The former Boston Red Sox pitcher has penned his auto - biography, They Call Me Oil Can: Baseball, Drugs, and Life on the Edge (Fireside Books, June 2012). According to the 52-year-old native of Meridian, MS, who’s still plying his trade for semipro teams around New England, they could have called him “Oil Cannabis,” because there wasn’t a single game he played that he wasn’t stoned. And since he pitched 214 games from 1982 to 1991, that’s a lot of high time. In fact, “Oil Can” spent virtually every day stoned. He says, “Nobody ever knew when I was high on weed, because I wasn’t ever not high on weed.”
But not everything about his story is mirthful and carefree. He was often in trouble or creating trouble for himself. He had more than one drug habit, falling into the freebase/crack cocaine pit early on -- one that he’s still trying to climb out of. But for all that, Boyd’s been married to the same woman for 27 years, raised a son and a daughter, never went bankrupt and never lost his mind, or his manic enthusiasm for pitching, jazz, bud and life.
Boyd rang up 26 of his 78 lifetime wins during the 1986 season for the pennant-winning Red Sox -- but when he was snubbed for the all - star team, he threatened to quit and was sent to a psychiatric ward. He was kept from pitching the climactic seventh game of the World Series against the Mets when his manager claimed he was “too drunk to pitch” (something he adamantly denies). When he was 5, civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney stayed at his home days before they were killed, and lynchings were common in his neighborhood. Proudly calling himself “an outspoken negro,” Boyd claims that he was blackballed from the game for it, that the sport and the Red Sox are as racist as ever, and that integration has only given “the white man the upper hand.” We caught up with the “can” near his home in Rhode Island.
“Can,” you look as young and frisky as ever -- a wonderful testament to the benefits of a lifetime spent smoking pot. Are you stoned right now?
I took my medication this morning, yeah. [Laughs.] But for me, smoking pot is not so much to get high; that was years and years ago. Then it became part of the business that I did: professional baseball. I wouldn’t go on the field without it. That’s how I got prepared to perform. It wasn’t just smokin’ pot -- it was smokin’, putting on jazz, kicking back. And that’s what it still is. I listen to jazz 24/7: George Howard, Howard Curtis, Kirk Whalum, Najee, Kenny G, Steve Cole ... I have somewhere close to 2,000 jazz CDs. Listening to jazz and getting high go hand in hand. At least two - thirds of jazz musicians smoke pot. They start their day out smokin’ pot and they end their day smokin’ pot, and they’re great thinkers -- they motivate themselves. That’s why two - thirds of people that write great literature smoke pot, and two- thirds of artists, two - thirds of all creative people.
And two - thirds of ballplayers?
Guys messed around, yeah, but it wasn’t an abundance of people. That was a sacred thing to guys; that’s not like, “Let’s go have a beer.” Shit, two - thirds of ballplayers are alcoholics. The clubhouse is full of beer. They were alcoholics before they were ever potheads. Me too. [Cackles.]
You’ve called one of your Sox teammates, Don Baylor, an “Uncle Tom bastard.” Isn’t that a little harsh?
I don’t take back nothin’. He said I should be banned out of the fucking game. Jim Rice was another guy like that. I was different than him -- I didn’t put up with any shit like he did. I was angry before I ever put on a Red Sox uniform. I’m a kid from Mississippi. I saw black people treated like shit. I saw a black man murdered when I was 9. The older black guys didn’t understand that about me. They were like everyone else: “You’re makin’ money, nigger, shut your mouth.” They had to keep away because there were guys who were kicked out of baseball for respecting me. Then when they stopped winning games, they kicked me out, and I’ve been blackballed ever since. They couldn’t have a black man like me around if I wasn’t winning every game. They still can’t.
You also called Dick Howser a “redneck, bigoted motherfucker” after he snubbed you for the 1986 All-Star team.|
Bigotry had to do with that. I was the best pitcher in the league that first half. But I was too flamboyant, said things I shouldn’t. He couldn’t say anything about my ability and he couldn’t say anything about drugs, but he snubbed me anyway. That killed me -- everything in baseball from that point went down. And my life hasn’t ever been the same from the day he didn’t pick me.
