I've been reading a lot lately. It has been my escape from thinking about work all the time. And most of the books I have been reading have been about the Red Sox. I have branched out a little bit and read a number of biographies of lesser-known players.
Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd was a pretty good, occasionally great, pitcher who came up with the Red Sox in the early 1980's. He also possessed one of the greatest baseball nicknames of all time. Oil Can wrote his autobiography to share his rather difficult life and his absolute love for the game. He grew up in poverty and dealt with racism from an early age. He overcame those issues and made it to the Major Leagues. Unfortunately, he got hooked on drugs and began squandering his abilities. Injuries and his drug use eventually led to his exit from the game. Boyd is not a terribly inspirational figure. He makes no apologies for his drug use and other extreme lifestyle choices. But his love for the game is undeniable and he was definitely a character. This book is not for everyone.
Jimmy Piersall was also a well-known character for his time. Though his issues had more to do with a nervous breakdown. Piersall had a tough life growing up as well. His mother had her own mental health issues and spent a significant time in a hospital. Piersall lived to please his father, which led to putting immense pressure on himself. He married young and found himself trying to support his parents as well as his growing family, putting even more pressure upon himself. Piersall grew up a Red Sox fan and devoted himself to making it to the Majors with Boston. This all culminated in a nervous breakdown which led to his admittance to a mental institution. Through therapy and apparently, electro-shock treatment, Piersall recovered. He was still quirky throughout his career, but he learned to deal with the pressures and made his own mark on the game.
Pumpsie Green was the first black player to play for the Boston Red Sox, the last team to integrate. This one is not an autobiography and includes a number of essays dealing with other related issues. The first half of the book tells the tale of Green's life and career. Green was not a particularly great player, but he was decent enough and his place in history is secure, if not necessarily wanted. Other chapters detail the sham of a tryout of Jackie Robinson, Sam Jethroe, and Marvin Williams that the Red Sox held in 1945, two years before Robinson broke the color line with the Dodgers. Unfortunately Red Sox brass did not appear serious about actually signing any of the players, the tryout was done more to appease council member Isadore Muchnick who threatened to make it difficult for the Red Sox to play Sunday baseball. There was also a lengthy discussion about Muchnick himself, and an update on the current ownership. One issue that I would have liked to see get more coverage is Dan Duquette's regime when the Red Sox really shed a lot of their racist historical image. I remember very well the mid 90's when Boston had a number of black players in the field.
Mickey McDermott, like Oil Can Boyd, squandered his abilities due to being more interested in pursuing drinking, women, and partying. He also did not seem to think he needed to work hard. McDermott had a ton of natural talent and threw harder than most pitchers of his time, but he was incredibly wild. Rather than work on his control, he just tried to blow the ball by hitters. He eventually became a pretty good pitcher, but then he was traded and continued to throw his career away. He thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Yankees, more due to the nightlife than his mediocre performance. McDermott bounced around quite a bit after that, playing for a few more Major League teams and appearing in the independent leagues as well. He had a pretty good thing going when he was a players' agent, but his drinking got in the way of that as well. Eventually, McDermott cleaned up his act and even won the Arizona lottery, meaning his financial troubles were over.