Interview: Oil Can Boyd on playing the game

Baseball ‘takes away a lot of hurt’
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  May 23, 2012

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This week, I had an hour long chat with Oil Can Boyd. He was alternately wistful, defiant, and vulnerable. But always interesting. This is a man who takes great pride in, and is deeply burdened by, his past — as a black man who came of age in the segregated South, as a ballplayer constantly embroiled in controversy.

>> READ: An excerpt from They Call Me Oil Can <<

In a recent erratic radio interview, he labeled former teammate Wade Boggs a racist. Boggs appeared on the radio a few days later, with his wife Debbie, to deny the charges. I asked him about that and more.

YOU WRITE, AT ONE POINT, "I DON'T FEEL LIKE I ACCOMPLISHED NOTHING BIG BECOMING A MAJOR LEAGE BALLPLAYER, BECAUSE I DIDN'T PLAY IN THE NEGRO LEAGUES." WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT? I'm a direct descendant of a Negro Leagues baseball player — just one generation, not several. I can still smell it in the air — what Negro Leagues baseball was like. I grew up in that flamboyant, old, dusty, cow-pasture baseball. When I came up in Major League Baseball there was no, really, talk about how it was — about black people in the game. No more than a Jackie Robinson story here or there. That wasn't enough, because I knew more. I knew Buck O'Neil personally, he knew my dad, my granddad, he knew my whole family, all my uncles and aunts.

They call it hotdogging — but we play cool baseball. It's just a whole different thing. This is one of the colorful traits that black people have. It was taken away. And then when I showed it, I became marked.

YOU WRITE ABOUT USING COCAINE AND SMOKING CRACK DURING YOUR PLAYING CAREER. HOW OFTEN WERE YOU UNDER THE INFLUENCE WHEN YOU WERE PITCHING? When I was real young, at the time, there was no "Say no to drugs." Drugs were taboo. It was a hidden thing and a secret thing When I came to the major leagues, that's where I learned drugs.

I never went on the mound and had smoked some cocaine or snorted some cocaine, because you ain't got no time to be snorting no damn cocaine going out to pitch — you got two hours of full preparation.

[But] you leave the ballpark at night, there's no telling where you might go or what you might do.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ARTHUR PAPPAS, THE RED SOX TEAM DOCTOR AND PART OWNER. I love him. Normally, administration and people that are in power — you never see the owners of teams, you never meet these people. Do you think that George Steinbrenner hung out with Rickey Henderson? No he didn't. It don't work like that. Well, they got personal with me, for some reason and I think because of some of the things I talk about in the book. I think they knew my background. And they was in some kind of way hoping that I could leave it alone because it's bothering me. Dr. Pappas knew my childhood. I talked about it every day — personal with him. The drug thing brought him to where he had to talk to me.

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