Dock Ellis – Trips into the Record Books – 12 June 1970.

Dock Ellis

 

The big talk in baseball off the field in the last couple years has been on the juicers. I agree that the usage of illegal drugs to improve a player’s ability must be stopped as it may force players who do not want to use drugs just to compete.Baseball history has been littered with hard living, hard partying types. The Babe was a boozehound during prohibition, gin being an illegal drug at the time. Mickey Mantle played through hangovers most days and was probably drunk on the field more than once.Fast-forward to the 1980’s. Ball players are starting to make money that movie stars and supermodels make and some of them pick up the lifestyle trends. Promising careers of Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden and others were interrupted or ended early because of cocaine use during the 1980s and 90’s. There are even rumours that Montreal Expos star Tim “Rock” Raines developed a headfirst slide as to not break the vials of the Devil’s Dandruff in his back pockets makes one wonder where he got the nickname.

 

Most will agree that drug use takes a negative toll on the body and mind and for players to maintain a high level of performance they need to submit themselves to a health regimen for the entire season. Imagine how good the Mick would have been if he wasn’t wasted all the time.

In 1984 an interesting story developed that had it roots in a Los Angeles hotel room on the morning of June 12, 1970. A man had taken a dose of LSD and was flipping through the sports section of the LA Times when he notices his friends name “ Dock Ellis ” was scheduled to pitch in a double header that evening in San Diego. Dock, was in the same hotel room and also under the influence of the hallucinogenic acid. When Ellis discovered he had to pitch that night he quickly boarded a plane and set off for San Diego.

Ellis was a workhorse for the Pittsburgh Pirates during their heyday in the early 1970’s. He was an All-Star and their ace in for their 1971 World Championship team. In his 12-year career in which, his most notable seasons were with the Pirates and the Yankees, he amassed a respectable 138-119 record and a career ERA of 3.46.

It is on that late spring evening in San Diego when the 25-year-old Ellis would throw his way into baseball history. His start that day was the high point of his career in more ways than one.

It has been said that for a pitcher to be able to throw a no-hitter they have to keep the hitters off balance. Wasting pitches and keeping them guessing this is why Nolan Ryan was able to throw 7 no-no’s while a pitcher with similar stuff  Roger Clemens has not been able to achieve the feat even once. Ryan would keep batters guessing and use his above average stuff to get them out. Clemens can just over power you but if a batter can make solid contact; hits are inevitable.

If a pitcher is on LSD he may not even know where the pitch is going let alone the catcher, batter or umpire. On the night of his monumental feat Ellis was not on, he probably did not have his best stuff; he walked 8 Padres and hit another. In his own words he described his day on the mound:

I was zeroed in on the (catcher’s) glove, but I didn’t hit the glove too much. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times. The ball was small sometimes, the ball was large sometimes, sometimes I saw the catcher, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I tried to stare the hitter down and throw while I was looking at him. I chewed my gum until it turned to powder. They say I had about three to four fielding chances. I remember diving out of the way of a ball I thought was a line drive. I jumped, but the ball wasn’t hit hard and never reached me.

There have been some characters on the mound that have been able to keep hitters and runners off guard by their antics on the field. Mark Fidrych would talk to the ball and Rube Waddell would often make animal noises and chase fire engines when they drove by the ballpark. Waddell had a mental illness similar to autism (article to follow) and I do not know what Fidrych’s problem was but it is unlikely he was under the influence of LSD.

Whether or not Ellis’ performance on 12 June 1970 was enhanced by his use of an illicit substance is unclear but it is probably a good chance that he was enabled to throw a no-hitter because of it.The mental state of an individual on LSD would not likely be good to try to concentrate on the pitching mound and in a stadium with people all around (there were only 10,000 in SD for the double header that night).

Ellis also went to bat three times the night he was on LSD. He was actually able to make contact and grounded out in the top of the eighth inning.

Should baseball historians and purists who dislike how an allegedly juiced Barry Bonds is breaking some of baseball most storied records, scrutinize Ellis’ no-hitter? The fact is that Ellis was under the influence of an illegal narcotic during play. Let’s think about this and how it matches up with the current baseball trend of purging itself of narcotics that are both legal and illegal for non-players to take. Does Ellis belong in the record books with Ryan, Koufax and Feller?

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  • First off, very well written. Ok, now if it is officially an illegal substance, how do we go about ruling it? This is how I look at it. I’m 100% cool
    with anything that isn’t banned as per league rules. So, in my mind McGwire and his HR’s are cool because some of the HGH was not banned at the time.
    Did baseball have anything banning the use of recreational drugs before/during a game? I’m not really sold on the LSD making a difference, otherwise
    we would have seen Ellis using it every game and pitching performace enhanced shut-out after shut-out, or at least putting up some Bob Gibson 1968 type stats.
    Today other questions have to be raised, like players sucking back redbulls in the duggout for increased focus, energy, etc. Anyways, once again, good write-up and an interesting topic.

  • The way I look at it is this: performance enhancers should be banned, performance inhibitors should not be. I view LSD as a performance inhibitor, much like marijuana and alcohol. David Wells threw a no hitter after a night of binge drinking. You don’t see pitchers out getting sloppy the night before their start in order to get a no-hitter. Does Ellis belong in the record books along with Ryan, Koufax, Feller (don’t forget A.J. Burnett, Wilson Alvarez and Bud Smith)? Sure he does. I think in the case of Dock Ellis a lot of luck is involved, with the 8BB and one HBP. It is not often you see a no hit CG with a WHIP of 1.00.

  • I agree with your logic but how do we go about determining what is an enhancer and what is an inhibitor? If MLB doesn’t set out a policy, then
    who’s set up criteria do we follow? Good job working in a Burnett reference.

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  • RJ Gibson

    Dock Ellis is a national hero and role model and should be recognized as such! Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and many others of a certain persuasion were high on something on a regular basis, yet, they are still viewed as Gods in the world of baseball! Dock Ellis was high once, and we want to discredit him forever! Wake up people!!! Dock Ellis, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, they’re all legends of the game, PERIOD!!!! RJ