Spotlight On Dock Ellis: Psychedelics, Amphetamine, & Attitude
In a league that was fraught with substances used to enhance play during the 1970s, Ellis was one of the first to speak openly about this and his own substance abuse after retiring in 1980. His greatest claim to fame is perhaps having pitched a no-hitter under the influence of LSD in 1970. Unable to pitch without substances and burnt out at the end of his career, Ellis check himself into rehab shortly after retirement. He remained clean for the remainder of his life and worked as a drug counselor, teacher, and mentor for MLB players struggling with addiction.
The Dock Ellis Timeline:
• Ellis refused to play for the Gardena High School baseball team, because a baseball player referred to him as a spearchucker.
• When Ellis was caught drinking and smoking marijuana in a high school bathroom during his senior year, the school agreed not to expel him if he agreed to play for the school’s baseball team.
• He appeared in four games and was named all-league.
• At the age of 17, Ellis was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia.
• Various Major League Baseball teams attempted to sign him to a professional contract, but as he heard the Pittsburgh Pirates gave out signing bonuses of $60,000, he held out until the Pirates made him an offer.
• He was arrested for grand theft auto, and given probation. As a result of the arrest, the Pirates offered Ellis $500 a month and a $2,500 signing bonus.
• Was sent down to the Macon Peaches which Ellis believed was due to the length of his hair.
• Ellis said that he was promoted back to Columbus after shaving his head.
• During his minor league career, Ellis once chased a heckler in the stands with a baseball bat.
• He also used pills when he pitched, specifically the amphetamines Benzedrine and Dexamyl.
• Ellis later said that he never pitched a game without using amphetamines.
• Ellis acknowledged that he began to use cocaine in the late 1960s.
• Made his MLB debut that June (1968), beginning as a relief pitcher.
• In 1969 he made the team’s starting rotation for Opening Day.
1970 The LSD No-Hitter
• Under the influence of LSD, Ellis pitched a no-hitter against the Padres on Friday, June 12, 1970. The Pirates flew to San Diego on Thursday, June 11 for a series against the San Diego Padres. Ellis reported that he visited a friend in Los Angeles and used LSD “two or three times.” Thinking it was still Thursday, he took a hit of LSD on Friday at noon, and his friend’s girlfriend reminded him at 2:00 PM that he was scheduled to pitch that night. Ellis flew from Los Angeles to San Diego at 3:00 PM and arrived at San Diego Stadium at 4:30 PM; the game started at 6:05 PM. Ellis threw a no-hitter despite being unable to feel the ball or see the batter or catcher clearly. Ellis said his catcher Jerry May wore reflective tape on his fingers which helped him to see May’s signals. Ellis walked eight batters and struck out six, and he was aided by excellent fielding plays from second baseman Bill Mazeroski and center fielder Matty Alou.
As Ellis recounted the LSD No-Hitter:
"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."
• Ellis worked on his changeup for the 1971 season. He was rewarded by being named the Pirates’ Opening Day starting pitcher; he defeated the Philadelphia Phillies by a score of 4-2.
• Ellis was named to appear in the 1971 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, held at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The AL selected Vida Blue of the Oakland Athletics as their starter, and Ellis publicly stated that National League All-Star Team manager Sparky Anderson would “never start two brothers against each other”. Anderson surprised Ellis by naming him the starting pitcher of the All-Star Game. Ellis was the losing pitcher in the game. During the game, Reggie Jackson hit a towering home run off of Ellis. The home run, estimated to have traveled 600 feet (180 m), tied a 1926 home run hit by Babe Ruth for the longest measured home run on record. The next time the two opposed each other, Ellis beaned Jackson in the face in retaliation for his earlier home run.
• Ellis started Game 2 of the 1971 NLCS, earning the victory over the San Francisco Giants. During the series, Ellis created a stir by complaining about the Pirates’ lodgings, saying that the organization was “cheap.”
• On May 5, 1972, Ellis, Willie Stargell, and Rennie Stennett missed the team bus to Riverfront Stadium. A security guard asked the three for identification; Stargell and Stennett complied and were allowed in, but Ellis did not have identification with him. The guard said that Ellis did not identify himself, appeared drunk, and “made threatening gestures with a closed fist.” Ellis countered that he was showing his World Series ring as evidence of his affiliation with the Pirates. In response, the guard maced Ellis. Ellis was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. The Reds sued Ellis for assault and Ellis countersued. Before going to trial, the Reds dropped the suit and wrote Ellis a letter of apology. The municipal court dropped the charges against Ellis, though Ellis stated that this incident made him “hate better.”
