Did Dock Ellis Pitch his 1970 No Hitter Game on LSD?

Photo courtesy Pittsburgh Pirates

Almost 50 years later we explore the truth.

In 1970 the Pittsburgh Pirates won the first game of a double header against the San Diego Padres at San Diego Stadium. Dock Ellis, now a legend in the sport of baseball, was the star of the game, pitching a no-hitter that the Padres were simply not able to respond to.

Considered one of the greatest moments in baseball history, and one of the best pitching games by a legend of the sport, this achievement is overshadowed by the story that surrounds it. According to a claim by Ellis himself, the no-hitter was performed under the full influence of LSD.

The big question remains: was it true?

It All Depends on Who You Ask

Bob Smizik was the journalist who broke the story in 1984, almost 15 years after the game was played. In a 2011 interview Smizik reiterated that “I have no doubt that Dock was on acid that day. Dock liked to talk a lot, but he also did a lot of stuff back then that makes me believe it.”

According to Dr. Maurice Cerul, a specialist in Addiction Psychiatry, it’s not unbelievable that Dock Ellis was under the influence of LSD for the most noteworthy game of his professional career. Cerul went on record saying that “If he had a good trip he could have done his task without problems. As a matter of fact, he could have performed even better.”

The problem is that Smizik wasn’t at the game in question, so his belief comes solely from the words of Ellis himself, backed by statements from Dr. Cerul.

Bill Christine, a colleague of Bob Smizik at the Pittsburgh Press, was at the game in 1970 and had inside knowledge of the team. Christine has noted that there was nothing unusual on that day, and his opinion is backed up by another reporter, John Mehno, who was close to Ellis and had interviewed him many times. Mehno is skeptical not only of this story but of other tales that Ellis told throughout his career. In his own investigation, Mehno couldn’t find a single Pirates member who would back the story that Ellis was under the influence on that day.

Words from the Man Himself

It was Dock Ellis who self-reported the story and for many it is his own words which hold the most gravity. Anybody who is inclined to believe the story, will gain the most from Ellis’s own quotes.

In a story that was published in Lysergic World San Francisco in 1993, Dock Ellis spoke extensively about the LSD influenced no-hitter.

“I can only remember bits and piece of the game. I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I was zeroes 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.” Ellis noted that he was at times hallucinating, seeing Richard Nixon as an umpire and Jimi Hendrix as the batter, who was “holding a guitar and swinging it over the plate”.

Before that, in a book co-authored by Ellis and Donald Hall, Dock said that he pitched the no hitter while drunk, and in a later republishing he said that he was on LSD and speed. The story has changed over the years, but the legend and the mystery are not likely to go away.

Dock Ellis later reflected that the event robbed him of the full memory of his most important athletic achievement. With Dock sadly passing away from Liver Cirrhosis in 2008, the final word on this matter will only ever be speculation. That’s why this legend of baseball will always be so tantalizing, even if the facts have become blurred over the years.

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