Did Dock Ellis Really Throw a No Hitter While Tripping on LSD?

Probably not.

No doubt, Dock Ellis was a wild-man and a heavy-partier. And according to Ellis’ own account, he took LSD on Thursday, June 11, 1970, and then half of a hit of acid again mid-morning on Friday, June 12, 1970 (the day he threw a no-hitter). But there is good reason to doubt his assertion that he was tripping, or high, on LSD by the time he arrived at the ball-park in San Diego late that Friday afternoon.

Here’s one obvious problem with the story: doses of LSD taken on consecutive days have diminishing effectiveness, so escalating dosages are required in order to get an effect. This is especially true in the absence of sufficient sleep. Ellis slept for maybe 2 hours before taking his second, significantly reduced dose (half of one hit of LSD) on June 12. In most cases, that’s just a waste of a half-hit of LSD.

And Ellis’ story has evolved over time, as the number of LSD doses taken, the time of the last dose, the length and timing of sleep, were shuffled around by Ellis in various retellings. So if, in fact, as Ellis suggested in his last retelling, he took that half-dose of acid on the morning of June 12, and subsequently fell back asleep for a few hours, before his friend woke him up and told him he needed to go pitch, then we have further reason to believe that this second half-dose of LSD was not sufficient to have an effect on the hung-over and depleted Ellis (sleeping not only ends acid trips, but the mere fact that Ellis was able to sleep is a very strong indicator that the drug was not having an effect)

At the ball-park on June 12, Ellis would probably not have been tripping on acid, though he would have been tired, groggy, and a little unfocused.

Enter Benzedrine (an amphetamine) and Dexamyl (a drug that combines amphetamine with barbituates to attenuate the agitation associated with amphetamine use), which may have played a more important role than LSD in the pharmacology of Ellis’ no-hitter. Ellis took these performance-enhancing drugs before he pitched on June 12. Taking Benzedrine and Dexamyl was common practice for Ellis and (he claims) for 90% of other Major League Baseball players, and Ellis gave Benzedrine and Dexamyl credit for giving him the energy and focus he needed to compete that day.

It is interesting to note that Ellis reported suffering from some odd sensory disturbances and quirks of attention that day at the ballpark in San Diego. Sometimes the ball appeared tiny to him, for instance, and he recalls being entirely focused on the tape on the catcher’s fingers. But that sort of thing isn’t uncommon for pitchers throwing no-hitters. Here’s how David Cone described the moment of heightened focus he experienced on the mound while throwing his perfect game (July 18, 1999):

I could feel my hair growing.

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