Dykstra’s book an ugly self-portrait that rings, mostly, true

Alan Truex

Lenny Dykstra played baseball all-out and was nicknamed “Nails” because that’s how tough he was.  The hell-bent effort, combined with increasing off-the-field exertions, wore him down.  By June of 1989 the New York Mets center fielder was stretching 150 pounds over his 5-10 frame.

So the Mets traded him to Philadelphia.  After finishing the season with a .237 batting average, Dykstra decided to rebuild his body.  He showed up for the 1990 season looking 25 pounds heavier.  He was rumored to be using steroids.

He confirms those rumors in his new autobiography, House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge, published by Harper Collins.

As a baseball tell-all, this book rivals Jose Canseco’s Juiced, published in 2005 and detailing a steroid epidemic that swept through the sport in the 1990s.  Canseco, who proudly claimed to be the first baseball player to take anabolic steroids, is two years younger than Dykstra, who’s 53.

I was covering baseball in the late 1980s, and thinking, as I talked with big-leaguers in the clubhouse, how unathletic most of them looked.  Except for Nolan Ryan and a very few others, they didn’t lift weights.  They didn’t want to be “muscle-bound.”

But by 1990 we were seeing a transformation.  Suddenly, flab was out, muscles were in.  And Dykstra was in the forefront.

He acquired performance-enhancers by calling, at random, a Mississippi doctor listed in the yellow pages.  Dykstra secured a prescription for the steroid Deca Durabolin, which at that time was not banned by the major leagues. 

In 1990 the now muscular player hit .325 and finished second in the National League MVP voting.

His drug usage increased, and not just the performance-enhancing kind.  Dykstra writes about Charlie Sheen’s crack den “right out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie,” hidden behind a sliding bookcase in his master bedroom and accessible only by punching a secret code into a keypad.

A three-time All-Star center fielder who played in two World Series and earned up to $6 million a year, Dykstra found even more financial success after retiring from baseball.  In 2008 he was worth at least $50 million, not only from baseball but from ownership of a California car wash chain and shrewd investments in Wall Street equities.

But a year later, in the wake of the Great Recession, he filed for bankruptcy, even though he probably didn’t need to, yet.  Three years after that he was in prison for bankruptcy fraud and auto theft.

He writes about police brutality, cops punching out his front teeth while he was in the Los Angeles County jail house.  There was video of the incident, but the police claim it was “misplaced.”  He “lived in constant fear that they would come back and finish me off.”

The book includes accounts of sexual exploits, mostly adulterous while he was married for 24 years to Terri, now his ex.  Sometimes he told her he was on his way to rehab for 30 days, but that was just cover for another fling, often in his private jet.

He writes that one of his fake rehabs involved powdering his nose with Robert DeNiro – a charge the actor vehemently disputes.

Then there was the time he, allegedly, partied for five days with Mickey Rourke in a limo parked outside a rehab center.  Dykstra didn’t check himself in until he had used up his drug supply.

There’s also plenty of baseball in this book.  Unlike most retired ballplayers, Dykstra says the pitchers are better now than when he played.  That comment does add credibility to his reporting. 

He appears to be holding nothing back.  “I was in the business of entertaining people.  The mouthful of chew, the grabbing my cock, it’s all a plan.”

He doesn’t bash his teammates, except for manager Davey Johnson: “drunk every night and frequently hung-over.  . . .  He was probably the worst communicator I’ve ever been associated with in baseball.”

And this is where he’s stirred the most animosity.  After all, Johnson had a record of 595-417, a success rate of .588 that’s the best all-time by a Mets manager.  Dykstra teammate Keith Hernandez said, “Davey liked his vodka, but he was never drunk or hung-over on the bench.”

Hernandez’s views of appropriate alcohol consumption are a bit suspect.   He was known for having a bucket of cold beers at his locker as soon as the game ended.

That said, I covered Major League Baseball during most of Johnson’s tenure in New York (and also when he was a player in Atlanta), and I never heard anyone accuse him of excessive drinking.  Considering the size and omnipresence of the New York media, I doubt he could have been inebriated very often without it being noticed and reported.

Some of Dykstra’s former teammates think he disliked Johnson because he platooned the left-handed batter with Mookie Wilson.  Dykstra admitted to pressing the manager for more playing time, but he also realized his then-scrawny body could not hold up to everyday play.

His most astonishing revelation is that in 1993 he spent $500,000 for a team of private detectives to find dirt on umpires that he could use against them.

“Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble, some of them do whatever.”

Hernandez, now a commentator on Mets telecasts, suspects Dykstra of exaggeration: “A half-million dollars?  I find that extremely hard to believe.”

But is it harder to believe than Dykstra spending $300,000 to party with Mickey Rourke and his entourage in a Beverly Hills hotel?

At any rate, Dykstra contends he got lots of return on investment for the umpire surveillance: “It wasn’t a coincidence I led the league in walks.”

He makes no apologies for the PED’s.  Who used them?  “Everybody who was good.”

His critics say his sole purpose in writing this likely best-seller is to restock his depleted bank account so he can buy, among other necessities, new teeth.

He insists otherwise: “I wrote this book because this is the story the American people deserve to be told.”

Deserve?  That’s an interesting word.  Perhaps he’s thinking of this as a cautionary tale.


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