Did they have drug tests in those days?
They didn’t have random tests like they do now. They had piss tests, but you had to give them a reason to piss you. If you didn’t show up at the ballpark for two days, you got a piss test. I never gave ’em a reason to piss me to where they could say, “I think you did some shit.” First of all, I always looked the same, because I was stoned every single day. But I was too smart for that; I was the first one at the ballpark and the last one to leave. I’ve never been tested -- no piss test, no blood test, no nothin’. And the truth of it is that I never had a drug problem; I had a people problem. People fucking with me when they should’ve left me alone and just enjoyed the show. If I was in the big leagues now, I’d quit before I’d take a piss test. I told them that back then. I said, “You wouldn’t get the same pitcher. You want me to get people out!” I told them, “I ain’t goin’ to the mound if I can’t smoke no weed.” The only time I did was for three days in the minors, and this teammate told me, “Can, this is the first time I’ve ever seen the whites of your eyes.” I told him, “Look fast, because it won’t be like this long.” And it wasn’t, because I didn’t feel good without pot. That was the last time I didn’t get stoned every day.
The book deals mainly with your cocaine addiction, not pot. When did you first get stoned?
I was about 12. My older brother Mike was in the Navy, and he’d come home and hit the juke joints, drink Boone’s Farm wine, get some girls, shoot pool and be smokin’ pot. He’d get it from the hippie white boys at the high school, and I’d hang around him, watching, absorbing. That was when I first heard jazz, in the pool hall. They’d be playing the Crusaders, Roy Ayres, Ronnie Lyles, Ramsey Lewis, and I’m lovin’ it -- it’s cool, sensual, and with it was the smell of pot, so it’s all connected. Then one day, Mike left a roach in the ashtray, and I took it and smoked it with some friends, and I ain’t stopped since. It wasn’t like the cops would come and bother you about it: The white kids and black kids were all smokin’ pot. We’d have our places to go and do it. Like when we’d drink, we’d go down to the creek and drink beer and cheap whiskey, moonshine -- we made it. That’s how I got my nickname: We drank out of big old oil cans, and I drank a lot from those cans, and then I’d smoke a lot of weed. My dad didn’t know. He was a landscaper, a businessman. He only smoked Camel cigarettes, no filter. Then when I was working for him, a couple of us smoked some bud and left it in an ashtray, and he took it and lit up. He thought it was a stale cigarette, but he kept on puffin’ and got real stoned. We were laughing so hard, man, we were on the floor. He never knew he got high, and we never did tell him.
You say you never pitched when you weren’t high, but you didn’t specify if that meant high on pot, or coke, or both.
Just pot -- I ain’t never pitched a game on coke. You cannot play baseball smokin’ cocaine; it gets you too fucked up. Besides, where you gonna snort or smoke it -- in the dugout? Now, I did do coke if I wasn’t pitching. I’d go out to my car and smoke it in the parking lot during the game. And I kept coke on me when I pitched, under my cap, because I didn’t want to leave it in the hotel room. You get paranoid; you think people will search through your things -- so I was gonna keep it on me. Sometimes my cap would come off and the rocks would fly all over the mound. I’d rub them with my spikes into the dirt and reach down and try to save what I could in my pocket. I know the difference between good and bad drugs. I’d never do acid, hallucinogens, barbiturates. Cocaine, I fight with it every goddamn day. I don’t want to hear guys say, “I’m off it -- I went to church and stopped.” God don’t put you on it and God won’t take you off it. Listen, we’re plagued by cocaine in the streets, my race is. I got relatives that are dead because of this shit -- shot, killed, murdered, wounded. I’ve been a cocaine addict for 30 years, knowing how terrible it is. The last time I did coke was two months ago. I’m trying, but I have a problem -- and so does Josh Hamilton. He says he’s off it, and he can say what he wants, but he’s
a drug addict. He’s the best ballplayer in the game -- the best I’ve ever seen -- but he’s an addict the rest of his life.
