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When an MLB Pitcher Threw a No-Hitter While Tripping on Acid

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On June 12, 1970, Dock Ellis was unprepared to pitch against the San Diego Padres for one simple reason. He thought it was still June 11.

Number 17 for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ellis had developed a reputation for brazen behavior. He liked to wear curlers in his hair because Major League Baseball management didn’t want him to. He was outspoken in matters of race, once remarking that managers would never allow “two brothers” to start in an all-star game. Jackie Robinson wrote him a letter encouraging his social consciousness while warning him that not everyone was going to like it.

Ellis was all right with that. He was a self-medicating athlete, popping stimulants before games and partying with cocaine and alcohol afterward. The substances either gave him an edge or took it off.

Playing on LSD wasn’t exactly part of the plan, but Ellis liked to work with what he had. Before the game in San Diego, Ellis had crashed in Los Angeles at the home of a friend, where he dropped tabs of acid. He woke to the sounds of the man’s girlfriend telling him he had to pitch that afternoon. He insisted the game was tomorrow. It was only when she showed him the sports page of the day's newspaper that he believed her. 

“What happened to yesterday?” he asked.

He caught a flight to San Diego, suited up, and in the clubhouse swallowed Benzedrines, a stimulant, to counter the effects of the LSD. Standing on the mound, he could barely identify the players in front of him. They were swinging bats, that much he knew, and sometimes they’d stand on the other side of home plate. Disoriented, he tried focusing on the reflective tape wrapped around the catcher’s fingers. One inning bled into the next. Everyone knew he was high on something. It wasn’t pretty—Ellis kept beaning batters and walking them—but pretty soon he realized he was looking at a no-hitter, or “no no.”  Even when the pitcher isn't tripping his face off, the chances of that are as low as 1 in 1,548 games.

The game might have seemed like hours, or seconds: Ellis would later say he lost all concept of time. But when it ended, the Padres hadn't been able to touch him. He had pitched a no-hitter on acid.

At first, Ellis was gleeful about the incident. He related the story to author Donald Hall, who was co-writing his autobiography, Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball, but was talked out of publishing it for fear it would blemish the League. (Instead, the book said he pitched the game while hungover.) As its legend grew, so did Ellis’s exaggeration of the feat. He recalled seeing Jimi Hendrix swinging at his pitches with a guitar and Richard Nixon standing behind home plate.  

It’s hard to know for certain what he actually experienced. LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide, is a psychedelic drug that can cause a variety of sensations by stimulating serotonin receptors. Distorted senses, vivid colors, hallucinations, and emotional highs and lows are all common. Ellis recalled that when one batter hit the ball, he’d hopped out of the way, afraid of getting hit. In reality, the ball was a grounder rolling towards him in the grass.  

Whatever it was Ellis felt, he couldn’t have minded it too much. In a Jet magazine interview from 1984, he said he had dropped LSD before a game a second time in 1974 and wound up hitting multiple batters—including Pete Rose—on purpose. He claimed to not be sober for any of his games with the New York Yankees later that decade. (He returned to the Pirates before retiring from baseball in 1980.)

But as Ellis’s interest in drugs dwindled, he began to grow slightly more sheepish about the story. Before his death in 2008 from liver disease, he lectured wayward kids on the perils of substance abuse. He claimed he took drugs to numb the fear of failure. He could never quite shake the desire to amplify it, though. “I was as high as a Georgia pine,” he’d say. During those moments, it was hard to know whether Ellis was ashamed or proud of that evening. Either way, June 12, 1970 was a date he no longer had any problem remembering.

Additional Sources:
No No: A Dockumentary

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General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

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TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
The Sandlot Is Returning to Theaters for Its 25th Anniversary
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Few films from the 1990s have grown in stature over the years like The Sandlot. Though it gained respectable reviews and box office receipts when it was released in April 1993, the movie's standing in pop culture has since ballooned into cult classic territory, and you can still find merchandise and even clothing lines dedicated to it today.

Now you can revisit the adventures of Smalls, Ham, Squints, and The Beast on the big screen when Fathom Events and Twentieth Century Fox, in association with Island World, bring The Sandlot back to theaters for its 25th anniversary. The event will be held in 400 theaters across the U.S. on July 22 at 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., and Tuesday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m and 7:00 p.m. (all times local).

Each screening will come complete with a preview of a new documentary detailing the making of the movie, so if you wanted to know even more about how this coming-of-age baseball classic came to be, now’s your chance.

For more information about ticket availability in your area, head to the Fathom Events website. And if you want to dive into some more trivia about the movie—including the fact that it was filmed in only 42 days—we’ve got you covered.

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