REMEMBER WHEN : Ellis' No-Hitter Against Padres Was High Drama

It seems almost inconceivable, but Dock Ellis swears it's true.

On June 12, 1970, Ellis pitched a no-hit game for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a 2-0 victory over the Padres at San Diego Stadium. Fourteen years later, he revealed that he had done it while under the influence of LSD.

Ellis, 45, who lives in his native Los Angeles and counsels athletes about drugs, made the astonishing disclosure in a newspaper story four years after completing treatment at a rehabilitation facility in Wickenburg, Ariz., in 1980.

"I was really out to lunch that night," Ellis said by telephone recently. "Sometimes I saw the catcher (Jerry May), sometimes I saw the hitter, sometimes I didn't see either one. I would either see the glove or the catcher, but I really didn't know what was going on. I couldn't judge the velocity of my pitches.

"It wasn't anything I did on purpose. I missed a couple of days, and I lost a whole day, being under the influence. I didn't have to pitch. I could have said I was sick. But when I got to the ballpark, everything seemed just natural."

Ellis pitched his no-hitter in the opener of a doubleheader, which was played on a rare rainy night before a crowd of 9,903. He didn't hang around for the second game, which the Padres won, 5-2.

"It was party time in my hotel room," he said.

Ellis was unusually wild that night, walking eight Padres, hitting another and striking out six. This might have been a hint that the situation wasn't normal, since he generally had excellent control, but nobody picked up on it.

Al Oliver, who played first base for the Pirates and had two of the five hits off Padre left-hander Dave Roberts, recalled that none of Ellis' teammates suspected anything.

"Dock was always the same and always had the same look," Oliver said from Columbus, Ohio, where he owns Al Oliver Enterprises. "He was a great competitor, and I personally didn't see anything different in that game from the past.

"When I heard about it, my initial reaction was that only Dock could have done it. I wasn't shocked about it, although I was surprised it was LSD. I'm not that familiar with how LSD affects a person, but I understand that you have trouble standing up, let alone pitching a ballgame.

"Dock had the talent to get away with it, although not necessarily on a consistent basis."

Nate Colbert, the Padres' power-hitting first baseman of that era, noted that Ellis' normally unorthodox demeanor on the mound helped him keep his secret. Colbert now serves the Padres as a coach of their Riverside farm club and an off-season member of their community-relations department.

"Dock has always been a real live, active personality," Colbert said. "He acted the same in that game as he always did, and he had great stuff."

Ellis recalled that his drug problem dated all the way back to his days at Gardena High School.

"I did drugs from the time I was 14," he said. "The no-hitter was the only game I pitched on LSD, but I took greenies and diet pills, and I got into cocaine in the late '60s.

"I finally went in for treatment . . . 37 days. A week after I was discharged, I told my whole story (about his drug abuse, but not about the LSD no-hitter) in a press conference on a golf course in Phoenix.

"There were some smart-aleck questions, and I had to shut them up. I said to one guy, 'The only reason you ask me that is because you've done it.' He was one of those whippersnappers, and I put him in his place. Otherwise it went OK.

"I've been clean 10 years now, and I feel good about myself."

Last winter, Ellis, who is not much over his playing weight at 225, took time off to pitch in the new Senior League in Florida.

"I had seven saves and a 1.76 ERA," Ellis said. "I may go back."

On the subject of Ellis' rehabilitation, Oliver said, "I'm glad for him. He's a super human being. He's one of the few people I've ever met who can relate to anybody, whether it be the president of the United States or somebody on any other level."

Ellis, who has worked for several drug-rehabilitation agencies, is now a free-lance counselor, employed by agents whose clients need help. He also gives baseball clinics in conjunction with the medical community, as he did last week in Reno along with several other former major league baseball players.

"I've been hired by the group that represents (New York Yankee pitcher) Pascual Perez to be his counselor after the drug problem he had," Ellis said. "I work for different agents, and I travel a lot, not only to give counseling but to seek potential new clients.

