The tale is well known. In 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis threw a no hitter against the San Diego Padres while under the influence of LSD. It’s the stuff of legend for baseball aficionados and psychedelic adventurers alike, but both groups want to know the answer to same question: How in the hell could someone pitch a no-no while tripping on acid?
Ellis’ career and life were more than just one great performance under the most bizarre of circumstances, however, and “No No: A Dockumentary” explores the man he was on and off the field. The documentary premiered Saturday at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas as part of the annual event’s new “South By Sports” effort.
The no hitter is the central event around which “No No” revolves, but it is far from the only focus of the film. I count myself among probably many who didn’t know much more about Ellis than the acid event, but he was a lot more than that and “No No” does a great job of telling the whole story of the man.
Ellis was a fairly polarizing figure in his day, and his day was a fairly turbulent time in history. In “No No” I learned about his baseball career, his civil rights activism, his flamboyant personality, and his substance and physical abuse problems. I also learned about how Ellis was able to right the ship and use his experiences to mentor troubled and at-risk youth long after his Major League Baseball days were over. He was far from a perfect man, but Ellis managed to overcome his faults and accomplish a lot of good before his death in 2008 from a liver ailment. The film covers his ups and downs and features interviews from teammates, family members, and close friends. Footage of Ellis himself is from before filming for this movie began, but its inclusion punctuates the story perfectly.
“No No: A Dockumentary” is an incredible film that would be really hard to improve upon. It is laughs, it is tears, it is a redemption story, it is a baseball story. And if you enjoy any of the aforementioned even a little bit, it is a can’t miss. “No No: A Dockumentary” is one of the best baseball documentaries I’ve ever seen, and the long, sustained applause from the audience at its conclusion tells me I’m not alone in that assessment. Seriously, when it comes out, see it.