Former Expo/Jay Helps Those With Addictions After Taking Suggestion From Whitney Houston
Otis Nixon answered the phone at his foundation office in Georgia so I was surprised but, often-times, he’s his own executive assistant. Sometimes, the calls are re-directed to his cellphone.
After re-acquainting ourselves after some 15 years of not being in contact, Nixon wondered how I was doing. I was wondering how he was doing.
“I see your face. I recognize your voice,’’ he said. He then asked me how I got his 800 number and I told him I got it online. He asked if I was still writing and I said yes.
After exchanging pleasantries, I ventured into a negative phase of his life from several years ago when he was arrested for possession of crack cocaine. I asked him about it, realizing only a short time later that journalists are supposed to leave these lines of sensitive questioning until the end of interviews. I had broken that cardinal rule.
“Let’s talk about the positives. I’m willing to talk to you but I don’t want a story on addiction,’’ Nixon told me.
That was his cue then to offer up some nuggets about Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston? Yes, that megastar, who breathed fire as a songstress and breathed fire with her use of drugs. Their involvement with each other, not in a romantic way, is an untold chapter in each other’s lives.
They shared common ground amid lives of celebrityism intoxicated by drugs and alcohol.
Nixon said there was no restraints so he was able to talk about Houston. At least a little bit. And he was able to talk about Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina. At least a little bit.
“Whitney Houston’s family moved in with my family in the late 1990s,’’ the former Blue Jay and former Montreal Expo was telling me in a previously unpublicized show of revelation. “Whitney’s daughter Bobbi Kristina moved in with my daughter Genesis.
“We have this private-gated community called Country Club of the South near Atlanta. I knew Whitney very good. Whitney lived for a long time with my ex-wife Pebbles. I met Whitney through Pebbles. They were really close, like sisters.’’
So what else can Nixon say about Houston?
“Wait till March of 2017. It’s going to be on Showtime,’’ the erstwhile Yankee said.
Showtime’s documentary films division said it will explore the award-winning career and tumultuous life of the pop queen sensation, who died in a Beverly Hilton bathtub at age 48 in Los Angeles in 2011. Her death was due to drowning brought on by drug intoxication.
Nixon said the documentary, produced, directed and narrated by Nick Bloomfield, is tentatively called Cannot Be Me. The film will be shot in Los Angeles but will feature a number of interviews with some central people in Houston’s life. One of them was Nixon.
The producers of the documentary approached Nixon about doing an interview for the project which Showtime calls “an indelible portrait of the artist.’’ So Nixon agreed to talk. So did Houston’s ex-husband Bobby Brown.
“The movie company came to me and asked me to speak on her behalf,’’ Nixon said. “I’m proud to be in the documentary. When Whitney died, I was shocked. When Prince died, I was shocked. When Michael Jackson died, I was shocked. They all died because of drug overdoses. When Whitney died, she went off to God. It hit home.’’
When Houston moved from New Jersey to Georgia in the 1990s, she would see Nixon and his family often.
“Whitney was at my house every day for three years,’’ Nixon revealed in an interview a day after our first chat. “I have this large house. We would go bowling, go to movies, eat together. Teammates would ask me how it was to come home to Whitney Houston and I’d say it was normal. I lost a great friend, a great artist, a great superstar.
“Whitney wasn’t into baseball much but one day, she wanted an autographed bat from me. I signed it and as I gave it to her, I asked her what she was going to do with it,’’ Nixon said.
“I’m a teacher. The next time Bobby gives me trouble, I’m going to take the bat out,’’ Houston replied.
“Oh, no, no, don’t do that,’’ Nixon told Houston.
The connection between Nixon and Houston is all very much ironic and a little hard to fathom because Nixon and Houston were linked to cocaine off and on for decades. Nixon enjoyed a career of 17 seasons in the majors but his life off the field was complicated.
Houston breathed fire during her award-winning career as an entertainer and songstress. Her life off the stage, too, was complicated. What may seem peculiar is that Nixon said he, Houston and Brown didn’t do drugs while they spend a lot of time together at Country Club of the South.
“Whitney told me one time, ‘Otis, you have so much to offer. You have the ability, the platform,’ Nixon was saying.
“In baseball, you mean?’’ Nixon asked of Houston.
“No, you can help so many people with addiction. You can carry the torch,’’ Houston told Nixon.
“This is in the interview in the movie. It’s my role to tell you this. There is no gag order,’’ Nixon said of what Houston told him.
