Tuesday, April 11, 2006

1971 Topps #2

In an era that was full of them, Dock Ellis was the ultimate counter-culture athlete. To retaliate for a moonshot home run at the All-Star game five years earlier, he beaned the great Reggie Jackson in the face, resulting in Mr. October being carried off the field on a stretcher. He wore curlers in his hair during pre-game warm-ups, which infuriated Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn to no end. On May 1, 1974, because he refused to be intimidated by The Big Red Machine like the rest of the National League, he set a Major League record for consecutive hits batsmen to start the game by pelting Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Dreissen in the top of the first inning. The next batter, Tony Perez, managed to dodge Ellis's headhunting and draw a walk, scoring The Gambler, and Dock would throw two more pitches directly at Johnny Bench before being lifted by his manager. But for all his antics, that doesn't even come close to what he once accomplished to begin a doubleheader one afternoon in 1970.

The most significant events in the history of Man, in chronological order as well as more or less in the order of its importance are:
  1. The Birth of Christ - December 25, 0000
  2. The Death of Christ - Friday, 0033
  3. Man Walks on the Moon - 1968 or '69 or so.
  4. Ellis throws a no-hitter under the influence of LSD - June 12, 1970.
I'm not sure if people can really understand and appreciate the difficulty of accomplishing something like that under those circumstances. Hell, when I'm under the influence, I forget how to watch TV, let alone pitch a ballgame. To clarify, remember back when us kids used to stuff our faces with hallucinogenic substances during Little League practice and then proceed to shag flies and play pepper? Wasn't that absolutely difficult as hell? Now try picture doing the exact same thing only during an actual major league game. Against actual major league hitters. And then you end up throwing a no-hitter. Granted, it was one of the more sloppy no-hitters in Baseball history, with 8 walks and a HBP. But still. Throwing a no-hitter while tripping your ass off? I wish I could eloquently explain just how Dock found himself in such a position but others have beaten me to it, like this terrific piece that appeared in the Dallas Observer last year, or, if you're the illiterate type that can only handle a couple simple paragraphs, these guys also have an effective, abbreviated version. Either way, I, for one, simply cannot fathom the exhilaration Dock must've felt on the mound that day.

Look, I don't want to seem like I'm promoting recreational drug use but everybody knows that parties are more fun when you're drunk, the love you feel for your friends when you're on estasty can literally make you weep with joy and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is actually tolerable when you're stoned. Delivering a no-hitter on acid? I'm sorry, but next to literally walking on the moon, that has to be among the single greatest feelings any human has ever felt in civilized civilization, however artificial.

Dock Ellis claims to have never pitched a major league game without the aid of substances, mostly amphetamines. But in a day and age when all a player has to do is grow out a grizzly beard to be considered a rock star, Dock's punk rock aesthetic and brutal honesty about the sociological nature of Baseball is severely missed. And because Fate sometimes appreciates irony more than Irony herself, Dock Ellis now works as a drug counselor for the Victor Valley Penitentary in California.

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