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No No: A Dockumentary
Race, drugs, and baseball
“The opposing team and my teammates, they knew I was high, but they didn’t know what I was high on.”
Around 17 years ago, my friend, Ryan sat me down and told me I had to watch this YouTube video. In the earliest days of YouTube, you see, hang sessions would quickly turn into show-and-tell via YouTube, just like they do today if you’re not careful. Despite my reservations about committing to anything for five minutes, I respected Ryan’s taste and gave it a go. I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was jarringly artistically rendered via animation and narration and had a mind-boggling subject at hand. I couldn’t believe it: Did a major league baseball pitcher actually pitch a no-hitter while high on LSD?
If you have five minutes to watch a documentary this week, watch the mini-doc linked above. It’s a fantastic summary of a significant event in Dock Ellis’s life, though it leaves out the more meaningful aspects of Ellis’s career: his outspokenness about racism and his victory against addiction. If you have a bit more time and feel like expanding your mind this weekend, upgrade to the extended edition.
No No: A Dockumentary (2014) is a captivating look at the life and career of a baseball pitcher, Dock Ellis. The film's tone strikes a delicate balance between celebration and introspection, shedding light on the complexities of Ellis's personality, his struggles with addiction, and the societal challenges he faced as a Black athlete during the 60s and 70s. As a baseball fan, this movie will resonate because it vividly portrays a transitional era in sports history. As a person who doesn’t give a shit about baseball, this documentary transcends the sport by offering a thought-provoking exploration of identity, perseverance, and the human condition. Let’s go through the big four non-sports-related reasons to watch No No: A Dockumentary.
First, this is a film about Black excellence. At one point in the movie, the Pirates have all nine fielding positions filled by Black men. “We got a field of brothers out here.” There’s a palpable happiness while watching some of these players recount when they realized it was happening and their surprise that it was the first time it had happened. While it was joyous to see the ascendent Pirates, led by Roberto Clemente and Dock Ellis, seeing them club the Baltimore Orioles in the 1971 World Series was
unfair, and you should not watch this film. great. It was great.
Second, this documentary can be viewed as an indictment of “untouchable heroes.” Dock Ellis was far from perfect. It has to be noted that Dock Ellis abused his wife on two separate occasions (that are spoken of in the film). She gets into details in her interviews, and it’s hard to hear. It might challenge your view of the film, though not in ways that make it less valuable.
Third, this is a movie about addiction. It’s a funny story, Dock Ellis pitching a no-no while “high as a Georgia Pine.” Still, the film thoroughly deconstructs the personal cost for Dock of one glorious day: a lifelong struggle with addiction.
Fourth: Racism! It’s like air in that it’s everywhere. This isn’t a virtue-signaling write-up where a White man regurgitates what he learned from Ibram X. Kendi, but recognition that this movie shows us the toll that the many forms racism takes on people of color. The movie shows some of those many forms and helps us step back to see them better. Not only the enormous struggles we learn about in elementary school (for now anyway), like American slavery, or the barriers we celebrate when broken, like Jackie Robinson entering the MLB. When I go anywhere by car in Oakland, I look out the window and wonder whose houses were torn down to make room for the freeway and for the convenience of the people who could afford to traverse it when it was built. How did the decision where to build the freeway get made? When I get my hair cut in Temescal, I see red paint on the sidewalk that reads “Black People Used to Live Here.” I think about it briefly before I go in and get a $70 haircut.
Movies (read: art) like No No: A Dockumentary matter despite their niche-seeming appeal. They help normalize the reality of our world by showing us clues to the hidden ways racism operates and destroys. They matter because, even if our lives don’t allow us to pick up a sign and protest on a weekday or chain ourselves to the White House fence, the movies still plant the seeds of social justice in our minds. So that, at the very least, if we’re ever faced with deciding between our comfort and convenience or fairness and justice for fellow human beings, we’ll hopefully make the right decision. No No: A Dockumentary is a filament in the moral arc of the universe, helping it bend ever closer.
No No: A Dockumentary
Directed by Jeffrey Radice