Nixon has experienced ups and downs with addiction and other episodes with the law, including the time several years ago when TMZ reported he was arrested for possession of crack cocaine.
After Nixon entered drug rehabilitation in 1987, the Expos decided to take a gamble on him. Just like they took a gamble on recovering alcoholic Dennis Martinez a year earlier. Just like they took a gamble on prancin’ Pascual Perez. Just like they took a gamble on erratic Oil Can Boyd. The Expos loved taking flyers on reclamation projects.
Nixon played two and a half seasons with the Expos before being traded to the Braves April 1, 1991 on the last day of spring training in West Palm Beach.
“Is this an April Fool’s joke?’’ Nixon asked in bewilderment when he held court with us media following the trade.
Twenty-five years after the fact, Nixon mentions that day as one of shock. He incorporates that sad day into the answer he gave me when I asked him what his biggest memory of his time with the Expos was. He recalled walking around in a daze, asking himself, ‘Is this true?’
“Even when they held the press conference, I was still asking myself if it was true. Then it hit me when I started walking across the diamond to the Braves’ side of the complex that the Expos shared with Atlanta. The trade sucked. I was peeved off. The Expos were trading me to the worst team in baseball.’’
Nixon was never a power hitter but was very much loved by the Expos, especially manager Buck Rodgers, who was overruled by GM Dave Dombrowski during the trade talks. Rodgers admired Nixon the bunter, the slap-hitter, the speedster, the solid leadoff batter and the great defender.
“Buck saw something in me,’’ Nixon said. “He was maybe the best manager I ever had. He said, ‘Otie, you go, we go.’ Buck respected me and I respected him.’’
Nixon also boasted a fabulous figure that Expos trainer Ron McClain once said possessed body fat of something like 3.8, almost perfect.
“I’m a runner, my mother Gracie was a runner,’’ Nixon said. “She was a twin. My brother had twins, my sister had twins.’’
So what did Nixon do with Atlanta? He revitalized the Braves, who were 65-97 in 1990. Just one thing, though, drugs got in the way of his sensational season.
Although Nixon seemed to have his drug problem corralled during his Expos’ tenure, it went for naught that same season when he was suspended for 60 days by commissioner Fay Vincent for a violation of his drug aftercare program. At the time of the suspension, Nixon had stolen 72 bases and was batting .297. It was one of his finest seasons in the majors and the Braves were no longer vagabonds.
Nixon wasn’t eligible for the playoffs and his Atlanta teammates and team brass were very much disappointed. He let a lot of people down. Yet, the Braves kept him for two more seasons.
Somewhere during the 1990s, Dombrowski, as he looked back at the Nixon trade to Atlanta, said to me, somewhat shockingly, “I didn’t think Otis would become that good.’’
As Nixon would recognize later, there was much good in the trade.
“My career took off in Atlanta. They love me in Atlanta,’’ Nixon said.
Nixon had to think a little when I asked him who his favourite teammate was from 1988 until that trade to Atlanta.
“Oh, my gosh,’’ he said, as he eschewed the question. “Tim Raines, believe it or not. Like me, he had a lot of speed. He was a jokester. He laughed about everything. He was such a great hitter. We were pretty close, yeah.’’
Later, Nixon would suit up for the Red Sox, Blue Jays, Twins and Dodgers before winding up his time with Atlanta in 1999. After he drove in 45 runs in 589 at-bats for his best season with Texas in 1995, the Blue Jays signed him as a free agent.
I couldn’t help but ask Nixon what the highlight of his baseball career was. He says to look up not one, but two highlights on his website.
“Click on One and you see The Catch which some say was one of the greatest catches in history.’’
I click on the Youtube replay and it shows Nixon slowly timing his jump at the wall to reach over the fence and snatch a sure home run away from Andy Van Slyke of the Pirates. An electrifying catch for the ages. Breath-taking. July 25, 1992.
“Click on Two and you see my six stolen bases in one game against the Expos,’’ he said. The date was May 16, 1991.
When he was asked about his career highlight with the Jays, he demurred, preferring to engage in reverse psychology, just like he did when he talked about the Expos’ trade to Atlanta.
“It’s kinda backward,’’ he joked. “I gave the Blue Jays the last out in the 1992 World Series. I dragged a bunt, Mike Timlin fielded it and passed it on to Joe Carter at first base. I ended up playing for Toronto. They gave me a standing ovation up there.’’
