By Doctor Gonzo Ellis (as told by West Coast Craig)
Woody Creek Tavern, CO – Last week I used this space to mark the anniversary of arguably the greatest album in historyâ€¦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, hereâ€™s an attempt at a kind of strange literary mash-up, and some of it is even trueâ€¦
We were just outside of Inglewood, on the edge of LAX, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like â€œI feel a bit light headed, maybe you should pitch,â€ 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:
â€œOne toke over the line, sweet Cheebus, one toke over the lineâ€¦â€
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 dayâ€¦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 â€œDock, youâ€™re pitching today!â€
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. â€œIâ€™m a Doctor of Pitching you swine!â€ I cried, but the bastard wouldnâ€™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 playersâ€™ lot, work out on the ushers, deal with the clubhouse boy, sign autographsâ€¦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 muchâ€¦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.â€¦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 Iâ€™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 teethâ€¦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 characterâ€¦a gross, physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this countryâ€”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 Mayâ€”Mayâ€™s not there, just his glowing taped fingers and his mitt floating against a candy colored seaâ€”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 donâ€™t know whoâ€™s up at any given time. The ball is huge. The ball is tiny. Itâ€™s a hard liner back to me that will take off my head like a Hellâ€™s Angel swinging a tire iron, but itâ€™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. Donâ€™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 â€œLife-slice exhibitâ€ put on display to show how deep into the filth and degeneracy ballplayers will sink if left to their own devicesâ€¦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 bayâ€¦that was the handle, that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evilâ€¦our energy would simply prevail, we had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful waveâ€¦ 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, thereâ€™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 thatâ€™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. Itâ€™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 â€œI just scored a touchdown!â€ A pinch hitter is called, Spezio, but he wonâ€™t touch me. Called third strikeâ€¦a no-no, and suddenly Iâ€™m under a mountain of players! If Iâ€™m coming down from my trip I donâ€™t feel it, Iâ€™ve got a whole new high going now. No time to enjoy it thoughâ€¦this was the first half of a double header, and as the pitcher of the previous game, Iâ€™ve got to keep the book for the next one.