December 20, 2008
With some famous figures, there's never any doubt as to how the first line in their obituary will read.
And so when former Pirate pitcher Dock Ellis died on Friday, we all knew there was no question that the first summary sentence of his life would involve his claim that he was high on LSD when he threw a no-hitter on June 12, 1970 against the Padres.
"Dock Ellis, who infamously claimed he pitched a no-hitter for Pittsburgh under the influence of LSD and later fiercely spoke out against drug and alcohol addiction, died Friday. He was 63."
Of course only Ellis really knew for sure if that bit is true or not, but his performance in that game — eight walks, one HBP — would seem to suggest that he wasn't quite on the top of his game. Though he did reform to become a vocal opponent of alcohol and drugs, he never backed down from that claim and it has become a prominent thread from the '70s in baseball's "colorful" past.
Here's what he said of that no-hitter, via Snopes.com:
"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."
Snopes also has a few other good Ellis stories, including the time in 1974 when he tried an unorthodox way to get his teammates to be more aggressive:
"In a May 1 start against the Reds — having announced before the game that "We gonna get down. We gonna do the do. I'm going to hit these mother*******.'
"Ellis opened the contest by drilling leadoff hitter Pete Rose in the ribs; hitting the next batter, Joe Morgan, in the side; and then plunking Dan Driessen in the back to load the bases. Although clean-up hitter Tony Perez managed to dodge Ellis' pitches long enough to draw a walk before being hit, Dock aimed his next two offerings at Cincinnati catcher Johnny Bench's head, whereupon he was unceremoniously yanked from the game by Pittsburgh manager Danny Murtaugh."
There's one other big moment for which Ellis will always be remembered. He was the pitcher who served up the mammoth homer to Reggie Jackson in the 1971 All-Star Game. (It was Ellis' only All-Star appearance.)
I'm a little too young to remember Ellis' career and there isn't much literature out there on his average career, despite his outspoken nature. If anyone else would like to share a few stories with the new generations, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments below.