Dock Ellis feat examined in ‘No No’
January 18, 2014
Baseball fans are quirky! Present company included. That’s part of the reason I’m looking forward to seeing filmmaker Jeferey Radice’s "No No: A Dockumentary," which happens to be screening in the U.S. Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Another reason is that the subject of the film is Dock Ellis, certainly in the top two- or three-percentile of quirkiest Major League ballplayers ever. Quite a singular dude, that Dock. Outrageous, you might say. Boy, did he love pushing the buttons of that ever-so-white old-boy network that ran organized baseball.
There are a few reasons I remember when Dock, a Pittsburgh Pirate right-hander, tossed a no-hitter in San Diego against the Padres in the early summer of 1970. One is that I’m old. Another is that, in a fit of pique over the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn in 1958, I abandoned "my Bums" and, looking around the league for a suitable replacement, and, for whatever reason, came up with the Pirates.
That infatuation lasted two years, coming to an abrupt end when my family moved to L.A. in 1959, the same year the L.A. Dodgers won the World Series for the first time. Although I’ve been back in the Dodger fold ever since, the Pirates have remained in my peripheral vision — hence the imprinting to memory of Dock’s exceptional feat those many years ago.
Fast-forwarding to an April morning in 1984, we find the now-retired Dock Ellis very much back in the news. It seems a Pirate beat-writer from a couple of different Pittsburgh newspapers by the name of Bob Smizik wrote a story that morning under the headline "Ellis: I Pitched No-Hitter on LSD."
Before the day was out, the world was abuzz over the story of a former major-league pitcher admitting he had been tripping on acid when he tossed a "No No." One thing’s for sure, the Lift Maintenance Department of the then Park City Ski Area, where I worked at the time, could find nothing else worth discussing that day. The story became the stuff of legend. It had entered the realm of Mythology.
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Now, Smizik wasn’t at the game in question. It had gone down two-years before he began covering the Pirates for the Pittsburgh Press. And the 1984 interview he conducted with Dock focused more on Dock’s work as a California drug and alcohol counselor.
But somewhere during the course of their talk, according to Smizik anyway, Ellis made the comment that was heard ’round the world. As soon as the newspaper hit the streets, the story went as viral as any story could back in ’84.
"I can only remember bits and pieces of the game," Ellis would say. "I was psyched. I had a feeling of euphoria. I remember hitting a couple of batters and the bases were loaded two or three times." The fact that he also walked eight batters gave the strange tale more "legs" than it might have had otherwise.
Not everyone bought into the story, of course. Dock had been known to spin a yarn or two during his playing days and this one fit right into his whopper wheelhouse. Whether or not he actually threw the No No while under the influence is the stuff of which fables are made and this narrative is certainly worthy of the designation.
And now, nearly 30 years after the seemingly innocent newspaper account caromed onto the porch of the nation, Jefferey Radice arrives at Sundance with "No No: A Dockumentary," the celluloid backstory to the whole preposterous affair.
A full biography of Dock Ellis, one of the more interesting individuals to ever put on a baseball uniform? Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!
"No No: A Documentary" is one of 16 titles in the Sundance Film Festival’s U.S. Documentary Competition and will screen:
Monday, Jan. 20, at 9 p.m. at the Temple Theatre, Park City.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 1 p.m. at Redstone Cinema 2, Park City.
Thursday, Jan. 23, at 9 p.m. at the Tower Theatre, Salt Lake City.
Friday, Jan. 24, at noon at Temple Theatre, Park City.
Saturday, Jan. 25, at 3 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, Park City.
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