The mound on the field behind East Providence Senior High School
in Rhode Island is lopsided and made of loose sand, but last Friday
the Can marched out to it, turned toward home plate and said, ''This
is just like the ballpark in Meridian. I got a ball in my right hand,
a glove on my left, and I'm back home again.'' He looked down and
kicked at the sand. ''Home,'' he repeated, then looked in to his
catcher, his father-in-law, Isadore Ramos.
This was the first appearance on a mound anywhere for Dennis Ray
(Oil Can) Boyd in 15 days -- since July 10. He had finished his
workout at Fenway Park at 5:45 that day, 15 minutes before the eight
pitchers selected for the American League All-Star team were to be
announced. At the time he was the second-winningest (11-6) pitcher
(after his Boston teammate Roger Clemens) in the league, and when he
completed his throwing he sat in the dugout to await what he thought
would be good news. When a reporter approached and told him
that he had been bypassed for the second straight year, the Can went
wild. He charged into the clubhouse, tearing off his uniform,
shouting obscenities. He cursed his longtime friend and fellow Red
Sox pitcher, Al Nipper; his manager, John McNamara; and team
physician Dr. Arthur Pappas, whom he trusted like a father. He
gunned his car out of the parking lot, tires squealing, and went
home to his condominium, which overlooks Boston Harbor, in the
city of Chelsea.
''I didn't want to be bawling in front of my locker, my head in my
hands, and have people see me or tap me on the shoulder saying, 'Too
bad, Can,' '' he says. An hour and a half later he returned to
Fenway ''to apologize to John McNamara and my teammates,'' but the
security guard informed him that he wasn't allowed back in the
clubhouse. ''I thought they were telling me that I wasn't wanted
anymore, and it made me feel like there was a fire in my clothes,''
Boyd recalls. So he took off.
There followed a string of events that made the front page of the
tabloid Boston Herald eight times in the next 13 days. On July 11 he
failed to report to the team and was suspended for three days. The
next day the Herald's front page showed an angry Boyd tossing a soft
drink at a photographer.
On the Sunday before the All-Star break, July 12, he returned to
Fenway and made his apologies to McNamara and the Sox. That was
followed by a fracas with two undercover Chelsea narcotics
detectives and a complaint by one of them of assault and battery and
disorderly conduct. Next came the early return of Red Sox owner
Haywood Sullivan from the All-Star Game amid published speculations
that Boyd had a drug problem. That was followed by newspaper stories
detailing Boyd's serious financial problems, a meeting with club
officials who continued his suspension, the July 17 news that he had
checked into the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and,
finally, his arrest on July 23 for having a speeding ticket
outstanding, even before he had officially checked out of the
''I'm overly emotional. I'm too sensitive and I sometimes act like
I'm from another planet,'' Boyd, 26, said after completing his East
Providence workout. ''But after reading and hearing about where I'd
been and how I was associating with known drug dealers and how
everyone thought I was a drug addict, I had to go prove that I was
clean before I could do anything else. Well, I proved it, again. I
was tested six times before this, and was negative every time. I went
into the hospital and tested negative every time, so that's cleared
up. Now I'm on the way to clearing up the money business, people are
helping me control my emotions, I'm up to 156 pounds and want the Red
Sox to give me back the ball.''
That's what the Sox -- whose onetime eight-game lead over the
Yankees had dropped to three by Sunday (box, page 33) -- intend to
do as soon as they are convinced that Boyd's arm and -- more
important -- his emotional stability are up to the task. As for
the question of drugs, the Red Sox seemed convinced that Boyd was
clean. ''We're satisfied with all the tests in the hospital,'' G.M.
Lou Gorman told The Boston Globe last Friday. ''I don't think there's
any more we have to say about it.''
As the Boston media pulled out the stops, Boyd's friends and
relatives back home in Meridian, Miss., reacted with horror. The
picture of the drink- tossing (''It scared me. . . . I looked like a
madman,'' Boyd said) appeared on the front page of The Meridian Star.
The stories left his mother, Sweetie, in tears and his five
brothers, according to Willie James Boyd Jr., 34, ''feeling as if
everyone's whispering behind our backs.'' But Ledarrack Wilson, a
friend of Boyd's since childhood and best man at his wedding, said,
''That's the Can. Can's my best friend, but he always got his own
way, and when he didn't, he flew the coop. We'd lose a game as
teenagers and he'd cry, take off in a rage and we wouldn't see him
for two days.'' His mother said, ''Dennis demands such perfection
that I'd have to press the pleats on his pants every day, and if it
wasn't perfect, he wouldn't go to school.''
The Boyds have lived in Meridian (pop. 46,577) for four
generations, and the men grew up playing baseball at the Lake Erie
Ballpark on 10th Avenue. These days, the grandstands are warped and
the outfield fences have collapsed, and while a MERIDIAN A'S sign
is to be seen and another reads WILLIE BOYD, OWNER, MANAGER, there is
no semipro baseball at the field anymore. Just a lot of dust and
debris. ''My granddaddy played here at the turn of the century,''
says Willie Boyd, Oil Can's 58-year-old father. ''So did my daddy,
my cousins. I pitched to Henry and Tommie Aaron and Willie Mays on
this field. Satchel Paige pitched here. Generations of Boyds learned
the joy of baseball here.''
