Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 12, 1970: Drugs and pitching

SAN DIEGO - The home plate umpire was Richard Nixon. Jimi Hendrix was batting. The baseball shrunk to the size of a marble.

A weird dream? Nope. Those were images Dock Ellis said he saw on June 12, 1970, as he was throwing a no-hitter.

If true, it's one of baseball's oddest stories - a pitcher throwing a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. It's something that many people want to be true, which might be why people believe it. And it was Dock Ellis, who was once tazered trying to enter a stadium to play, and who once had to be removed from a game after trying to hit six consecutive batters to start a game, and who was reprimanded for wearing hair curlers during pregame warmups. With him, anything seemed possible, so the story of him throwing a no-hitter on LSD seemed plausible.

This much is true: Ellis did indeed throw a no-hitter that day against the Padres, in the first game of a double header. It was an incredibly messy game, with Ellis walking eight batters and hitting another. After the game, Ellis attributed his wildness to simply trying to keep the ball away from the Padres hitters and often missing his spots.

Fourteen years later, Ellis revealed the truth. Thinking he had that day off, he was in Los Angeles with friends. He took LSD at noon, only to be told at 1:00 that he was scheduled to pitch in San Diego that nigth. So he took a chartered flight and got to the stadium at 4:30 to prepare to start the 6:30 game.

The only evidence we have that Ellis was on LSD during the game came from Ellis himself, so there's no way to truly verify it. Nobody has really questioned it too vehemently, which makes it seem even more plausible. The image of a pitcher diving out of the way of a slow roller down the third-base line, or of a pitcher making a force out at first and thinking he scored a touchdown, is far too entertaining to ignore. Ellis may have thrown a no-hitter on LSD, or he may have fabricated the story in his later years for entertainment. Whether true or not, it has been retold so many times since that it has become true by default, and since Ellis has since died, there's nobody around to refute it.

And plus, we now have this cartoon, narrated by Ellis himself, describing the game. And really, it's entertaining enough that we want it to be true:

June 12, 1880: WORCESTER, Mass. - It's a safe bet that Lee Richmond wasn't on LSD on June 12, 1880. But he also wasn't wearing a glove; nobody on the field was. He also had to throw the pitch wherever the batter wanted, and he needed five strikes to strike a batter out (to be fair, eight balls were required for a walk, fielded on one hop in foul territory was an out, and pitchers were 10 feet closer to the batter than they are now). Regardless, Richmond threw a perfect game against Cleveland that day, the first of its kind in Major League history. And while the second one was thrown only five days later, it remains a milestone achievement in baseball, simply because of the conditions in which he pitched.

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