He’s 50 years old and last pitched in the major leagues in 1991. He won 78 games over 10 seasons. He also lost 77.
He didn’t win the Cy Young Award. He might have earned a World Series ring in 1986, but a day of rain prevented that.
He can’t say no when promoters or baseball people ask him to make an appearance, sign autographs and simply be himself. After all these years, he’s still giving back to a sport that shortchanged him. Why?
There was a brief silence on the cell phone, which was a danger sign. Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd is never at a loss for words.
“Who am I talking to?” asked Boyd. He sounded a bit agitated, athough that was normal. “Who is this?
Oil Can Boyd is at the restored Ballpark in Old Orchard Beach this weekend. Saturday night he signed autographs and threw out the first pitch before the Brockton Rox played the Quebec Capitales to start a two-day Can-Am League exhibition series.
The Can-Am League is the bargain basement of pro baseball, filled with castoffs or those who never were given a real chance to prove themselves. It’s independent baseball, which is true to the game. Where there is little money and less greed, and fewer overstuffed egos.
Whatever fee Boyd is earning this weekend, it probably isn’t much.
“The game is a part of me. It’s my passion. People cherish the memories they have of me and to be appreciated is a very, very special feeling.”
He was taken by the Red Sox in the 16th round of the 1980 draft. A long shot from a part of Mississippi where beer was known as oil. In 1985 he won 15 games for Boston. He won 16 a year later, lost Game 3 of the World Series against the Mets and was to pitch Game 7. Rain intervened, postponing the game, and with an extra day’s rest, Bruce Hurst started. And lost.
Boyd never reached the peak years of 1985 and 1986 again. Blood clots were a recurring problem. He might have faded from sight and memory.
“No, I was the Oil Can, man. The best nickname in baseball, right after Babe Ruth. Don’t call me Dennis. Call me Can.”
He was mercurial, temperamental, sensitive. Left off the 1986 American League All-Star roster, he left the Red Sox briefly to stew. He was unpredictable when he wasn’t pitching, which didn’t endear him to baseball managers and GMs, but turned him into a fan favorite.
Compare Can to Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, the 1976 Rookie of the Year with Detroit. Fidrych’s tenure was much shorter than Oil Can’s but equally unforgettable.
“I adored Mark Fidrych. I was a junior in high school in 1976 and it was just a hysterical atmosphere when he pitched. He inspired me to be open and be myself. A little boy is a little boy.”
When it came time to make a pitch, the little boys were all business. Can insists you make that distinction.
Fidrych died in an accident on his farm several years ago. Can misses the free spirit that was The Bird.
Can wheels into a fast-food restaurant, a weakness that stretches back to his playing days. “I’ll take the No. 1. I’ll take some chili with that. How much that come to? OK. Could I have some fries with that?”
His order complete, he returns to the cell phone. “I’ve got to keep my girlish figure.” Lean and mean, he has gray in his moustache but doesn’t look much different from his playing cards.
He’s 50 years old and says he can hit 86, 87 on the radar gun. That’s down a little bit from two years ago when he was trying a comeback. About 10 years ago he played for Dean Gyorgy’s Bangor Blue Ox, a franchise in the independent Northeast League.
The Can was 10-0.
“I can still get people out. Nobody says I can’t. They just have to give me the chance.”
His dream is to own his own independent league team. He’s working on finding investors. He wants to teach the game. He wants to bring more African-Americans back into the sport.
Earlier this week, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron made rehab appearances at Hadlock Field, playing for the Portland Sea Dogs. Thousands of fans filled the park to see the Red Sox outfielders up close.
It’s unlikely Can’s appearance will fill The Ballpark. A generation no longer knows who he is. I tested my 18-year-old son. I asked the 20-something bartender at Dry Dock on Thursday. She said she was a big Red Sox fan.
Oil Can Boyd? Who’s he?
“She said she was a Red Sox fan and didn’t know?” Can was hurt. “Oh, man.
“It’s the dads and the granddads who remember and tell the stories. I know when I see (a little boy) running up to me for an autograph. Someone told him the stories of the Can.
“Now he knows.”
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]