Dock Ellis, who died in 2008, is probably best known as the man who pitched a no-hitter while tripping on LSD in 1970. And from its title, viewers might assume that “No No: A Dockumentary” will focus solely on that famous — or infamous — day when Ellis, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, ingested a tab of acid in Los Angeles, not realizing he was scheduled to pitch that evening in San Diego. He arrived at the stadium “higher than a Georgia pine,” as Ellis says in Jeff Radice’s documentary, and proceeded to pitch a game during which the pitcher rarely even saw or felt the ball; he walked eight batters.
“It was an ugly no-hitter,” Ellis recalls in the film, “but it was a no-no.”
Such are the yarns that make “No No” a compulsively absorbing look back at baseball’s wild and woolly days in the 1970s, when the Pirates were known as being particularly party-hearty. That was also the era of “greenies,” as the amphetamine Dexamyl was known, and “No No” explores the unsettling degree to which major league baseball was fueled by the stuff. Although the LSD no-hitter has become cherished legend and lore, Ellis — who maintained that he never played a major league game without being high on something — later became a drug abuse counselor and motivational speaker.
Although Ellis’s journey with narcotics is enlightening, the most inspiring passages of “No No” have to do with his historic career with the Pirates, the team that boasted the legendary Roberto Clemente and that in 1971 fielded the first lineup composed entirely of players of color.
Using animation, archival footage and modern-day interviews (plus some not always effective clips from an obscure kids’ baseball movie), Radice does an honorable if not always scintillating job of paying tribute to a great team and a player with a phenomenal slider, whose politics and personal style pushed the sport’s most racially ingrained boundaries. “No No” performs the valuable service of elevating Ellis’s legacy beyond one game, reminding viewers of a career during which he was almost always, as one observer notes, “a chapter ahead.”
Unrated. At the West End Cinema. Contains profanity and adult themes. 100 minutes.