50 Years Ago: Dock Ellis’ LSD-Fueled No-Hitter

One of the most astonishing feats in sports history happened on June 12, 1970. The Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team played the San Diego Padres at San Diego Stadium. The starting pitcher for the Pirates, the mercurial and idiosyncratic Dock Ellis, had forgotten that it was his day to pitch and had taken LSD at around noon in Los Angeles. Shortly afterwards he found out it was in fact his starting day so he was hustled onto a plane and he took the mound at 6pm. The rest is history. Instead of impeding his ability to throw accurate pitches, the psychedelic compound seemed to leave “trails” that actually helped his placement. As Ellis recalled:

“I was zeroed in on the 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. 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.”

In the decades that followed, the event achieved the patina of a gonzo legend. Ellis, who died in 2008, became synonymous with this one magical afternoon. But in 2014, a documentary was made that told much more of Ellis’ story and painted the corners of his place in sports and social history. As it happens, there was a lot more to Dock than the no-hitter. He and his Pirates team hold an important place in the story of race and sports.

That doc, called NO NO: A DOCKUMENTARY, was produced and directed by Austin’s Jeffrey Radice, and was proudly supported by the Austin Film Society. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber you can stream it here. It uses interviews and archival footage to show Ellis in the light of his times. Perhaps the high point of the film is an audio recording in which the embattled Ellis reads aloud a letter of support and encouragement he received from none other than Jackie Robinson. It’s a terrific movie and we recommend it. You will be a Dock Ellis fan before the 10-minute mark.

Here’s a scene from NO NO that shows some of the historical context of the times, as the Pirates introduced their all-Black starting lineup.

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