Oil Can Boyd and the good ol' 1980s

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
2:10
PM ET

After the Boston Red Sox lost the heartbreaking Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd was scheduled to start Game 7.

The game got rained out, which gave Red Sox manager John McNamara an option: Boyd on five days' rest or Bruce Hurst on three days' rest. Boyd had started Game 3 and allowed four runs in the first inning but settled down after that and pitched seven innings (allowing two more runs in the seventh on a two-out single). Hurst had won Game 1 with eight shutout innings and Game 5 with a complete game, allowing two runs. Hurst had started only once all season on three days' rest, in the American League Championship Series, but all things considered, it was a pretty easy decision for McNamara.

He went with Hurst. Boyd was upset he didn't get the call. Hurst departed in the seventh inning with the game tied at 3-all. The Mets blistered the Boston bullpen and won 8-5. Boyd never got in the game. This past November, McNamara said Boyd was too drunk to use in relief.

Boyd wasn't exactly a stable personality to begin with. Earlier that season, upset about not being named to the All-Star Game despite an 11-6 record, he threw a tantrum, which eventually led to his being temporarily suspended from the club. Peter Gammons wrote a Sports Illustrated cover story on Boyd that August.

Now Boyd admits to being a heavy cocaine user while in the big leagues. The revelation isn't really a surprise, not considering Boyd's past issues and factoring in the widespread use of the drug during much of the decade.

Yes, Boyd had a problem, but he also was a symptom of his times. He wasn't the only major leaguer using cocaine in the 1980s. Players from Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to Keith Hernandez to Tim Raines to countless others admitted using the drug. It was the thing to do.

Sound familiar? Sound like another epidemic that spread through the baseball world in the 1990s?

One group of players did something that arguably hurt their performance. Another group of players did something that arguably helped their performance. Yet one group is reviled. George Brett has said he doesn't think Roger Clemens will ever get into the Hall of Fame. "There are a lot of Hall of Famers, a lot of pitchers that are saying [Clemens] better not get in while I’m still alive, because I’ll never come back," Brett told a Kansas City radio station in 2010. "These guys are upset that their records are being broken and they did it the right way, and other people are doing it the wrong way."

Brett, of course, isn't the only person to echo those sentiments. But what's that quote about glass houses? Players in the '80s had their drug of choice; the next generation of players had theirs.

That's why I respect Mike Schmidt, another Hall of Fame third baseman from the '80s. He has said he probably would have used steroids had they been popular in his era. As he says, it was part of the culture. No, that doesn't make using steroids right, no more than it was OK that Oil Can Boyd started two-thirds of his games while on cocaine.

Part of the culture. Maybe Hall of Fame voters will someday begin to understand this.

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger

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