Why Oil Can Boyd was never an All-Star (and other oddities)

One thing about the baseball season: For all its many and glorious wonders, it does make me miss stuff. For example, last spring someone sent me Oil Can Boyd's new memoir ... which I promptly set aside, then forgot about completely until I just happened across it a couple of days ago. I can't claim that I've now read the book, and this certainly isn't any sort of review.*

* SB Nation's Over the Monster reviewed the book, and so did The Boston Globe. Over at Hardball Times, Bruce Markusen wrote a solid essay about Boyd's career.

While flipping through, though, I ran across something that piqued my curiosity. About a third of the way into The Call Me Oil Can: Baseball, Drugs, and Life on the Edge, the chapter "Still Fighting" begins like this:

A lot of stuff started to go wrong when I was passed over for the All-Star team in 1986. Sparky Anderson didn't pick me in '85, and I was already real upset about that. Then '86 came around and I was pitching better than anyone. I was an All-Star, no doubt about that, but Dick Howser didn't pick me.

I was pitching better than anyone.

At the All-Star break -- well, actually a few days before, when he learned he wasn't an All-Star -- Boyd was 11-6 with a 3.71 ERA. At the time, one of Boyd's teammates, a kid named Roger Clemens, was 14-2 with a 2.58 ERA. Also, Milwaukee's Teddy Higuera was 10-7 with a 2.76 ERA. Mike Witt was 9-6 with a 3.06 ERA. I'm not smart enough to come up with a precise number, but I'm guessing there were roughly a dozen American League starting pitchers with lower ERA's than Boyd's. Which doesn't mean all of them pitched better than him. But the notion that he was pitching better than everybody else in the league is insupportable by the facts and stuff.

The year before, in '85, Lloyd Moseby endorsed me and said, "It should be Oil and Gas" -- meaning me and Doc Gooden -- going against each other. Lloyd Moseby said it would be the best All-Star Game in the history of All-Star Games to watch me and Doc pitch against each other. Two black pitchers going up against each other -- one real colorful and the other throwing gas? Man, people would be tearing the TV apart trying to get to it. And they made sure it wasn't going to happen.

"They" might have noticed that Boyd, at the break in '85, was 10-5 with a 3.19 ERA. Solid, no doubt. And there was just as good a case for Boyd as there was for Jack Morris, who did start the All-Game with a 10-6 record and a 3.04 ERA. But it's not real surprising that A.L. manager Sparky Anderson chose Morris, one of his own players; he chose only four more starting pitchers for team, and one of them was another Dan Petry, another Tiger.*

By the way, Gooden didn't start for the National League in '85. Having thrown 140 pitches for the Mets just two days before the All-Star Game, he didn't actually pitch at all. By then, of course a number of black pitchers had started All-Star Games, though just once had there been two black starters; in 1971, Doc Ellis started for the National League, Vida Blue for the Americans. I have a hard time believing there was some conspiracy that kept it from happening more often, though.

Gooden did start for the Nationals in '86, against Roger Clemens. Now that was a match-up people should have been tearing the TV apart for. I will note that in those days, the All-Star rosters were only 28 strong; A.L. manager Dick Howser chose only four extra starting pitchers: Higuera and Witt because they were pitching exceptionally well, and Charlie Hough and Ken Schrom; Hough was the Rangers' only representative, and Schrom was 10-2 but with a 4.17 ERA. There's the legitimate beef: Boyd was a better pitcher than Schrom.

But Boyd seems to be implying that Dick Howser, along with perhaps many others, didn't choose him for the American League's All-Star team because Howser was a racist. Or something. Oddly, Boyd doesn't mention that Howser was already suffering from the malignant brain tumor that would soon kill him; the All-Star Game was actually the last game he ever managed. Boyd also seems oblivious of the fact that the league presidents played a large role in choosing the All-Star pitching staffs. Then again, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Boyd just didn't know about Howser's illness, or about the league presidents; one gets the impression that he was often so high on pot and/or crack that he knew very little of what was happening outside his own head.

That's the truly stunning thing about Boyd's book. More than 25 years later, he still sees absolutely no connection between his behavior and the way baseball people treated him. By his own account, he became addicted to crack cocaine during spring training in '86. By his own account, he pitched almost every game in his career high on marijuana. By his own account, he would sometimes sneak to his car in the Fenway Stadium parking lot, between innings during his starts, and smoke crack.

The Red Sox knew about some of his problems, so we may assume that Boyd's addictions weren't completely unknown to others in baseball. If you're choosing your starter for the All-Star Game, does your list of candidates begin with the crack addict? Or end with it.

Boyd says a lot of stuff started to go wrong when he wasn't chosen for the All-Star team, but a lot of stuff had gone terribly wrong before that. It's just that until then, he'd been a relatively high-functioning drug addict. When he got the news about the All-Star team, he jumped the club and didn't pitch again for almost a month. To his credit, Boyd pitched reasonably well down the stretch and helped get the Red Sox into the postseason.

In the ALCS, Boyd pitched pretty well against the Angels, losing Game 3 but winning Game 6.

In the World Series, he started Game 3 of the World Series against the Mets and got roughed up early, four runs in the first inning. He has a good excuse, though: Against his express wishes, his hated stepmother attended the game. Oh, also, "I had stayed up all night smoking cocaine."

So when Game 7 came around, Red Sox manager John McNamara had a choice between Boyd and Bruce Hurst, who'd pitched a complete game four days earlier in Game 4. Reportedly, there were suspicions that Boyd partied hard on the eve of Game 7, or perhaps even that afternoon. Regardless, McNamara went with Hurst, who shut out the Mets through five innings before weakening in the sixth; the Red Sox, of course, ultimately lost that game and the Series.

I haven't read the whole book, but here's my "favorite" part so far, from the "World According to Oil Can" chapter that closes the proceedings ...

You know what pissed me off about the World Baseball Classic? Why couldn't we put an all African American team in there? We were denied by Bud Selig. I'm the one who started it up. He didn't know that, but I'm the one who made CC Sabathia and all them go to Major League Baseball and ask, "Can we put an all African American team in the tournament?" And I told those black players, "I'm through with you motherfuckers if y'all play with the USA team."

An African American team and a European American team in the World Baseball Classic? Brilliant. Frankly, I am completely surprised that Bud Selig didn't think that was the greatest idea in the history of forever.

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