Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd

Dennis Ray Boyd, one of 14 children born to Negro League star Willie James Boyd, was a 16th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1980 out of Jackson State University and made his debut in Boston after pitching just 67 games in the minor leagues. In 1982, Boyd went 14-8 with a 2.81 ERA for the Bristol Red Sox, tying for fourth in the Eastern League in wins while leading the league with 191 strikeouts.

He was nicknamed "Oil Can" because of his fondness for beer (the nickname gets a special citation from Susan Sarandon in "Bull Durham") and he was one of the more delightful characters on the Boston sports scene after splashing down in 1982. Ralph Houk and later McNamara didn't know quite what to make of the Can, but they knew he wanted the ball every fifth day and he could pitch. "I'm blessed with this mystique, I got a nickname and I know how to pitch."

His nickname is legendary, as was his temper, and in 1986 baseball fans witnessed the full spectrum of emotions that made Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd one of the more colorful personalities of his generation. The Can was hospitalized with a mysterious liver ailment in 1986, then, after being left of the All-Star team, Boyd threw a highly publicized tantrum that got him suspended from the team and landed him in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. There were rumors of drugs, and he got into a jam with the Chelsea Police. When teammate Wade Boggs announced he was a sex addict a few years later, Can comically commented, "Now who needs the psychiatrist?"

It was also Boyd who was to start the deciding Game 7 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets, but rain prevented him from making that start, and manager John McNamara elected to pitch Bruce Hurst instead. Boyd cried when he learned of the decision.

So where's The Can now and what's he been up to? He's returned to his Mississippi hometown, where beer is called oil (hence the nickname), becoming an ambassador for the game of baseball. But since his exit from the major leagues in 1991, Boyd has never strayed from the game, although he has done so primarily outside of the glare of the media.

After leaving the Boston Red Sox in 1989, The Can signed with the Montreal Expos, where he did a splendid job in 1990, and was on his way to a fine 1991 campaign when he was traded to Texas, where his year, and ultimately career, would wilt, and then fade into the summer sun.

In 1993 The Can resurfaced, grabbing headlines in a way only he knew how. In April, Boyd, through his lawyer, threatened to sue the Red Sox for not inviting him to spring training that year. The lawyer said in view of the Red Sox's mediocre pitching prospects for the coming season, he could find "no apparent baseball reason for the team's rejection of Boyd's overtures." Alas, Boyd would not make it back to the bigs, although he would soon give it one more try.

When the 1995 season threatened to open with replacement players there was The Can with the Sox. The White Sox, that is. Apparently fences still hadn't been mended with Boston, and mediocre pitching staff or not, Boyd was not going to replace a Red Sox replacement.

The decision to cross the picket lines cost Boyd his agent, George Kalafatis, who feared that he would be decertified by the players' union if his client became a replacement player. Speaking about The Can's decision, Kalafatis said, "if you know Dennis, Dennis is going to make up his own mind. He listened to me in the past, he's occasionally taken my advice, he's occasionally not taken my advice. This he's done on his own."

The 1995 bid to return to the majors was a brief pit stop on Boyd's 7-year journey through the independent league circuit. After pitching in Mexico and Puerto Rico, Boyd pitched for two seasons with the Sioux City Explorers of the Northern League. In 1994, Boyd was 4-1 with a 1.89 ERA before his season was stopped prematurely by a blood clot in his right shoulder.

Before the injury, Boyd helped make history on May 8, 1994, when the Colorado Silver Bullets became the first women's team to ever play a professional men's team. Boyd was the starting pitcher for the opposition, the independent Northern League All-Stars, as the Silver Bullets were soundly defeated 19-0.

In 1996 Boyd returned to the New England area, where he compiled a 10-0 record for the Bangor (Maine) Blue Ox of the Northeast League. In addition to earning league MVP honors for his pitching performance, Boyd also spent the season as the team's pitching coach. The following season, Boyd returned to Massachusetts, pitching for the Massachusetts Mad Dogs in Lynn.

Retiring from the independent leagues in 1998, Boyd returned to his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi and has since tried to bring a baseball team to Meridian that he can call his own.

Although he has been mostly remembered for behavior that was eccentric on the field and erratic off of it, no one should ever doubt Boyd's true passion for the game. As he has proved since he left the majors, Oil Can would play for virtually nothing. Maybe the defining quote that should be attributed to him is, "I will continue to play baseball until I can't play it any longer. I want to be playing when I'm 50, if not professionally, for a semipro or local team."

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