Earlier in the week, Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, a former major league pitcher, began his press tour to promote a book that he wrote. A couple curious quotes came from one of the interviews, with Nick Cafardo, first
[he] admitted he was under the influence of cocaine two-thirds of the time he was on the mound.
Many people have responded to that with not much more than a shrug.
The other part of his interview that I thought was curious, was this statement:
Boyd contends he was blackballed from baseball and his career cut short because he was different.
“The reason I caught the deep end to it is because I’m black. The bottom line is the game carries a lot of bigotry, and that was an easy way for them to do it,’’ Boyd said. “If I wasn’t outspoken and a so-called ‘proud black man,’ maybe I would have gotten the empathy and sympathy like other ballplayers got that I didn’t get; like Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Steve Howe. I can name 50 people that got third and fourth chances all because they weren’t outspoken black individuals.’’
Blackballed? Because he’s black? Because he was outspoken? Interesting. He compares his career to three other former players who also had documented drug issues, Strawberry, Gooden and Howe. Boyd is claiming his career ended because he was outspoken and still appears bitter that he was not given the number of chances that those three were given. In fact, Steve Howe was suspended from baseball nine times, including once when he was banned from baseball for life by the commissioner’s office, only to have that ruling overturned by an arbitrator.
But let’s take a look at the stats for what might be the real reason that Boyd was never invited back to the major leagues. According to baseball-reference.com, his final season was split between the Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers, finishing the year in Texas. After his trade to Texas in July of 1991, he won two games and lost seven while recording a 6.68 ERA and allowing more baserunners per inning than at any other time during his career. At age 31, it appeared his career was in decline.
He compares himself to Dwight Gooden, a perennial all-star and someone who may have been on a path to the baseball Hall of Fame. He won a Cy Young Award as the best pitcher in baseball and won a Rookie of the Year award and continued to put up great seasons. He was widely known as one of the best pitchers in baseball. He was referred to as “Doctor K” for his prowess at striking out opposing hitters. There should be no question as to why Gooden would have received multiple chances, but he too was out of baseball when his skills declined at age 35.
Boyd also mentions Darryl Strawberry, one of the most feared hitters in baseball during his career. Another player on a path for baseball’s Hall of Fame when it appears alcohol and drugs caught up with him after his 1991 season. Up to that point, he was one of the best hitters in baseball and then suffered a quick decline. When you’ve shown to have the elite talent that a player like Strawberry had during the 1980s, teams will give you multiple chances in hopes that you can reclaim that glory.
That leaves Steve Howe. Howe is definitely a more tricky case. Unlike Strawberry and Gooden, Howe was white and Howe was not an elite starting pitcher. Howe is the first name that most people bring up when they spoke of what was wrong with baseball’s drug policy during the 80s. He was given multiple opportunities, but he is someone who also earned the Rookie of the Year award and was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball until 1983, when he checked into a drug rehab program. He had a pretty bad season in 1985 after missing all of 1984 for a drug suspension, but followed up with an above average 1987 season. He missed the next three seasons and then came back with the Yankees in 1991 while putting up great results. Once it seemed his talent had completely left him, the Yankees released him for good in June of 1996.
If you look at the career paths and statistics of the players that Boyd mentions, you can clearly see that he was not in their class as a player. Boyd was what one may refer to as an average major league pitcher, never winning any awards or appearing near the positive end of any statistical leader boards. It seems that players like Strawberry and Howe did at least make an attempt at rehab and Boyd admits that people did reach out to him and try to help him too:
“I never had a drug test as long as I played baseball,’’ he said. “I was told that, yeah, if you don’t stop doing this we’re going to put you into rehab, and I told them . . . I’m going to do what I have to do, I have to win ballgames. We’ll talk about that in the offseason, right now I have to win ballgames.’’
He had a major league career until the age of 31. When you take a look at the whole picture, things like the fact that he was over 30, was never a great or elite pitcher even in his best days, now admits that he had a cocaine habit and says that he was “outspoken”, is it any real surprise that he was never offered another major league contract? No, and to attribute it to “bigotry” is simply a failure to look in the mirror and take some personal responsibility. Anything else is an excuse.
Boyd is still in denial. He wasn’t black balled. He stunk it up on the mound. Professional sports is a brutal throw away world. He wasn’t mature or stable enough to handle it.
The paucity of my interest in sports approaches that of my interest in protozoa. I recall the name only because of a comment by a colleague, some years ago “Oil Can Boyd, what kind of name is that for a human being?”