A new feature! From time to time The Wasteland will delve into songs, movies, books that deal with sports related events to see how truthful they remain to the actual story.
We start with Todd Snider’s song – “America’s Favorite Pastime”. Snider retells the story of Dock Ellis and his infamous 1970 no-hitter. One of the fabled events in the history of baseball (though not included in Topps’ “Tales of the Game insert” set) Ellis claimed that he was on LSD when he shut down the Padres on June, 12 1970.
If you’re not familiar with Todd Snider he’s an alternative rock, folk, country singer with a Dylan-esque vibe and a mixture of song/spoken word lyrics that often border on the whimsical, “if we don’t laugh we might cry” kind of way.
Let’s take a look at the lyrics and compare them to what factual information we can find on the internet to see how truthful Snider remained to the story.
America’s Favorite Pastime by Todd Snider
dock ellis didn't think he would pitch that day
back in 1970
when he and his wife took a trip to the ballpark
a little bit differently
so by the time he hit the bullpen
half the world had melted away
that's about the time coach murtaugh said
hey dock you’re pitching today
Truth: Dock Ellis had been in LA to visit his girlfriend (not wife) and his childhood friend Al Rambo. Due to a copious amount of alcohol and stimulants Ellis lost track of time and thinking it was Thursday, the day before he was scheduled to pitch, he took a hit of Purple Haze acid around noon.
His girlfriend Mitzi was perusing the paper and realized that the game announcement had Ellis listed as the starting pitcher. It was then that the right-hander realized it was Friday and was indeed scheduled to start.
Hopped up amphetamines and Benzedrine he took to the mound with the ball feeling like a “very heavy volleyball”. Coach Murtaugh was in fact the manager of the easy going Pirates. Danny Murtaugh worked for the Pirates for 29 years as a player and manager.
taking the ground the mound turned into
the icing on a birthday cake
the lead off man came up and turned into
a dancing rattle snake
the crowd tracked back and forth
in waves of color under the sun
the ball turned into a silver bullet
his arm into a gun
Truth: There’s no reports of the batters turning into bizarre creatures or birthday cake pitching mounds. Ellis himself has stated that there were times when he didn’t even see the batters in the box, he just knew if they were right handed or left handed. He describes his feelings as “euphoric” and mentions that the ball appeared to change sizes throughout the game.
(Chorus) i took a look all around the world one time
you cant judge a book
three up three down for three straight innings
in a zero zero tie
as all those batters names came ringing
from some voice out of the sky
hallucinating halloween scenes
each new swing of the bat
his sinker looked like it was falling off a table
but nobody was hallucinating that
Truth: Thee up, three down usually means in order and it looks like that’s not quite the case. In the first Ellis walked two, retired the side in order in the second and walked one in the third. The Pirates actually led the game 1-0 after three innings thanks to a Willie Stargell home run in the second inning.
Ellis spoke of the names being announced sounding like the “voice of God”.
by the top of the fifth he was up one to nothing
and giving the padres fits
by the top of the seventh he was up two to nothing
and they still hadn’t got any hits
with one out left to go in the game
the batter looked like a little child
the birthday caking was shaking
and those waves of color were going wild
Truth: Snider nails the scores. In addition to Stargell’s home run in the second he added another one in the top of the seventh. Overshadowed by the no hitter was the fact that Padres starter Dave Roberts had a pretty decent game himself. He scattered 5 hits over 7 innings and ending up with fewer baserunners allowed than Ellis, who walked 8 and hit a batter.
when he finally mowed the last man down
he was high as he had ever been
laughing to the sound of the world going around
completely unaware of the win
and while the papers would say he was scattered that day
he was pretty as a pitcher could be
the day dock ellis of the Pittsburgh pirates
threw a no hitter on lsd
Truth: Ellis did indeed strike out pinch hitter Ed Spiezio to end the game and secure the no hitter. While he might not have been 100% sure that he had won the game, he did know that he had thrown a no hitter. Rookie Dave Cash broke superstition by constantly reminding Ellis that he had a “no-no” going. According to a 2005 interview with the Dallas Observer Ellis remembers getting the last out and saying, “a f—king no hitter”!
So Snider stays pretty close to the truth in his song. The imagery might be gleaned from the songwriter’s own drug experience, but probably comes close to what Ellis experienced on the mound.
Dock Ellis is remembered as the guy who throw a no hitter on LSD, but it should’t be forgotten that he was a good pitcher for the Pirates in the 1970’s. As intimidating as Bob Gibson, as outspoken as Ali, Dock Ellis is the type of athlete that is disappearing from sports these days.
Take a look at his record:
1. No Hitter on LSD
2. Beaned Reggie Jackson in the face in retaliation for Jackson “showing him up” in the 1971 All Star game.
3. Beaned Pete Rose, Joe Morgan and Dan Driessen in a row, threw two pitches behind Tony Perez before walking him, then threw a pitch behind Johnny Bench before being yanked from the game by his coach.
4. Was maced by a security guard in Cincinnati
Imagine the faux-outrage from the talking heads on TV if a player pulled those antics in this day in age? Of course, I would probably pay James Shields $75.00 to hit Kevin Youklis in the face with the first pitch of the season, but Shields would probably be suspended for six weeks and people would be calling for him to be banned from the game.
Kudos to Snider for memorializing Dock Ellis in song and being fairly accurate in doing so.