''People ask me where I come from, and I tell them 'I come from
baseball,' '' the Can says. ''The Boyds carried a mark of baseball.
When I went off to play pro ball in 1980, I told my mother, 'This is
it. The last of the Boyds. I gotta make the big leagues.' When I made
it, it took a burden off the family because they were so into
baseball. When I was called up to Boston in September 1982, I called
them when I arrived at the Sheraton and said, 'We made it. We all
made it,' and they all cried. Brother Don told me, 'Since you | got
there, my life has just stopped, because to be a Boyd is to be a
baseball player.' Everyone in our neighborhood, in Meridian, knew
that these six boys were such good players that one of them had to
make it. The other ones didn't make it for racial problems, or
because scouts didn't pass through here.'' Or because of injuries.
In his day, Willie Boyd, like his son, was also a pitcher who
raised his fist and pointed at opposing players. Willie Jr. was 19-1
for the semipro Meridian Braves when he was 17, but he never got a
chance to play in organized ball and moved on to a singing career.
(He had a minor regional hit, He Pulled the Trigger, but You Took His
Life.) The five older brothers all played together on the Braves, and
though Michael -- now 32 -- was 18-0 in high school and eventually
pitched for Florida A & M, he never made it in pro ball. He hurt his
arm, and wound up as a nightclub singer. Don, 31, signed with the
Cardinals in 1973 but came home after one season after his parents
had separated and his mother became ill.
''Can feels so deeply about his family that he usually breaks down
when he talks about their being cheated out of their careers,'' says
''There's a lot of family on my shoulders,'' Dennis agrees.
Boyd also says, ''I went to the school psychiatrist when I was 12
because of my tantrums. Those tantrums almost cost me my career, too.
In the summer of 1977, before going to Jackson State, I struck out 17
in seven innings in a semipro game at Meridian. I had a no-hitter
going, the umpire missed a pitch for a walk, and the next guy hit a
double that scored him all the way from first. I told the umpire that
it was his -- -- fault. He threw me out of the game because you
can't swear on the ball field. 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 ballpark, and they all left. I got so mad at
him telling me that, that I walked 20 miles from that pasture all
the way back to Meridian. I misunderstood him; I thought my daddy had
told me I would never make the big leagues because I was too
''My sophomore year at Jackson State I put on my worst display
ever, playing the University of New Orleans down there. It was an
all-black team against an all-white team, and they're yelling,
'Nigger, nigger, nigger . . .' and I'm going crazy. This New Orleans
player runs across the mound and calls me a 'nigger' and a 'hot
dog,' so I chased him to the first base line and fought him. They
didn't throw either one of us out, and the next inning he hit a blast
off me. He was running round the bases, shaking his fist and it made
me so mad that I let him beat me that I just lost it. I went so crazy
-- I took my hat off, I started undressing on the mound, I got so mad
that I felt as if my clothes were burning up. I was that mad, madder
than they saw me in Boston . . . and they wonder about temper. I went
off the mound, threw my spikes into their dugout and I came off the
field again in my underwear. My teammates looked at me like I was
crazy. Stay away from him. Coach Braddy kept yelling at me, 'This was
the biggest game of the season and you act like that? Like a spoiled
baby?' Then I fought my brother Neal, right there.
''I just want to win. Too bad, sometimes.''
Robert Braddy, still the Jackson State coach, remembers Boyd's
run-in with the New Orleans player. He describes it as a shouting
match, with no punches thrown, and says that Boyd removed only his
Before Boyd started spring training in Winter Haven, Fla., this
year, money problems surfaced. One night in early February, the
Can called his mother from Winter Haven, where he and his wife,
Karen, had bought a second condominium. He needed $600. His mother
called Willie Jr. ''Mama, where's Ray's money gone?'' he asked.
Willie Jr., who works at the General Motors plant in Meridian, was
finishing building and paying for a new house. Eventually he had to
do some hod-carrying to help his brother out. At that point, Oil Can
was paying for two cars and the two condominiums and had another
outstanding loan (his $375,000 contract for '86 wouldn't go into
effect until April 7) and he says he couldn't get any money from his
agent, Dennis Coleman of Providence. ''It humiliated him so badly
that he stopped eating,'' his brother Don said, and in spring
training Boyd's weight had dropped to 133 pounds. He was taken to
the UMass Medical Center in Worcester for tests. They indicated
noncontagious hepatitis. Pappas prescribed a special diet and also
tried to convince Coleman and Boyd that the pitcher needed
counseling. They disagreed with the suggestion.
