“That ball turned into a silver bullet, his arm into a gun.” That’s how singer Todd Snider romanticized Dock Ellis’s 1970 feat of pitching an LSD-fueled no-hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates, a moment that made him a druggie hero of baseball folklore.
Jeffrey Radice’s No No: A Dockumentary celebrates Ellis as outspoken and flamboyant at a time when players of color were often seen but rarely heard; the film views his exploits through this lens, including Ellis’s canny dare that led to two black pitchers facing each other for the first time in an All-Star Game.
But No No also explores Ellis’s drug abuse, both recreational and the performance-enhancing “greenies” systemic to Major League Baseball, and how it contributed to the episodes of domestic violence that ended two of his marriages.
Ellis died in 2008, but Radice’s use of archival footage (he mines a conversation with a retired Ellis, sober and leading a rehab program) and his interviews with teammates, friends, and family deftly render Ellis’s journey from a gifted firebrand who grappled with fame and excess to a man penitent for how he carried himself in glory.
There’s enough diamond lore here to please baseball diehards, but Ellis’s outsize life will grip even casual fans.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 3, 2014