Pitching a no- hitter is hard, it takes a huge effort, just ask David Cone, Randy Johnson, or Félix Hernández. 317 times in the history of Major League Baseball has a pitcher not allowed a single hit during a game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers is the ball club with the most no-hitters pitched with 26, followed by the Chicago White Sox with 20. The Pittsburgh Pirates have 6 no-hitter games but one in particular is legendary.
On June 12, 1970, right hander Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter for the Pirates against the San Diego Padres. Ellis had been a reliable pitcher at the time, in his third year in the MLB, when he took the mound. What nobody knew was that Ellis was pitching under the influence of LSD and had been consuming drugs throughout his career.
The background on Dock Ellis
Dock Ellis was born in Los Angeles, California, at an early age he showed signs of being a big-time baseball prospect. There was only one catch, Ellis had been abusing drugs and alcohol as early as 14. Ellis did not play for his high school baseball team because one of the members on the team had called him a "spearchucker’.
Then one day Ellis was caught smoking marijuana in the high school bathroom, instead of being expelled or suspended, the brass informed the troubled youth that they’d look the other way if he played for the team. In only 4 games, Ellis was named all-league.
After college, Ellis was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates, where during his time in the minors due to the pressure of succeeding he became addicted to amphetamines Benzedrine and Dexamyl. Ellis would later admit he never pitched a game without the “aid” of amphetamines.
Ellis would eventually become dependent on between five and twelve capsules per game and began to use cocaine in the late 1960s. In 1968, Ellis, amazingly made his debut in the major leagues, with no one the wiser, or even ignoring, that he was abusing drugs.
Ellis pitched for the Pirates from 1968- 1975, he’d then move to the New York Yankees for two seasons, and pitching well, until he publicly criticized Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and was traded to the Oakland Athletics in 1977, that same year he moved to the Texas Rangers before playing for two teams in 1979, the New York Mets and a last dance with the Pirates.
Ellis won the World Series in 1971 and was an all-star that same season. Ellis held a record of 138-119 with an ERA of 3.46 and striking out 1,136 batters in his MLB career. Off the diamond he was married four times and had three children and were the main reason he sobered up in 1980.
Pitching a no-hitter
On June 12, 1970, Ellis took the mound against the San Diego Padres, in San Diego, while fans watched a remarkable 2-0 no-hitter victory, Ellis was completely out of his mind on quite possibly the biggest day of his career.
Due to start in the double header the night before, Ellis went to visit a friend in Los Angeles and according to his own accounts took two to three LSD hits during his night with his pal. It was his friend that reminded Ellis that he was due to start on the mound on Friday, after Ellis took yet another LSD hit at noon the following day. Believing that it was still Thursday, Ellis took the hit of LSD but panicked when he saw that he was not with the team in San Diego.
Ellis grabbed the first flight to San Diego and arrived at the stadium only 90 minutes before game time. While no teammate ever came out and stated that they knew Ellis was high, it is implied that they were all very much aware. Catcher Jerry May wore reflective tape on his fingers, this helped the intoxicated Ellis with the signals.
Ellis spoke about the night in question by stating, “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. 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 also stated he began to hallucinate during his pitching miracle seeing the empire as President Richard Nixon and batting to Jimi Hendrix. In total that night Ellis walked eight batters and struck out six. At one moment during the game Ellis had turned to pitch the ball but was facing the outfield, teammates screamed at him to turn around.
The Pirates would win the game and Ellis went national as yet another pitcher to pitch a no-hitter. Yet the MLB never released the footage of the game in question, instead bits and pieces.
When did the story come to light?
Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Press broke the story in 1984, by then Ellis had retired and stated he never used LSD ever again during his major league career. Ellis did admit to using amphetamines until he retired.
No Pirates teammate at the time collaborated the story but Smizik believes Ellis’ account. Ellis, despite his addictions, was a remarkable pitcher who mastered five distinct pitches: a fastball, a curveball, a changeup, a palmball, and slider.
Upon his retirement in 1980, Ellis entered drug treatment, he has stated that it was his children that made him want to kick drugs permanently.
What became of Dock Ellis?
Dock Ellis would become a drug counselor after he retired even working with the New York Yankees to help players suffering from substance abuse. In 2007, Ellis was diagnosed with cirrhosis and needed a liver transplant, sadly he would never receive it.
Ellis passed away on December 19, 2008, at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center due to his liver problems. His life was documented in the 2014 documentary film No No: A Dockumentary.