Oil Can Boyd ready to show he still has major-league stuff at 49
In his prime, Oil Can Boyd dazzled with his array of pitches -- and moods
Boyd is serious about comeback and his former catcher says he still has the stuff
In a troubling time for baseball, some team should take a chance on Boyd
You are the Kansas City Royals. You have no chance of contending. Nobody in the world is talking about you. So ... why not?
You are the Florida Marlins. No one comes to see you play. Your young pitchers could use some guidance. So ... why not?
You are the New York Yankees. All anyone wants to discuss is A-Rod and steroids, steroids and A-Rod. So ... why not?
You are the Boston Red Sox. The man is a part of your history. He lives in East Providence, R.I., a mere stone's throw away from Fenway. So ... why not?
Somebody who makes personnel decisions for a major league baseball team, please -- pretty please -- hear me out on this one. Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd is waiting for you to call. He keeps his cell phone in his hand, hoping that, within a week or so, someone will think to himself, "You know what our ball club really needs? A 49-year-old righty who last played in the majors during Color Me Badd's heyday."
Hey, stranger things have happened. Like Christina Aguilera joining the Wu-Tang Clan; Keanu Reeves winning an Oscar; Sarah Palin becoming president. Wait, maybe stranger things have never happened. Maybe this would be the strangest thing in the history of organized sports. But so what? "I don't care if it seems weird or not," Boyd said. "I want to show what I can do."
He is dead serious. Boyd, you might recall, was Boston's solid, occasionally spectacular No. 3 starter from 1984-86, trailing Roger Clemens and Bruce Hurst in a rotation that carried the team to the 1986 World Series. The Can won 43 games over those three seasons, baffling batters with an assortment of off-speed junk while baffling the city of Boston with his erratic off-field behavior.
Boyd talked nonstop trash; he bashed teammates and bashed opponents. Once, upon learning he had not been selected for an All-Star team, he stormed out of the Fenway clubhouse, seemingly never to return. Gifted on the mound since early boyhood, Boyd's dazzling assortment of pitches was rivaled only by his even more dizzying assortment of moods. At age 12 he went to see the school psychiatrist because of his tantrums, and at age 17, while playing in a semi-pro game in his hometown of Meridian, Miss., he nearly tossed his career away.
"[An umpire] threw me out of the game because you can't swear on the ball field," Boyd once said. "I went wild. I took my uniform off and left the park in my underwear. I sat in my daddy's car, crying, kicking, cussing, fussing. The next day my daddy said there were a lot of scouts in the ball park, and they all left."
But that was a long time ago. In the 17 years since he walked out on the Pittsburgh Pirates during extended spring training ("They gave me no respect," he said), Boyd has devoted himself to the sport, playing in an array of leagues, starting up the Oil Can Boyd Traveling All-Stars (a team of African-American ballplayers who toured the country playing exhibitions against various clubs) and heading the Oil Can Boyd Baseball Academy in his hometown.
Recently, while participating in a Red Sox fantasy camp at the club's Fort Myers' spring training facility, Boyd threw on the side to Mike Stanley, his former catcher with the Texas Rangers in 1991. Stanley, never one for hyperbole, was dazzled.
"He looks no different to me now than when I caught him in Texas," he told The Boston Globe. "He still has the same passion. I don't know if he was getting to 90 because we didn't have a [radar] gun, but he still had the same stuff. The same tight slider, curve, fastball."
Indeed Boyd, who weighs 10 pounds more than his 155-pound playing weight but otherwise looks nearly identical to his old self, says he needs just 15 minutes of bullpen time to show what he can do. "If someone gives me that," he said, "they'll see that I can compete again at the highest level. I'm ready. I don't care about money or fame. I just want to get back."
This is more than a mere stunt. Ever since his boyhood, Boyd has considered himself something of a modern day Satchel Paige, the legendary Negro Leaguer who pitched for the Kansas City Athletics at age 58 in 1965. Like Paige, Boyd is long and thin and charismatic and seemingly unable to age. Like Paige, Boyd cherishes the game of baseball.
"To be honest, I hate where Major League Baseball has gone," he said. "It's so straight-laced and business-oriented. There's no interaction with the fans; no joy and passion and excitement. I might be old, I might be odd, I might be a strange story at first glance.
"But," he said, "any team that takes a shot on me will find someone who's doing it for the right reasons. For the love of the game."
Give the man a chance.
Send a comment to Jeff Pearlman at email@example.com.