No No: A Dockumentary

To really understand Dock Ellis, who in 1970 threw a no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates while tripping on LSD, you must understand baseball. Not the rules, per se, but the culture. You must understand that the sport known as “America’s pastime” was built on a deeply racist foundation. Well, Ellis wasn’t into that. Self-described as the Muhammad Ali of baseball, he never really took well to the sport’s prevailing style of management. But as director Jeffrey Radice’s portrait nicely elucidates, not being craven didn’t mean being entirely fearless; in fact, by his own admission, Ellis suffered from a desperate fear of failure, which went hand in hand with catastrophic addiction. There is no shortage here of talking heads to tell us how outrageous he was. As one of Ellis’ teammates recalls, “Anybody who left the Pirates and went to another team, they were fairly bored.” But Radice goes beyond that understated summary, unafraid to confront some demons. Almost as fascinating as the “no no” (as a no-hitter is more colloquially known) is the lesser-remembered fact that Ellis wrote a book with eventual U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall. And the important fact that later he went on to be an addiction counselor. He died in 2008, and Radice’s entertaining film does justice to his complex legacy.