So you had no hesitation getting stoned when you played ball?
Getting high on pot was all about playing ball. When I was a kid, I played all sports, and when I started smoking pot, I saw how it could help me play -- especially baseball and basketball, because in those sports you have to have an imagination, which I do. Basketball requires the most individual skill and imagination: to get by somebody and get a clean shot takes an imagination. I know some really good basketball players who smoke cannabis. With baseball, the goal is to be relaxed. Baseball isn’t a game of movement all the time; there’s a lot of time to think about what you have to do, what you’ll do if the ball is hit at you and so forth. I was definitely a thinker on the mound, finding ways to get people out. Using pot stimulated my mind. That was my edge: I could out - think you -- and with the ability and the arm that I have, when I put those two things together, I’m hard to beat.
What about the Red Sox management? Did they know?
Here’s the truth: The Red Sox made sure I had pot. They made sure nobody was gonna bother me about gettin’ it. I could go anywhere in Boston, any city, and buy it. They wanted me to get high before a game. Bill Buckner once said to them, “You leave him alone, because whatever he’s on, get him some more. Keep him high.”
In 2005, you were ordered into drug rehab when you were convicted of threatening a woman -- and you did drugs anyway. That’s why they sent you to jail.
That was all bullshit -- but they didn’t get me for drugs. So my feeling was: Why are you getting into my personal life? Why are you even fucking with me about drugs? All rehab did was mess me up. I couldn’t focus, couldn’t eat, read, sleep; I was gonna go crazy if I didn’t have some shit. They didn’t even have cigarettes, and I’ve smoked cigarettes since I was 7. When they let me out, I went right to the store for cigarettes -- and then to get some coke and weed. I told them in rehab, “I can’t live like y’all want me to live. It’s not your life; it’s my life.” They couldn’t understand that I smoke pot to deal with being black, that it helps me be black. And I will move to the fucking moon to smoke pot. If that’s where they’re growin’ it, that’s where I’m goin.’
It’s interesting that when John McNamara bypassed you for Game 7 against the Mets, he said it was because you were “too drunk to pitch.” Nothing was said about drugs.
And I wasn’t even drinkin’! They couldn’t say it was drugs because they knew all about it. They just weren’t gonna let period. They still held the All-Star thing against me, like I disgraced baseball, and they weren’t gonna let me redeem myself, let a black man like me who stood up for himself pitch the last game. I’ve been told that by people who know. Before that game, McNamara said, “You’ll be the first one up in the bullpen.” I said, “First one up, nothin’ -- if I ain’t starting the game, I ain’t pitching.” And you saw what happened. The guys who came in couldn’t hold the lead. I was so upset that night. I cried when Buckner made the error, because I knew we didn’t put the best team out there for that game. I was their best pitcher; they don’t get to the World Series without Dennis Boyd. They fucked themselves.
You slag your old team but still write in the book, “I’ll always be a Red Sox.”
There’s good with the bad. I did something very special for that team. I put my place in Red Sox history. I’m proud of that. They can’t take that away from me.
You made your acting debut playing the great Satchel Paige in a movie about Jackie Robinson. Do you feel you’re a kindred spirit of his?
He was a great showman and he dominated doing it his way, like I did. I love all the old Negro Leaguers, because that was the last time black men were free to be black men. We ain’t got no individuality anymore. Blacks are no better off today than when we first came over here 300 years ago. Jackie Robinson took that away. We ain’t writing the laws, and the laws don’t work for us. We would’ve been better staying separate and governing ourselves instead of submitting. Hey, I was kicked out of baseball, and not by a man who looked like me. My daddy is the grandson of a slave, and that’s the mentality society wants me to have. And I don’t like that, man.
To end on a happier note, when’s your next game?
I got a ballgame this weekend in the Rhode Island semi - pro league. I treat those guys like amateurs -- but then I used to treat the big leaguers like they were amateurs, too. I’m no different than I used to be. I’m still “Oil Can,” do the same shit. As a matter of fact, I’m gonna go do some shit right now.