On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates baseball pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no hit game, an extremely rare feat. He later admited he was under the influence of LSD. On June 14, the Editor of Deadspin tried to recreate the same accomplishment…on an Xbox. This is his story.
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Only once did I feel a brief flicker of hallucinatory terror. We were in a pizza parlour, in the friendly Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, and I was having difficulty deciding which slice to purchase because even though my stomach said “plain slice” my mind begged for “chicken jalapeño with shredded garlic knots”, which wasn’t even available but, dammit, it should have been that day.
It didn’t feel like an unreasonable amount of time had passed. Then a slice of white pie was whooshed out of the giant oven by the pizzaman, and the gurgling cheese appeared angry with me. Maybe I was holding up the line. I ducked behind the soda fountain to refocus my fritzy thoughts for a couple extra minutes until that ricotta stopped messing with me. I ordered two plain slices quickly, then added on a slice of white because I felt the need to assert myself. Hey, white pizza. I eat you. You don’t eat me.=
Other than that, I had a perfectly pleasant first LSD experience, one made only slightly less pleasant by my attempts to recreate Dock Ellis’s acid-addled June 12, 1970, no-hitter on the Xbox version of MLB2K11.
Games 1-10: “You don’t need water yet, do you, wilting Lamb’s Ear?”
I took my first strip of the stuff at approximately 12.30 in the afternoon, and it took about 30 minutes for the first burst of spastic wooziness to arrive. The games began, with an MLB2K11 custom-generated Dock Ellis leading the 2011 Pirates against the 2011 San Diego Padres, a considerably less fearsome offensive bunch than the woeful ’70 Pads, who at least had homer-thumping Nate Colbert in the cleanup spot. It should be noted that I’m not a very good player. An above-average Xbox player should have a reasonable chance of no-hitting a powderpuff lineup containing the likes of Will Venable and Ryan Ludwick, but I was at a disadvantage in both skill and lucidity.
We’d agreed in advance that once I gave up a hit, I’d start again. To speed up play, the computer would simulate the Pirates’ at-bats. Craggs was there to witness the event and to babysit, though he’d admitted that he hoped I’d run through the sliding glass doors or otherwise involve myself in some other entertaining after-school-special mishap. The other witness was Gawker video engineer Matt Toder, who was there to record me and who had hooked up a direct image-capture video screen to record game action.
The first couple games went quickly, as I struggled to get through the top of the lineup. One thing I’d overlooked was that in 1970, Dock Ellis had not been responsible for steering the other eight players on the field. I gave up cheap hits mostly because my Andrew McCutchen either stood stationary or took off in a dead sprint toward the right field wall whenever a perfectly catchable pop fly came his direction.
But by the fourth game I started to pick up tendencies in all the batters. Jason Bartlett swung at first-pitch changeups. Will Venable couldn’t hit the palm ball. In fact, most of these free-swinging Padres couldn’t hit Dock’s funky palm ball. I threw it often. But by then, also, the first acid distractions entered: the TV flickered; the cracks in the wall started to move; the hand soap started to breathe – those sorts of things. Plus I was drawn to the outdoor garden between innings. Rain was near, I sensed.
You don’t need water yet, do you, wilting Lamb’s Ear?
No, A.J. Rain is imminent. We’ll be fine.
I started to groove. Through the first 4 2/3 innings of Game 4, Dock had no-hit the Padres. This was easy. The pixelated field was so lush and vibrant, ground zero for some damn good video-game baseball, courtesy of me, the shaggy dude with a head full of low-grade lysergide. I was putting on an absolute clinic for these imaginary spectators, not to mention Craggs and Toder. “You’re cruising right along,” one of them said, or maybe it was the hydrangea. They marveled at how quickly I’d mastered Dock’s palm ball. [Ed. note: This may have been the point where Craggs wrote to tell the office that A.J. was saying “Palm ball!” to himself, over and over, like an incantation.]
Then Nick Hundley busted it up with a lazy single and my brain screamed “NOOOOOO!” in a high-pitched roller-coaster whistle. That was cruel. Life was cruel. It’s Tuesday. Is my leg on fire? Then I took another dose.
Games 11-20 (or so): “Can we get some pizza now?”
I was never the same after Hundley’s bloop, and poor Craggs had to restart game after game of pitiful attempts. (I would have restarted the machine myself, but I was daunted by it at the time.) Some games would last one inning. Sometimes Venable would lead off and laser my first-pitch palm ball back up the middle as I desperately mashed buttons and half the infield flailed spastically on the ground. For the next couple hours, I didn’t make it past the second inning, and the frustration of this Sisyphean task mounted.
Between games I’d slump over to the left side of the couch, or wander out to the back garden, overcome by the majesty of how pretty these leaves were and how many different shades of green existed in the world and how tough it must be to distinguish all these greens. Like, how do you name a colour? Whose job is that? God’s marketing directors? When does celadon morph into chartreuse? Viridian become teal? But most importantly, when did Nick Hundley become Adrian Gonzalez?
