The Space Between Neurons (#0.71)
“Leaving Your Mark”
The Legend of Dock Ellis
Doc in Cannery Row said a man’s got to leave his mark, even if it’s only a scribble. Talking with a mechanical engineering friend last week he argued that everybody leaves their mark. I don’t agree but I at least concede that people who make exceptional contributions usually rise to some level of fame and glory. Some slowly, others ‘skyrocket’. Some eventually become known and still others go completely unnoticed.
I’ve lived in several countries including the U.S. and in my time there I developed a passing interest in baseball, which for those that argue Americans have no culture baseball, bad fast food and rap provide a counter argument. Oh yeah, also blue jeans.
Baseball caught my interest because it’s all based on the mathematics of threes. Three bases, three strikes is an out, each team gets three outs per inning and there are nine innings. The bases are 90 feet apart as is the distance from the pitcher’s mound to the plate.
One of the guys sharing a house with me, was an Australian, (but he was okay anyway), who at the time smoked regular, healthy dosages of weed. My drug of choice is Irish whiskey. We’ll see who dies first. My money’s on the whiskey, my father always said if you’re gonna do something do it right.
It was during one of our marijuana/alcohol fueled arguments at around half past three in the morning we corralled ourselves into a debate about what was the comparative speed of a cricket ball versus a baseball. Let’s face it, the state of the planet would be a much better place if we knew the answer to such penetrating mysteries.
He argued the cricket ball was faster. I knew better. We bet.
Now my knowledge of cricket is the rough equivalent of what The Clinton News Network’s Don Lemon, voted ‘Worst Journalist of the Year according to Columbia Journalism Review, knows about reporting. However, I knew that aspiring pro ball players have to throw at around the 90 miles per hour mark just to be considered to play in ‘the Circus’, which is slang for the Majors.
Big league pitchers have thrown the ball 105 mph+, (168 kph), and Carl Rays hit Ray Chapman in the head during a Yankees game one time and Chapman died 12 hours later. That’s fast.
To my knowledge cricket occasionally yields skinned knees and tendinitis.
It was a couple of days later that I didn’t give him an ounce of San Sumaian Red but he did give me a bottle of Jameson’s seven year old.
Back to leaving your mark.
Dock Phillip Ellis, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates was born in L.A. and by his early teens was into weed and booze. Along with his natural athletic ability these recreational proclivities paved his way to be attracted to being a pro ball player as weed and booze were commonplace staples of the players at the time.
When, as a young man, he was arrested for stealing a car the Pirates management saw their chance to not only get a good pitcher but save a bunch of cash on the signing bonus.
So Ellis was given probation, a reduced signing bonus and a lifetime job in professional sports.
He would eventually go on to be a big league pitcher for several major league teams but in June of 1970 he was still with the Pirates, still into drugs and alcohol and still living life on the edge.
The team flew into San Diego that Thursday for an evening game on Friday against the San Diego Padres.
As they had nothing really to do until Friday Dock asked the manager for the afternoon off. As he explained it, he had a friend up in L.A. he wanted to drop in on and it was only an hour’s flight north. He would easily be back in time for the Friday evening game.
The manager said okay.
His buddy’s girlfriend had a place in the city where they could chill, chat and most importantly drop. Acid that is.
If you’ve read my book Politically Erect you’ve probably learned more about LSD then you need to know, but one of the things I talk about is the extreme time distortion experience. In fact concerning time, under the influence of acid, there ain’t none.
Being familiar with the lag time from the time of ‘dropping’ until what we commonly referred to as ‘blast-off’, Ellis dropped a tab as the plane touched down in L.A. that morning and by the time he arrived at his friend’s house he was passing through the Stratosphere, buzzing through the Mesosphere and well on his way into approaching this ultimate goal, the Exosphere.
Later in the bedroom, tucked warmly into a cocoon of psychodelicia, he enjoyed his trip. Eventually, as he started to come down he woke up.
As you do when your mind has been transported to Tralfamador and seeing it was light outside, he figured it was still Thursday. So what do you do when you’ve got that much time on your hands? You take acid. Dock dropped another hit.
He remembers his friend’s girl waking him at around two in the afternoon to tell him he needed to head back to the airport for the game. He was angry at having his trip disrupted and argued that he didn’t have to be in San Diego until late Friday afternoon.
Rather than escalate the argument and knowing it was pointless to debate with someone in an altered state of consciousness she wisely disappeared out of the room and shuffled back in a minute later with the L.A. paper and brandished the sports page at him pointing out the date and the line-up for that night’s game between the Padres and the Pirates with their starting pitcher, himself.
It was Friday.
He raced back to the airport, caught the three o’clock south and made it to the ball park at around half past four, about ninety minutes before start time.
Start time for the game was scheduled for five after six and by five thirty as he was peaking from his second hit. Unable to focus, he was barely able to keep faking his way through warm-ups.
California being California and the Seventies being the Seventies, availability of pharmaceuticals was never a problem. To this day. A girl in the stands who was a close friend, (apparently a very close friend), of pro baseball players, was located and was able to give Ellis some more Dr. Feelgoods. What the hell? If you can’t come down might as well go higher!
For some reason speed back in the Seventies had the most creative names: Black Beauties, Red Bennies, White Crosses and everybody’s favorite, Myocardial Infarcts. Take one on Tuesday and you were good to go until Saturday afternoon. Of course you might be dead by Sunday. I’d never seen anyone ever take more than one dose.
Ellis ducked back into the locker room to pop the Green Bennies he’d scored, a form of Benzedrine and sit covered in sweat to wait until the last minute to go back out onto the field.
A couple of hours later he finally heard the national anthem play, which seemed to go on for another day, he heard the Head Umpire yell “PLAY BALL!” and Dock floated out to the field.
It was with some difficulty but primarily through sense memory, he found the pitcher’s mound and tried to focus on the catcher and the batter at home plate.
The catcher, who along with most of the rest of the team, knew Dock was high but not what he was high on, had taped some fluorescent tape to his fingers so Ellis could better see his pitching signals.
The first few innings were rough as the ball, sometimes the size of a marble and other times as big as a soccer ball, had a mind of its own and started to find everything but the batter’s box.
It found its way to the batter, the backstop, the crowd on a few occasions and the dugout which seemed to be some of the ball’s favorite destinations. Once when the ball was chipped back to the pitcher’s mound and slowly rolled past, Ellis dove out of the way thinking it was a speeding line drive.
By the fourth inning, back in the dugout, he was informed that not one batter on the Padres team had yet scored a hit. It didn’t register.
The Pirates dugout, the media announcers and even some of the crowd began to buzz.
As he continued to pitch by focusing on the batters’ stances, he remembers pitching a fast ball to Jimi Hendrix who was swinging with his guitar.
Ellis struck him out.
By this point the fear of losing had completely subjugated the paranoia you get when you do acid around other people, much less on national T.V. and Ellis’ lucky streak continued as the Padres took their last turn at bat. Assisted by some brilliant Pirates’ fielding, unparalleled concentration and the entire population of Ireland’s luck, not one Padre had yet scored a hit.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning.
A ‘no hitter’ is a game in which the opposing team is not able to score a single hit and according to Major Baseball League’s official stats there have only been 256 ‘no hitters’ since 1901 or about two per year since 1900.
It was two balls and two strikes and the entire Pirates dugout was on its feet.
The last pitch was a strike.
The entire place erupted with even the Padres fans cheering as the team rushed the mound to carry a half conscious Ellis from the field.
Dock Ellis had held off the San Diego Padres with a no hitter on their own turf in front of their home crowd while being broadcast nationally. While tripping on LSD.
Americans do have culture!