"Drugs are still rampant in baseball, and the guys who take them are smarter than we were."

After graduating from high school, Ellis attended Los Angeles Harbor Community College in Wilmington before joining the Pirates' Batavia (N.Y.) farm club in 1964. The Pirates called him up during the 1968 season, and he stayed in the majors through 1979, compiling a record of 138-119. He had a 13-10 record the year he pitched his no-hitter and a career-best 19-9 the following year.

"I was primarily a breaking-ball pitcher," he said. "I had a pretty fair fastball, though, plus a slurve (a cross between a slider and a curve), a sinker and a spitball. I also had a changeup, which I usually bounced in the dirt.

"I threw them all the night of the no-hitter. I had no feeling of being light-headed. What happened was, I was tripping out, but I was tripping out on something I'd done all my life.

"It might have been one of the nights when I had my best stuff. I don't know."

Ellis also had beaten the Padres 11 days earlier in Pittsburgh, 5-1. The consensus on both sides was that he had better stuff in that game, and certainly he had better control.

But at least one Padre player felt that Ellis' wildness in the rematch helped him pitch the no-hitter.

Outfielder Ollie Brown told the San Diego Tribune: "Dock was just wild enough to be tough on the hitters. He never threw two balls in the same place. You didn't know where to look for it."

Whatever the reason, the Padres, one of the better-hitting teams in the National League, hit only one ball that required an outstanding fielding play. Not surprisingly, it was Bill Mazeroski, a magician at second base, who made it.

Ramon Webster, batting for Roberts in the seventh inning, hit a low line drive between Mazeroski and the second-base bag. Mazeroski dived to his right, backhanded the ball and nipped Webster with an off-balance throw to Oliver.

"I didn't think I had a chance to catch it," Mazeroski said. "It was purely a reflex action."

Besides Mazeroski's skill, Ellis profited from a rare bit of luck.

"I was the first hitter in the eighth," Colbert recalled, "and the first pitch was a slider away. I hit a line drive to right center. It should have been an easy double, but center fielder Matty Alou was standing right in the flight of the ball.

"I asked Matty after the inning what he was doing in right center (Colbert was a right-handed pull hitter). He said he was playing catch with the left-fielder (Willie Stargell) and the ball went over his head. Before he could get over to left-center, Ellis had made the pitch. Dock was in a groove, and he just threw."

Roberts pitched quite a game himself. If it hadn't been for Stargell's bat, he might have forced Ellis into extra innings. Stargell accounted for both Pirate runs with solo home runs in the second and seventh.

Colbert, who entered the game with 17 homers and was to finish the season with a career-high 38 (tied in 1972), described Ellis' performance as overpowering.

"His fastball was breaking so much that I couldn't time it," Colbert said. "Actually, I never saw him when he had bad stuff. I didn't give him a lot of trouble."

Colbert did manage to reach base twice, drawing two of the eight walks. Third baseman Steve Huntz walked three times.

Second baseman Dave Campbell, later a Padre broadcaster and now with ESPN, called Ellis one of his prime tormentors.

"I'd be surprised if I got a hit off Ellis in my life," Campbell said. "I always thought he was one of the toughest pitchers in the league to hit. Other guys, like Tom Seaver, threw harder, but Ellis had that three-quarter delivery and hid the ball. It was hard to dig in on him."

In turn, Ellis expressed respect for the Padre hitters whose bats he silenced.

"They were a young team, but they were mashers," he said. "They could kill you."

As giddy as he felt throughout the game, Ellis was fully aware that he had a no-hitter going."

"I started thinking about it after the fourth inning," he said. "I remember Dave Cash (backup second baseman) saying something about a no-no. I know a lot of guys don't want to talk about it, but if you're going to throw it, you're going to throw it."

Once the game was over, Ellis' goal was to keep the mandatory interview sessions as short as possible.

"I think Duke Snider (then a Padre broadcaster) had me on the air," Ellis said. "I'm not sure. I knew I was high, and I just wanted to get back to the hotel."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World