Dock Ellis a great, if flawed, American hero

AnotherViewsquareDock Ellis (1945-2008) was a good but outspoken teammate, a clubhouse cut-up who also had a substance abuse problem that some say kept him from being an outstanding pitcher.  Filmmaker Jeffery

Jeffery Radice MSR file photo
Jeffery Radice
MSR file photo

Radice’s No No: A Dockumentary, which became available earlier this week on VOD and iTunes, tells the story of this “fascinating character.”

Prior to last month’s screening in Minneapolis, Radice talked about Ellis, a 12-year major league pitcher in the mid-1970s whose story largely has been told over the years, parts of it embellished by the man himself.

“I became fascinated with Dock Ellis as an individual separate from baseball,” said Radice.   “What I found was that the truth with Dock was pretty close to what you heard about. He wasn’t a tall tale — he was a real individual.

“He is a flawed hero in my story, but I think what’s so heroic about Dock Ellis is how he was able at a mid-point in his life to take stock of who he was as a man and adjust and make some changes…recognizing that he had a problem with his addiction and going out there and addressing it.

“He’s a fascinating character. Dock Ellis is a great American and defines all these things I love about America — flamboyant personality and speaking up when he sees injustice. He was a lovable individual, and people who knew him view.Dock 2.06best expressed that love.”

Radice’s film chronicles Ellis’ life through interviews, archival action footage of Ellis, and short cuts of the pitcher in interviews before his death at age 63 of liver disease in mid-December 2008.

He was outspoken. “Dock would speak his mind — there were times where he crossed the line and said stuff that maybe hurt the team,” noted Radice. “He would say something controversial so [the media] could write about it, even if he didn’t 100 percent agree with it.”

He was a popular teammate as well: “Generally his teammates felt Dock was a cut-up. Then there was Dock clowning around in the clubhouse, keeping things loose,” said the producer-director.

His dubious claim to fame, however, was his 1970 no-hitter against San Diego while supposedly under the influence of LSD.

Dock on the pitcher’s mound (above) and in the dugout (lower right): scenes from the film
Dock on the pitcher’s mound (above) and in the dugout (upper right): scenes from the film

He was high that day, Radice confirmed. “It was the tail end of a two-day binger. How much of the LSD was in his system or how much he took before he got to the stadium [is unknown]. He also said he took a lot of amphetamines [‘bennies’] and got himself back into his normal place, but according to all the information that I have he clearly was under the influence of LSD when he showed up at the stadium.”

Radice also showed in the film how Ellis was deeply affected by Pittsburgh Pirate teammate Roberto Clemente’s tragic death in a plane crash. “The loss of Roberto Clemente…really hit Dock hard. Clemente definitely was more of a stable influence on Dock than just about anyone else. He loved and respected him tremendously.”

Some believe that Clemente’s death drove Ellis to do more partying than ever before, said the filmmaker. “I think it is all related — the death of his father [when he was in his late teens] and the death of Clemente had a huge impact on [him].”

Radice said collectively Ellis’ friends, family members and teammates all agreed that “If Dock wouldn’t have done all the drinking and drugs, his career would have been longer.” But he adds, “[Ellis] didn’t look back at his life as if he had [any] regrets. But you got to think that the partying and that hard living that he was doing as a player couldn’t have helped his career.”

He stopped using drugs and alcohol in 1980, checked himself into rehab, and later became a substance abuse counselor. Ellis also had a non-speaking role in Gung Ho, a 1986 Ron Howard film that starred Michael Keaton.

No No: A Dockumentary is a movie for baseball fans and non-fans alike. “It’s important for me as a person of color to see full stories of us,” admitted Love Nyala of Minneapolis, not a baseball fan. “It’s a great story. I thought it was very well done.”

Ellis’ activism as a player, as well as his post-baseball career, “was so surprising to me,” said local author and baseball fan Peter Schilling, Jr.

“My goal for people [after seeing his film] is to develop a respect for Dock Ellis as a man and a human being,” said Radice.

 

Next: An interview with Roberto Clemente’s widow and one of their sons  

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