One of the rare feats a Major League Baseball pitcher can accomplish is a no-hitter — a game in which he (or a group of pitchers on his team) prevents the other team from getting even a single hit through a regulation, nine-inning game. Going into the 2012 MLB season, and stemming back to 1875, there have been only 272 “no-no”s. The accomplishment takes not only exceptional physical abilities — one has to be able to command mulitple pitch types, throw a ball with superhuman velocity, and have pitching mechanics which are near-perfect — but also requires a lot of luck. And given the pressure of the situation, in most cases, pitching a no-hitter also requires mental acuity.
“In most cases” because of a man named Dock Ellis.
Ellis was, as Major League pitchers go, a bit of an odd duck. Once, he took to wearing hair curlers during pre-game warmups, and, according to the Baseball Reliquary, only stopped when MLB’s commissioner demanded he do so. (The Baseball Reliquary page has a picture of Ellis with the curlers in his hair.) In 1974, while pitching against the Cincinnati Reds, he hoped to motivate his team by taking aim at the other — literally. In the first inning alone, he beaned three players (including Pete Rose) before throwing the ball behind Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench’s head, after which he was prompty removed from the game. As a member of the Texas Rangers in 1977, he famously led a player uprising against his manager, Billy Hunter; Ellis told the AP that “[Hunter] is Hitler but he ain’t gonna make no lampshade out of me.”
A character, he was also apparently bad at managing his calendar. For Ellis, June 12, 1970 began in a way unlike many other summer mornings — he had the day off. As he’d recount a decade and a half later, his team, the Pittsburgh Pirates had just finished a two game series in San Francisco and were en route to San Diego, and it was not Ellis’s turn to pitch. So he spent the day in Los Angeles with some friends, relaxing — and dropping acid. It was not until the morning of the 12th that his friend’s girlfriend told him that the Pirates had a doubleheader in San Diego that afternoon and, because of the extra game, Ellis was expected to take the mound. He hopped onto a shuttle and made it to the ballpark in time to start his game. Through nine innings pitched, he struck out six batters, walked eight, but gave up no hits — and won, 2-0.
In the book “The Harder They Fall: Celebrities Tell Their Real Life Stories of Addiction and Recovery” (via Wikipedia), Ellis recounted his LSD-addled view of the historic game:
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 retired from Major League Baseball after the 1979 season and turned over a new leaf: he became a drug addiction counselor. He passed away in December of 2008 at age 63.
Bonus fact: Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Abbott was born without a right hand. Nevertheless, he had a ten year career in the league, and on September 4, 1993, threw a no-hitter.
From the Archives: Designated Runner: A Major League Baseball player who never got a hit — intentionally.
Related:”The Harder They Fall: Celebrities Tell Their Real Life Stories of Addiction and Recovery” by Gary Stromberg and Jane Merrill. Four and a half stars on 11 reviews. Also, a Dock Ellis baseball card from 1972.