The luster has worn off the lore of a no-hitter. Look at recent history and you’ll find ridiculous names like Bud Smith, Philip Humber, Hideo Nomo (twice! once in Coors Field!) and even Chris Heston from earlier this week. But 45 years ago, the most remarkable athletic achievement in sports happened.
On June 12, 1970, Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis hurled a no-hitter while high on LSD.
I can’t begin to describe the difficulty of that accomplishment. Most people would struggle to stagger in anything that resembles a straight line when dropping acid. Dock Ellis scoffs at those amateurs.
The course of events that led to Dock Ellis’ LSD-driven dominance sounds like something from a rejected Major League sequel: Dock overslept and dropped acid because he thought it was still the previous day instead of his scheduled start against the San Diego Padres. Unbelievable. Is it too good to be true?
“One time I covered first base, and I caught the ball and I tagged the base all in one motion. I said, ‘Ooh, I just made a touchdown!'”
Unfortunately, MLB has apparently suppressed footage of Dock’s special adventure.
As a lifelong baseball fan and pitcher, I’ve been drawn to this astounding feat of freakishness. Imagine my excitement when I learned about No No: A Dockumentary. However, very little actual evidence from the no-hitter makes it into the movie (aside from a shot of the scoreboard) presumably because of MLB’s alleged mandate to blackout every piece of proof from this notorious performance.
Directed by Jeff Radice, this documentary finesses its way through Dock’s recollection of the no-hitter while interspersing augmented snippets of him pitching against various teams over several years. Considering the constraints due to the likely MLB embargo, it is an interesting and artistic way to represent the story.
Damn if I don’t want to see the entire game itself. How did he maintain his balance?
Just look at the box score from June 12, 1970, to get a glimpse into the chaos of that unlikely game. In his very first inning, Dock Ellis walks two batters. He walked two more batters in the 5th inning. And again, he walked two more batters in the 6th inning. In total, Dock Ellis struck out six while walking eight batters.
Effectively wild is an understatement. If one thing is clear, Dock Ellis could handle his fucking high.
Instead of focusing exclusively on only one infamous day, No No provides an in-depth examination into Dock Ellis’ life by highlighting his tumultuous struggle with addiction and other noteworthy events in his notorious career. Dock claimed to have never pitched in an MLB game without being under the influence—one variety of drugs or another. But he wasn’t controversial simply for his drug use.
During the 70s on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, black athletes were still not widely embraced. Keeping your head down and going about your business quietly probably seemed like the safest way to survive. Dock Ellis didn’t give a shit. You have to admire the man’s balls and brazen personality.
Even in today’s standards, Dock Ellis would be a breath of fresh air…and hair. Yes, Dock was such a pimp that he once wore hair curlers to produce sweat on his hair so he could throw a modified spitball. A security guard didn’t recognize Dock when he tried to enter the stadium with Big Willie Stargell so the guard decided to mace him. On May 1, 1974, Dock Ellis decided to launch a single-person assault on the Cincinnati Reds by hitting the first three batters of the game and unsuccessfully trying to hit the next two batters.
Why? Because Dock was high and crazy. They also probably looked at him wrong.
Dock Ellis was unapologetically black. The man exuded charisma.
No one was going to stop Dock from being himself.
His cadence and storytelling flair elevate No No from a standard sports documentary into something slightly more meaningful. If you didn’t like him, you could go fuck yourself. Forget about Michael Jordan’s ball-less and bullshit stance about Republicans and Democrats both buying sneakers.
Dock Ellis wasn’t afraid to piss anyone off—fans, teammates, coaches, front office management. These flaws were contributing factors to Dock bouncing around from team to team before finding his way back to Pittsburgh for one last hurrah. Though troubled, Dock definitely comes across as a good, genuine person if you can manage to forgive some awful instances of violence against women while high.
The best insight into his true character can be found in a scene where Dock reads a letter he received from Jackie Robinson. Coming from such an important figure in our culture, I cannot envision any higher honor for Dock than that praise and encouragement heaped on him. It is an absolutely endearing moment to see and hear his tough exterior wilt as he starts to literally wail while reading the letter.
Despite turning his life around, Dock will surely be remembered forever as that guy who threw a no-hitter on acid. To the credit of No No: A Dockumentary, this movie shows that the man was much more than the myth of his legendary moment in the sun. Shining yet shameful at the same time.
Dock Ellis still deserves to be celebrated: the man, the myth, the legend.