Playing this game in this enhanced condition was not very fun, especially when there were so many more things in the room to see and feel and… hear.
“I need some music,” I said when I came back inside. “Before I can continue.”
Craggs made a face and flipped open his computer to find a soundtrack for the rest of the day. The first honking bars of “Sugar Magnolia” came out of his machine.
“How’s that?” he said
He was trying to be an arsehole but goddamn if it wasn’t perfect.
“Restart!” I proclaimed. I was ready. Dock was ready. I fired the first palm ball and the pitch glimmered with accuracy and maximum power and… Will Venable lined it into right centre field.
“Can we get some pizza now?”
But in order to get that type of nourishment one must go
I had been instructed not to go outside by people who were more accustomed to these types of activities than I was. The cosy confines of the apartment were the only place for a 37-year-old first-timer like me, they said. It only took a few brisk steps to realise what they had been talking about. The normally straight footpath on Court Street between Union and Sackett started to tilt to the left in a comical, funhouse way. The storefront signs were more vivid than usual; the swooping cursive letters on Italian bakeries were now a menacing Satan font. Couples pushing strollers passed by me and I looked the other way because I was ashamed and too paranoid that they’d see my eyes bouncing or that I’d stare too long at their kicking babies and they’d call the cops.
By the time we arrived at the pizza parlour things were threatening to go haywire. That ricotta pie was clearly agitated by my presence. Toder relayed my order for me and handled the money transaction with the counterperson, because I could not possibly participate in such activities with the dickhead pizza being all mouthy and with the fearsome heat of that big oven so close by. Toder handed me my large cup of Dr Pepper and we were soon outside again on the crooked footpath, headed back to the ballpark inside my TV to accomplish greatness. The Dr Pepper was so good. So, so good. Why this was not the beverage of choice for all when life goes awry was unfathomable. Hey, look, the footpath is back to normal. Everything’s coming up me. I needed to hug something.
Games ~21-48: “I think it’s going to happen”
I pitched with a purpose throughout the next batch of games, plunking players both intentionally and not, missing the strike zone with pride because, according the box score from June 12, 1970, and Dock’s recollections of the game, he had had some control problems that day. Besides, if these computer-generated Padres continued to ruin my trip with their weak singles, they would have to pay. I had eight walks to give to match Ellis, so I was going to make them count. Venable took one in the ribs. I aimed for Orlando Hudson’s knees. I tried to bean Nick Hundley in the right temple in the hopes that his brains would splatter all over the batter’s box.
“What are you doing?” Craggs asked. I told him why this was allowed and necessary, even if it didn’t help the cause.
“I really wish you had worked a little to get good at this game,” he said, restarting the game again after another unremarkable 1 2/3-inning outing.
Then, when all hopes of a meaningful game seemed gone, I pulled it together. Seven straight batters without letting a runner on board. I had clocked five strikeouts, including the bastard Hundley on three straight palm balls out of the zone. Craggs and Toder perked up.
I walked the pitcher, though, which seemed enough of a rhythm-killer to derail me, especially with pesky Venable up next and the metal shelf on the right side of the room melting so much. Venable hit a hard grounder to third, but thanks to some brief zap of video-game dexterity, I made Pedro Alvarez break left, snare it, and throw to second to start a double play.
Someone in the room actually clapped. I made it through the fourth. Then either Craggs or Toder foolishly said out loud, “I think it’s going to happen.” Jinxed. Shortly after the start of the bottom of the fifth, Nick Hundley launched a double off the left-field wall. I quickly restarted, but now everyone’s enthusiasm, along with most of the work day, had vanished.
Game 49: “Game called”
“I think this should be the last one,” I said, slumped on the couch, which was less comfortable than usual, as the room grew darker and dread crept in. It was almost 5pm and there was not much left to do, but still too much to do, especially since it had not yet rained and the plants would be in jeopardy of losing their super-greenness if I waited too long for this dull brain-hum to stop humming.
“Let’s make this one count, ” Craggs said. He restarted. I broke routine and started Venable with a slider. Ball. I threw him a fastball that almost hit the backstop. Ball 2. I threw him a palm ball across the inside part of the plate and Venable, as fed up as the rest of us with the pointless effort, cracked one more single into center field. I wasn’t even upset with him. It was so quick and merciful.
Craggs: “Do you want to go again?”
Me: “No. I can’t feel my face.”
Craggs: “OK, that’s it. Game called on account of ‘Can’t feel my face.’ Let’s get out of here.”
Toder pointed the camera at me and asked if I’d learned anything from this experiment. My only answer was that I thought I’d have a better chance at throwing a no-hitter against real people. Next time, maybe.
Thanks to James Del, Kotaku’s Owen Good, and Michael Safir from High Times.
Republished from Deadspin