High Times

How to throw a no-hitter on acid, and other lessons from the career of baseball legend Dock Ellis

"You know, I'm just clean and sober and going on about my business," he says. "But there's gotta be a place for me in baseball. I should be with baseball. But that's partly my fault. I alienated myself. I left baseball with the wrong impression about the people who ran the game. 'Cause I had that paranoia that everybody was out to get me."

"It's almost like Dock wanted people to think he wasn't as smart as he is," Dave Parker says. "But the people he's close to, we know."

One day last month, Ellis walked into the Victor Valley penitentiary, where, for the past two years, he's worked as a drug counselor. He said he had a surprise for his class. HBO Sports was doing a piece on him, and they'd dug up an old black-and-white videotape of that June 1970 game against the Pirates. To that point, Ellis had sworn that no tape of the game existed, and he'd never seen himself pitch high on LSD. And this would be the first time he was watching it. As the game enters the ninth, it gets to two outs, three balls and two strikes, and then the tape cuts straight to a postgame interview.

Ellis had powerful stuff. But strategy was just as 
important, and his consisted of one thing: intimidation.
Ellis had powerful stuff. But strategy was just as important, and his consisted of one thing: intimidation.
Ellis's true initiation to baseball took place under the 
tutelage of legendary pitcher Chet Brewer.
Ellis's true initiation to baseball took place under the tutelage of legendary pitcher Chet Brewer.

"I remember getting that last out," Ellis says. "And turning around and saying, 'A fucking no-hitter!' It didn't really hit me until the next morning, when I was less high, and I got a live phone call from CBS or ABC or something wanting to interview me. They kept telling me to turn the TV down. Too much feedback."

The class looked at Ellis's postgame interview and dissected his mannerisms, laughing at how obvious it seemed that he was high. In a way, Ellis's ending up on the straight and narrow in this small town, spending his days with criminals who are in the same boat he was once in, not caring so much about baseball or his legacy -- he couldn't have found a better confirmation of the faith that the Brad Corbetts and George Steinbrenners, the Al Rambos and the Dave Parkers placed in him when he was at his craziest: the belief that somewhere beneath the hair curlers and the fancy clothes and the fights and the clenched jaws was a man of true character.

The sport of baseball has, since his retirement, more or less shunned him because of who he was. The irony, of course, is that Ellis's onetime problems, which prevented him from being a truly great player, have since revealed him to be something more like a great person.

And baseball, like the rest of us, could use a few more of those.

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