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Before Steroids, Baseball Had Dock Ellis and LSD
Forget the admitting of steroid use by many of todays big time players. Let’s not even ponder thoughts of what the game would be like without them because, as much as we hate to digest it, it is real. Forget the Cansecos, McGwires, A-Rods, and the hundreds of others with the “cheater” label now casted upon them. Yes, long before all of this some 40 years ago to be exact, there was Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis, and LSD. You think towering home runs are a feat? How about throwing a no hitter while on drugs? Yes the colorful Ellis made, “bizarre” an art form.
The day was June 12th, 1970 in sunny San Diego, California. The Pittsburgh Pirates are scheduled to play a double header against the Padres, and the pitcher for the first of those two games was Ellis. The only problem was that Ellis was out partying all through the night and into next morning with friends from the area. In fact it was the girlfriend of one of his pals that had reminded him that he was scheduled to pitch that day.
“I can only remember bits and pieces of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. 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. I started having a crazy idea in the fourth inning that Richard Nixon was the home plate umpire, and once I thought I was pitching a baseball to Jimi Hendrix, who to me was holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate. 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. I recall covering first base and catching the ball and tagging the bag all in one motion and thinking to myself Touchdown!” – http://www.baseballreliquary.org/ellis.htm
In the end of said nightmare Ellis would end up with a no-hitter, despite his ugly stat line of eight batters walked, three batters hit by pitches and six strikeouts. He stuck to the claim that the game was pretty much one big acid trip. He had made claims about covering first base on a ball that was not even in the infield. His teammates had to constantly let him know he was at the ball park and that he was throwing a no-hitter, because as he claimed “I had to count my own pitches and keep track of my own stats”. It was the simple fear of failure that lured Ellis to his drug stages while pitching in the majors.
Ellis was a cagey right-hander, an outspoken racial hero for the African American athlete. He ended his career with 138 wins and 119 losses and an ERA of 3.46. He was elected to the 1971 All-Star game but elected not to start against fellow black pitcher and American League All-Star Vida Blue stating “there is no way baseball will ever let 2 soul brothers pitch against each other in a game like this”. Ellis went on later that year to win a World Series with the Pirates.
In 1976, a seemingly more subdued Ellis was named baseballs Comeback Player Of The Year, after finishing 17-8 with a 3.19 ERA for the New York Yankees. He also won game 3 of the League Championship Series against the Royals Less flare, less press, but the same Dock Ellis.
Some years after his playing days, Ellis, who was always seen as a trouble maker, militant and rebel, actually served good in the community. He was an anti-drug crusader and spent much of his post-baseball days speaking to prisoners and kids about the dangers of drug use. “For me I just stopped, I knew it would kill me if I didnt” Ellis claimed. Pill popping and acid hits were quite common for Ellis, as was excessive drinking, which led to his diagnosis of Cirrhousis in 2007. Ellis passed away in 2008 from liver failure.
Stats courtesy of Snopes.com.
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Read Bases Loaded: The Inside Story of the Steroid Era in Baseball by the Central Figure in the Mitchell Report by clicking here.