June 12, 2016


Long Strange Trip of Dock Ellis (Patrick Hruby, 8/24/12, ESPN.com)

It was a Friday. That much is certain. June 12, 1970. Three years after psychedelic Pied Piper Timothy Leary invited America to "Turn on, tune in and drop out." Four years before Richard Nixon's resignation marked an inglorious denouement to the counterculture era. The middle of things. A purple haze. The perfect moment for the first and only known no-hitter in major league history pitched under the influence of lysergic acid diethylamide, thrown by the first and only player in major league history to inspire both a biography penned by a future American poet laureate and a seminal article in High Times.

Six hours earlier, Ellis had been in Los Angeles, nursing a hangover, dazed and confused, enjoying what he thought was his day off.

Two hours later, he would be standing on the mound at San Diego Stadium, throwing baseballs he couldn't always feel, in the general direction of batters he didn't always see, trying very, very hard not to fall over.

He was 25 years old, a right-handed starter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, armed with a big curveball and a bigger mouth, a tall, chubby-faced kid who ran like a fawn. Clubhouse cutup. Media antagonist. Iconoclastic cultural badass. In the words of a teammate, "not afraid of nothing."

The Pirates were in town to play the San Diego Padres, starting their first West Coast trip of the season. That, too, is certain. The rest is a matter of memory, largely Ellis', imperfect and addled, culled from interviews, articles and books. The club arrived on Thursday, an off day. Ellis rented a car. Dropped a tab of acid. Drove north to his hometown, Los Angeles. He showed up at the home of Mitzi, the girlfriend of an old childhood buddy, Al Rambo.

"Dock," Mitzi asked, "what's wrong?"

"I'm as high as a Georgia pine," he said.

The two drank screwdrivers. Smoked marijuana. Talked through the night. Eventually, Ellis fell asleep. Possibly for an hour. Probably less. Around noon -- maybe earlier -- he took another dose of LSD.

Meanwhile, Mitzi flipped through a newspaper.

"Dock, you better get up," she said. "You gotta go pitch!"

"What are you talking about?" he said. "I pitch tomorrow."

Mitzi gave him the sports page. Ellis scanned the newsprint. Padres-Pirates. Doubleheader. Friday. Today. Game time: 6:05 p.m. Game 1 starter: Ellis, D.

"Oh, wow," he said. "What happened to yesterday?"

Posted by at June 12, 2016 7:25 AM