No No: A Dockumentary separates Dock Ellis the man from the myth
Major League baseball doesn’t keep statistics on such things, but as far as anybody can tell, Dock Ellis is the only professional baseball player ever suspended 10 days (by his own team) for wearing curlers in his hair during warm-ups.
Ellis was a unique and complex individual. He was a charismatic, athletically talented, socially aware, funny, smart, well-spoken product of 1970s America — a time of outrageous clothes, big cars, big hair and the civil rights movement. Ellis was also a rebellious, sometimes mean, abusive and occasionally selfish drug addict and alcoholic.
“The movie probably wouldn’t have been made without the LSD incident, but that is not what Dock should be remembered for,” says producer Mike Blizzard.
In No No: A Dockumentary (playing at Angelika Film Center on April 6 and 7), directed by Jeffrey Radice, Ellis is portrayed as all of those things by the people who knew him best.
Dock’s antics were legendary. In 1984, Ellis gained notoriety when he admitted that he was high on LSD when he threw a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on June 12, 1971. By baseball standards it was an imperfect yet complete game performance that featured eight walks, six strikeouts and two hit batsmen.
Later, when the Pirates arrived in California for the series with the Padres, Ellis was not scheduled to pitch right away but was granted permission to go home to Los Angeles for a few days. There he spent most of the time tripping on acid, drinking and partying with his friends.
Ellis pitched in the major leagues from 1968-1979 for five teams, including the Texas Rangers. His best years were as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who signed him as an amateur free agent in 1964.
He went on to win 138 games in his 12-year career, including 19 for the 1971 Pirates World Series champions and 17 for the 1976 American League champion New York Yankees. Yet most people remember him as the guy who threw a no-hitter on LSD.
“I read Dock’s biography [Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall] and realized that there was a lot more to his character then the LSD story,” Radice says. “Dock Ellis had this Paul Bunyan type character: lots of tall tales with a shred of truth in all of them.”
Throughout No No, Radice splices clips of Dugout, an anti-drug film aimed at youth baseball players, and the clips create an interesting contrast with the flagrant, drug-fueled reality of the Dock Ellis era.
No No shows a more complete picture of a complex man who fostered social change and turned his life around after baseball.
With interviews with Ellis, former teammates, two of his wives, lifelong friends and family, No No shows a more complete picture of a complex man who fostered social change and turned his life around after baseball.
“The movie probably wouldn’t or couldn’t have been made without the LSD incident, but there is a strong feeling by the people close to Dock that that is not what he should be remembered for,” says producer Mike Blizzard.
Although Ellis was signed 17 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier by becoming the first African-American to play in the major leagues, there were many social injustices that ball players of color still had to endure through the 1960s.
While in the minor leagues, mostly in the South, Ellis and other African–American players were segregated from white teammates at the team hotels. Racism throughout his life left a mark on Ellis, so he made a point not to conform. He saw himself as the “Muhammad Ali of baseball.”
When he chose to wear curlers in his afro on the field before a game, Ellis made a statement that he was not going to let anyone tell him what he could and could not do. It was no longer enough for African-American ballplayers to be on the field in the major leagues; Ellis and players of his time wanted acceptance. Dock pushed the limit in order to show that it was okay to be true to himself and express it any way he wanted.
But ups always have their downs, and No No is unashamed to delve into Dock’s darker side. When his pitching skills began to decline, he was let go in spring of 1980.
On the night of his release, Dock went home and abused his wife, Austine, at one point placing a revolver in her mouth. “It was devastating,” Austine says in the film. “He had never done that before.”
The film follows Dock’s path to reconciliation and rehabilitation, from drug abuser to counselor. Complete with emotional interviews with people he helped turn their lives around, No No: A Dockumentary is more than just a baseball movie, in the same way Dock Ellis was more than just a baseball player.