• Ellis said that the scariest moment of his career was when he attempted to pitch while sober in a 1973 game. During pre-game warmups, he couldn’t recreate his pitching mechanics. Ellis went to his locker, took some amphetamines with coffee, and returned to pitch.
• In August 1973, pictures circulated of Ellis wearing hair curlers in the bullpen during pre-game warmups. The Pirates told him not to wear curlers on the field again. Ellis agreed, but charged that the Pirates were displaying racism. Ebony devoted a spread to Ellis about his hairstyles, which was inspired by the hair curlers. After Ellis defeated the Reds by a score of 1-0 in a 1973 game, Joe Morgan claimed that Ellis threw a spitball. Anderson had the umpire check Ellis, but found no evidence. In his 1980 book, Ellis admitted that wearing hair curlers produced sweat on his hair, which he used to throw a modified version of a spitball.
• Ellis attempted to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds lineup on May 1, 1974, as he was angry that the Pirates were intimidated by the Big Red Machine. Ellis admired Pete Rose and was concerned about how he would respond, but Ellis decided to do it regardless. Ellis hit Rose, Joe Morgan, and Dan Driessen in the top of the first inning. Cleanup batter Tony Pérez avoided Ellis’s attempts and drew a walk; the first pitch to Perez was thrown behind him and over his head. Ellis threw two pitches that he aimed at the head of Johnny Bench, at which point Ellis was removed from the game by manager Danny Murtaugh.
• 1975 In August, the Pirates asked Ellis to pitch in the bullpen; he refused on consecutive nights.The Pirates suspended him for one day. Ellis called for a team meeting the next day, where he was expected to apologize. Instead, he berated Murtaugh, who responded by cursing at Ellis, ordering the pitcher out of the clubhouse and attempting to fight him. The Pirates suspended Ellis for thirty days and fined him $2,000. The suspension was lifted on August 30 when Ellis apologized to Murtaugh.
• On December 11, Ellis was traded to the New York Yankees of the American League along with pitcher Ken Brett and top infield prospect Willie Randolph, in exchange for pitcher Doc Medich. Tired of Ellis’ behavior, Pittsburgh general manager Joe L. Brown insisted that the Yankees take Ellis as part of the deal.
• With the Yankees, Ellis pitched to a 17–8 win-loss record with a 3.15 ERA during the 1976 regular season. After the season, he was voted the AL Comeback Player of the Year by the United Press International.
• Before the 1977 season, Ellis publicly criticized Yankees owner George Steinbrenner for giving him a raise that was inadequate given his 1976 performance and for interfering with manager Billy Martin. As Ellis refused to sign his contract, and the Yankees traded Ellis to the Oakland A’s.
• While pitching for Oakland, the team asked him to keep charts. Defiant, Ellis set the charts on fire in the clubhouse, setting off sprinklers. Ellis ranked this as the “craziest” thing he did during his career.
• The Texas Rangers purchased his contract from Oakland.
• Ellis complained about Ranger’s manager Billy Hunter’s liquor policy in 1978. Hunter, responding to a raucous team flight, banned liquor on team flights; Ellis vowed that he would bring liquor on the plane to Toronto anyway. Ellis led a player insurrection against manager Billy Hunter’s authoritarian style, declaring that Hunter “may be Hitler, but he ain’t making no lampshade out of me.”
• Ellis was traded to the Mets where he pitched poorly.
• Ellis requested a move back to the Pirates who purchased him for the waiver price of $20,000.
• Ellis made 3 relief appearances for the Pirates in 1979 and retired in the spring of 1980.
• Ellis kept a notebook, called “The Book,” with detailed information about each hitter’s strengths and weaknesses. He often asked teammates and members of other teams, including pitchers Bob Gibson and Juan Marichal, for advice on how to pitch opposing batters.
• Ellis threw five distinct pitches: a fastball, a curveball, a changeup, a palmball, and what Ellis called a “sliding fastball”. The latter pitch was distinct from a slider. Ellis trusted his catcher to call pitches, and he rarely asked for a new sign.
Post Playing Career:
• Ellis entered a drug treatment facility for 40 days. After treatment Ellis remained sober and devoted the remainder of his life to counseling drug addicts in treatment centers and prisons.
• He appeared in the 1986 Ron Howard film Gung Ho.
• Ellis was player/coach for the St. Petersburg Pelicans fo the Senior Professional Baseball Association and went 0-2 with a 1.76 ERA and 7 saves. He continued to play in the LA veterans League.
• Ellis was diagnosed with cirrhosis in 2007 and was placed on the liver transplant list.
• He died in 2008 due to a liver ailment.
Check out the excellent 2014 documentary on him, No No: A Dockumentary.