PROFILES IN GOOFBALLS #2 or FEAR AND LOATHING IN SAN DIEGO: A Savage Journey Into the Heart of the American Pastime


By Doctor Gonzo Ellis (as told by West Coast Craig)

Woody Creek Tavern, COLast week I used this space to mark the anniversary of arguably the greatest album in history…and this week marks another anniversary I would be terribly remiss for letting pass without noting: 39 years ago this Friday perhaps the greatest single feat in sports allegedly happened. With inspiration from the late Great Doctor, here’s an attempt at a kind of strange literary mash-up, and some of it is even true…

We were just outside of Inglewood, on the edge of LAX, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit light headed, maybe you should pitch,” and suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge baseball bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the plane, tearing through the clouds at a thousand miles an hour on its way to San Diego. The man from the seat next to me had been in the lavatory for quite awhile, enough so that the stewardesses had summoned the Captain and they were threatening to tear down the door when he emerged, his arm completely blue. The pilot hissed that he knew what the guy was doing in there, but the man offered a weak smile and returned to the seat next to me, humming to himself:

“One toke over the line, sweet Cheebus, one toke over the line…”

One toke? I knew what he was doing in there as well. No use mentioning those bats, the poor bastard would see them soon enough.

It was supposed to be an off day…but somehow the off day was lost in a fever dream of bad craziness, and as I sat at the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel, my gal looked at the paper and said “Dock, you’re pitching today!”

It was too late, the acid was already ingested.

Three hours later I was in San Diego heading for the ballpark. Things could get ugly fast: One time in Cincinnati the guard at the stadium tunnel refused to let me in, looking past my World Series ring and only seeing the bottle I carried in a bag. “I’m a Doctor of Pitching you swine!” I cried, but the bastard wouldn’t listen to reason, and rebutted my thoughtful debate by macing me in the face. Here in sunny San Diego, a town of aging white conservatives and military types, I would have to run the gauntlet, and acid be damned. Go through all the official gibberish, get the car into the players’ lot, work out on the ushers, deal with the clubhouse boy, sign autographs…all of it, totally illegal, a fraud on its face, but of course it would have to be done.

Bottom of the first, the game was definitely under way. I had witnessed the start, I was sure of that much…Clemente just grounded back to the pitcher for the third out. But now what? What comes next? How would Rube Waddell handle this situation? Panic. It crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of an acid frenzy. All these horrible realities began to dawn on me. Here I am in San Diego, completely twisted on drugs. No attorney, no cash, no pregame rubdown. I did, however, have my greenies and bennies, courtesy of my lady here who stands behind the dugout with her magic gold bag full of a whole galaxy of screamers, laughers and raw ether.…I might not have needed all of this, but once you get locked into a serious trip, the tendency is to push it as far as you can. The stands were full of lizards in Bermuda shorts and flat top buzz cuts, and somebody was feeding these beasts booze! The grass in front of the dugout is a swirling mass of tobacco juice, sunflower seed shells, and discarded bubble gum. Order some new cleats, I whisper, or else I’ll never get out to the mound alive. These hallucinations are bad enough, but after awhile you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead Little League Coach crawling up your leg with a knife in his teeth…but nobody can handle the sight of the San Diego Chicken suddenly appearing twelve times the size of God on the jumbotron in the sky high above Center Field.

Stargell hits a bomb in the top of the second, and a calm euphoria comes over me. I want to show this jock culture, this SoCal, 4-season, sports-mad, clean-cut society how the freaks do it, a classic confirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character…a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country—but only for those with true grit. And I was chock full of that. I once plugged the first four batters of the Big Red Machine just to prove a point to my wretched teammates. Kill the body and the head will die. Today, hiding from the brutish realities of this the year of our lord, 1970, I look in at the taped fingers of catcher May—May’s not there, just his glowing taped fingers and his mitt floating against a candy colored sea—and get a strike out, get some lazy fly balls, get some nice plays from Alou in center and old man Bill Mazeroski at second. I walk eight batters, and hit another. I don’t know who’s up at any given time. The ball is huge. The ball is tiny. It’s a hard liner back to me that will take off my head like a Hell’s Angel swinging a tire iron, but it’s actually a feeble grounder that ends up trickling in front of me. An infielder quickly fields it and fires to first as I cower behind the mound. Shake it off, when you bring an act to this game, you want to bring it heavy. Don’t waste any time with cheap shucks and misdemeanors. Go straight for the jugular. Get right into felonies. Hit some motherfroggers.

What Babe Ruth brought, what Mickey Mantle continued, what everybody was doing, serious boozing and waking up with Dexamyl and Benzedrine, the back alley ambience of the clubhouse a “Life-slice exhibit” put on display to show how deep into the filth and degeneracy ballplayers will sink if left to their own devices…evidence of excessive consumption of almost every type of drug known to civilized man since 1544 A.D. And Bowie Kuhn worries that I wear curlers in my hair on the field during batting practice? And nobody says anything about Joe Pepitone wearing his hairpiece down to his shoulders? Would the weasel Kuhn and his cronies ever let me face Vida Blue, two soul brothers, in an All-Star game? Are we just horse flesh like the decadent and depraved Kentucky Derby beasts? No, we would stick together. Here in the early seventies, we were sure that the jock culture would soon be over, big business interests and giant media rules were going to be kept at bay…that was the handle, that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil…our energy would simply prevail, we had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave… but now, you can go to the top deck of the stadium and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark, that place where the wave broke and rolled back.

As for me, on this day, June 12th, 1970, there’d be no sympathy. No mercy for the criminal freak on the mound in San Diego. And none from me. Pops hits another dinger in the seventh and that’s all I need. Some young kid named Cash has been blabbering to me about my having a no hitter going, and the rest of the bench, all sitting as far away from me as possible, are staring at him like the rookie swine he is. It’s the bottom of the ninth and I get a fly ball to center, a grounder to first that I have to cover the bag on, and when I hit the bag for some reason I think to myself “I just scored a touchdown!” A pinch hitter is called, Spezio, but he won’t touch me. Called third strike…a no-no, and suddenly I’m under a mountain of players! If I’m coming down from my trip I don’t feel it, I’ve got a whole new high going now. No time to enjoy it though…this was the first half of a double header, and as the pitcher of the previous game, I’ve got to keep the book for the next one.

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About the Author ()

West Coast Craig reports from Hollywood with an endearingly laid back style. A happily married father of two little boys, WCC has an avocado tree in his yard, plays the hot corner in a "Valley" hardball league and always manages to take cool sports-related mini road-trips, often with his immediate clan. He hails from Oneonta, NY but has been "So very L.A." for twenty years, so his sports teams are the Yankees AND the Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the L.A. Lakers and the Colorado Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques. WCC loves bacon-wrapped hotdogs and can touch his heel and his ear... with his hand.

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