Off the field, Nixon had a way with women. He was married to Juanita Leonard, the wife of former boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. He was married to gospel recording artist Candi Station. He was married to dance-pop singer Pebbles, also known as Perri Reid. Then there were models in his life. There were groupies. Life was good in the fast lane. He invested his baseball millions wisely.
“I had a great, great run in baseball,’’ he said. “I had some pretty good contracts. I live off a lot of residuals.’’
One of those residuals is his major-league pension, one of the best in all of organized labour and modern society. It borders on an annual $150,000 per year, which he has been taking for several years rather than waiting until let’s say age 65.
“I’m taking the pension now. You never know. You don’t know what will happen,’’ he said. “With that kind of money, you want to take advantage of it. I’m enjoying my retirement. Look at Moses Malone, the former basketball player. He was supposed to be at a golf tournament in Virginia last September. He never showed up. He died in his sleep at the hotel. He was 60.’’
Most of all, despite the pitfalls Nixon has endured, he seemingly is turning his life around at the ripe age of 57. Ten years ago, as his website states, he was in a state of depression and hit by another round of drug addiction.
As Houston suggested to him, he has been taking her up on her suggestions.
“I’m an ordained minister. I have a honourary doctor’s degree in divinity,’’ Nixon said. “I’m a life coach for people with addictions. My foundation helps to turn people’s lives around. I mentor at churches, schools and prisons. With speaking engagements, golf tournaments and my foundation company, I am booked through much of next year.’’
As Nixon keeps busy in life trying to keep his life in order, he is comforted by the fact that one special friend, among many, is always there for him. They talk a few times a week on the phone and sometimes, they meet. Nixon and Montreal-based entrepreneur Tony Macklovitch.
“Otis and I first met, oh, about 1990-91 when he was driving a BMW 635, looking for parking in a lot I still own on Ste. Catherine St. in Montreal across from Alexis Nihon Plaza,’’ Macklovitch recalled.
“Are you Otis Nixon?’’ Macklovitch asked.
“Yes,’’ Nixon said.
“I love the way you play,’’ Macklovitch said.
“Do you want to come to tonight’s game?’’ Nixon asked as Macklovitch got him fixed up with parking.
“No,’’ Macklovitch said.
“Do you want to meet up after the game and have a beer?’’ Nixon continued.
“We ended up playing pool until 3:30 in the morning,’’ Macklovitch recollected.
As the axiom goes, the rest is history. They have been friends ever since.
“Otis is one of the most entertaining, honest, loving, kind people I’ve ever met,’’ Macklovitch said. “When he got traded to Atlanta, I was heart-broken. To give you a small example of him as a person, here’s a story.
“I was partners at one point with Donald K. Donald, the Montreal entertainment mogul, and I arranged for Otis to go to a Rod Stewart concert and go backstage to see Rod, who at the time, was with Rachel Hunter.’’
At the last moment, Nixon said he couldn’t attend.
‘You missed a heckuva concert,’’ Macklovitch told Nixon.
“No, I didn’t miss it,’’ his buddy said.
“Yes, you did.’’
“No, I didn’t because your eyes are my eyes.’’
During spring training in West Palm Beach whether Nixon was with the Expos or Braves, he would have animated discussions with Macklovitch about who would pay for restaurant bills. Both would fake going to the washroom on the pretext of taking a credit-card to a waitress to pay for the meal.
“We would catch each other doing the same thing,’’ Macklovitch said, chuckling.
On Opening Day at Fenway Park in 1994, Nixon was with the Red Sox and riding around with Macklovitch, trying to find the ballpark.They kept circling and finally, Nixon s[ots a police officer close by so he drives up to him.
“This is Otis Nixon and he has to be at the ballpark in an hour and a half,’’ Macklovitch told the officer. “The police man took us by motorcycle escort to the park with the siren on.’’
Then Macklovitch tells the tale of a spring training game when Nixon flipped a ball to Macklovitch in the stands and Macklovitch fell into the stadium. Nixon walked way, laughing. A security officer came to Macklovitch’s rescue and took him and his girlfriend to their seats next to Braves owner Ted Turner.
“You’re the idiot, who fell into the stadium?’’ Turner asked.
“Otis has had faults, errors and bumps in the road but he’s very genuine. I only have compliments for him,’’ Macklovitch said.
Just like Nixon has only compliments for Houston.