When Ellis arrived at San Diego Stadium about 4:30 in the afternoon, he swallowed a handful of uppers—Dexamyl pills, known as “Greenies”—then walked to the dugout, where a female acquaintance was waiting by the railing.
The woman had a gold pouch, small and pretty. Inside were “Bennies.” Benzedrine pills. Another stimulant. Ellis took some, part of his usual pregame routine. The Pirates suspected Ellis was on something but weren’t entirely sure because the pitcher always acted a little nuts.
The evening was dreary. Mist and drizzle. The ballpark was mostly empty. The Padres were lousy, a year removed from their inaugural campaign, a light-hitting club that ultimately lost 99 games. Ellis struck out six batters. He walked eight. He hit Padres center fielder Ivan Murrell with a pitch. In the HBO footage, silent and incomplete, Ellis sporadically slips and stumbles during his follow-through. He later recalled a sense of euphoria. Sometimes, the ball felt big. Like a balloon. Sometimes, it felt small. Like a golf ball. Ellis couldn’t always see the hitters—nor his catcher, Jerry May. He focused on May’s fingers, wrapped with reflective tape. He remembered pitching erratically, balls in the dirt, the Padres batting scared, ducking and diving, hitting off the ends of their bats.
In the dugout, Ellis ignored the stadium scoreboard. He concentrated on cleaning his muddy spikes. His superstitious teammates avoided eye contact, except for rookie second baseman Dave Cash.
“You got a no-no going,” Cash said.
“Yeah, right,” Ellis replied.
The article in High Times reported that Ellis saw a comet tail behind his pitches and a multicolored path to May. A few years ago, The New York Times claimed that Ellis saw Nixon behind the plate, calling balls and strikes. So goes the myth. The old baseball card, passed around anew. On the game’s final pitch, Ellis struck out pinch hitter Ed Spiezio with a curveball. He spun around on the mound and screamed, “A m——-f—-ing no-no!”
Or so he claimed to remember. Fact is, Ellis didn’t remember much: When sportscaster Curt Gowdy interviewed him the next day during a nationally televised game, the pitcher was still blotted out, as high as a Georgia pine.
This was by design.
People have got to know that their umpire is not a crook. Well, Tony Venzon is not a crook!