Boyd, meanwhile, was receiving salary payments on request from
Coleman. He says, ''I assumed my bills were being paid,'' including
about $13,000 a month on a bank loan arranged by Coleman. In the
last week of April he called his mother and said he wanted her to
quit her job at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet on 8th Street and
move into his Florida condo. Willie Jr. had often told him, ''Our
mother shouldn't still have to work.''
''Then strange things started happening,'' Boyd remembers. ''I
got calls threatening me because I owed money. I told them my agent
took care of that. Then my phone got shut off. I'd tell Dennis that I
couldn't live on chump change, that something was wrong, but nothing
happened.'' Coleman refuses to comment, citing his attorney-client
relationship. But he did tell the Herald he and Boyd had
''philosophical differences.'' Boyd claims that he realized on May 22
he had no money. ''It really hit me hard,'' he says. Teammate Jim
Rice put Boyd in touch with his agent, George Kalafatis of
International Management Group, and Kalafatis says he has made
progress in sorting out Boyd's financial situation. Kalafatis is
Boyd's fourth agent in five years.
While rumors of Boyd's financial problems were rampant, so were
tales of his involvement in the street life of Chelsea. The economic
boom in Massachusetts hasn't reached Chelsea, a city of 23,432
across the harbor from East Boston and Charlestown. The Wall Street
Journal said in 1981 ''it is probably the poorest city in
Massachusetts.'' Things haven't improved much since. The city is in
debt, its beleaguered police force has been cut back from 125 to 49
and its image is that of the drug capital of the area. ''There's more
coke in Chelsea than anywhere else in Massachuetts,'' says
Metropolitan District Commission officer Dennis Febles. ''It's
cocaine heaven out there.'' Much of the drug trade is associated with
Bossom Park, between Grove and Bellingham Streets, a small
playground consisting of a children's play area and a basketball
court. The park was a place the Can liked to visit.
''Back in Meridian, I always hung out at the park,'' Boyd says.
''Chelsea has a lot of Spanish people and a lot of kids, and they
love baseball. I guess I ended up around some people I shouldn't
have, but I didn't think about it. I'm the type of person that likes
people. If you're a bank robber but you don't harm me or my loved
ones, I'll give you a chance. But being that way almost drove me
crazy. The city may be more than a country boy can handle.''
In the middle of July the MDC police joined the local force to
begin patrolling the park from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and since then drug
trade in the Grove Street area has been cut significantly,
according to police and Chelsea residents. ''Before the MDC cops came
there was always a traffic jam because of the drug trade,'' one local
resident said. The procedure, he said, was like that at a ballpark
concession stand: You drove down Bellingham Street, paid the dealer,
drove to the corner, came up Grove Street, picked up your drugs and
The Red Sox are known to have been concerned about some of Boyd's
associations, and Boyd himself recalls one of the team's concerns.
''Dr. Pappas told me I'd been seen at (a bar reputed to have
considerable drug trade),'' Boyd says. ''I'd never even heard of the
place. It turns out that I'd parked across the street to go into a
variety store and the police reported that I was outside the place.''
There were other incidents that angered Boyd. ''I caught a guy going
through my trash on my back porch,'' he says. ''I started to get
Boyd still managed to pitch well, and when he achieved his 10th
victory of the season in Baltimore June 28, he called home to
Meridian. ''I got my 10 wins; now I'm going to be an All-Star,'' he
told Willie Jr. ''I get an incentive bonus ($25,000) for making it,
so I want the family to go to Houston.'' Willie Jr. made
arrangements to rent a van for the 400-mile trip. ''They've never
seen a Boyd pitch professionally,'' says Dennis. ''What better
way than to have them see me in the All-Star Game? I wanted to pitch
with some of those great players behind me, even guys I've had
controversy with because they say I'm showing them up. I'd like to
sit with them in the dugout and have them realize I'm not like that.
It would mean a lot to have Lou Whitaker playing behind me. It would
mean a lot to be able to say to Don Mattingly, 'Way to stroke the
bat.' It took a lot away from me when Sparky Anderson didn't pick me
last year. Then this year. . . .''
The Red Sox want to make sure that Boyd is completely on his feet
before he rejoins the team, possibly this weekend, and resumes
pitching the following week. He and Karen are selling their Chelsea
condo and plan to stay in East Providence for the rest of the
''Maybe getting away, cooling down and doing what I did was for
the best,'' Boyd said as he sat on a bench in the East Providence
park last Friday. ''I'm getting my finances straightened out. I'm
with family. I've got 13 or 14 starts left. I can help the Red Sox
win the pennant. I'm no angel, but at least I'll admit it. Fire and
desire got me to the big leagues, but I've got to control it.
''So all I need from here on in is the ball, because the one thing
Oil Can Boyd wants most in the world is to pitch in the big leagues.
They can take my money, they can take my car, but please don't mess
with my family or take the ball out of my hand.'' END
Table of Contents
Aug. 4, 1986
One Woe After Another THE TANTRUMS THAT RESULTED IN HIS SUSPENSION WERE ONLY PART OF THE MANY MISERIES OF OIL CAN BOYD
The mound on the field behind East Providence Senior High School