last decades, Dock wasn't one to bullshit about his experiences with illicit substances. But there are still skeptics who dispute his LSD no-hitter story, doubting that such a thing would even be possible; and, truth be told, we do only have the late Dock's word to go on. So this week, we ask our esteemed panel of rock & roll seamheads: Do you think Dock Ellis actually threw a no-no on LSD? And, if so, does this essentially constitute the greatest athletic feat of all time?
Name: Scott McCaughey
Band: The Baseball Project, The Minus 5, Young Fresh Fellows
Position: Guitar, Vocals
I believe! I know musicians who have played shows while in the throes of an acid trip (some good, some awful). The concept is absolutely horrific to me, but I suppose it can work for certain people. Now I know Dock didn't pitch in that state by choice, and I don't think he enjoyed it, per se, but I don't see any concrete reason not to believe him. And while a no-hitter is an accomplishment under any circumstances, one can hardly say this was a masterful performance. Dock walked eight, hit a batter, and had three guys steal bases off of him. (I guess this is what they call "effectively wild.") I've written a song for the next Baseball Project album about another notorious Ellis outing, in which he tried to bean each Reds batter he faced in the first inning until manager Danny Murtaugh pulled him. That seems almost as bizarre to me as the acid story, and it's definitely something that could never happen in today's game.