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Lenny Dykstra: A Chat with 'Nails'

By Steve LaMontia, Director of Communications

Lenny Dykstra is an amazing and certainly controversial individual, on and off the field, but he will always be remembered for his ferocious way of embracing every at bat and every opportunity to prove that he belonged playing with the elite of the elite.  He is also now an author of a ‘must read’ for baseball enthusiasts who enjoy stepping behind the scenes of a major league clubhouse and sifting through the occasional handful of dirt that only someone like ‘Nails’ can throw at you.

Lenny’s new book, released this past June, is titled ‘House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge.’  I was recently able to hook up with Lenny and he was kind enough to share a few insights on being a Met in the World Series, the crazy 1993 Phillies and who he thinks is the new ‘Lenny’ in today’s game.

Born in February of 1963, Lenny was drafted by the Mets in the 13th round of the 1981 amateur draft.  He made his big league debut in May of 1985.  "I figured a three to four year timetable to the Bigs,” said Dykstra. "I guess I was right on course.” It didn’t take Lenny long to reach the pinnacle of a World Series appearance.  The very next year the Mets put together a season for the ages and won it all in 1986.  "We had the perfect combination of youth and veterans,” explained Nails.  "We had Hernandez (Keith) and Carter (Gary) showing everyone how to behave and act like professionals and we had the young guys who didn’t know any better and just busted their butts and played hard and had a blast.  It was magical.”

Lenny’s Mets days came to an end mid-season in 1989 as he was traded to the Phillies and instantly became one of a cast of characters that will certainly go down in history as one of the most productive yet zany assemblage of ballplayers since the Gas House Gang. How did he feel about being traded?

"I was thrilled to death. I was sharing time in New York but in Philly they said center field was mine and to go have fun.  In 1993 I had 773 plate appearances, which was the most in history.  I played in 161 games and was having the time of my life.  Did I mind being traded?  You’ve got to be kidding.”

In comparison, Pete Rose was second on the all-time plate appearance list at 771 from 1974.  Lenny’s record was broken in 2007 by Jimmy Rollins with 778. Lenny still stands at number two all-time.

The 1993 Phillies put together a season that could go toe to toe with any bar bet as possibly one of the best teams of all-time.  With the likes of Darren Daulton, John Kruk, Pete Incaviglia, Curt Shilling, Lenny, and a guy named Mitch ‘Wild Thing’ Williams this troupe went on to win 97 games.  It may not have been the most wins in the history of the game but one must remember they finished dead last the year before.  They simply embraced their roles, had fun, played hard and let it fly.

"Daulton (Darren) was the leader of that clubhouse,” said Dykstra.  "Nobody crossed the line.  He was a big part of the turnaround.  I was the leader on the field.  Yeah, it was a crazy time but we knew how to get to work when we needed to.”

I couldn’t resist asking what it felt like watching Joe Carter hop up and down around the bases with the series-winning home run for the Blue Jays that year.  "It hurt.  We were better.  But that’s baseball.”  How was Mitch in the clubhouse after giving up ‘THE’ home run.  "I heard about the death threats and all of that and sure, he felt badly.  But he got us there.  It wasn’t his fault.  We didn’t have a true closer all year so Mitch said ‘just give me the damn ball.’ We never should have let it get to Carter.  No, I don’t wake up thinking about that game.  No regrets.”

We discussed what Lenny is most proud of in his career and what sticks out.  It wasn’t a highlight or a season, which very easily could have been that magical 1993 season for Lenny.  He finished second in the 1993 National League MVP voting behind Barry Bonds while accumulating 194 hits, 13 more than Barry.  He also had more walks than Barry and is known for his tremendous plate discipline.  His final answer was very insightful.

"There are 30 teams in the major leagues, the best played baseball in the world.  Each team has a center fielder.  That makes a total of 30 guys who are the best in the world at their position.  Not the United States, not Japan, not the Dominican Republic, but the entire world. There is also a lot of personal pressure because you are making someone else unemployed.  I was one of the 30 best players in the world.  That makes me proud to have been a part and what I hope people remember about me.  I was also the first person to ever hit a home run in a night game in Wrigley Field and I had to do it twice!”  (look it up…it rained.  He had to do it again the next day)

Lenny has always been known as a fierce competitor who threw himself into his game, as well as into the occasional wall.  "Playing in Philly was tough.  It was terrible playing defense for an entire year because it was like running on concrete with the artificial turf.  That’s why I can hardly walk a straight line now.  But I sure loved hitting on it!”

The ‘fierce competitor’ moniker is not unique to Lenny, of course.  Who does he think is the closest player today that mirrors how he played his game?  "Bryce Harper,” said Nails without much hesitation.  "I see me in him.  He has a swagger but uses it to put it all together on the field.  I enjoy watching him play.”

I made the mistake of saying that I truly admired Lenny in his playing days as being a real ‘dirt bag.’ "What do you mean Dirt Bag?” Oops.  I took great care to explain that the definition in baseball terms conveys someone who leaves it all out there, dives for anything and slides all over the field.  The term 'dirt bag' represents an attitude, a mindset and a deep desire to do anything possible to help the team win.  After a short silence I was rewarded with, "Nobody has ever called me a dirt bag. But I guess you’re right.  I was a dirt bag.”  Whew!

Do you miss the game, Nails? "Naw.  The grind is terrible.  It is terribly hard to play 162 games and playoffs.  In 1986 we won 108 games and finished 21 games ahead.  It was really hard staying focused when you clinch that early.  Sometimes it was tough coming to the stadium but that’s what we get paid to do.” Would he consider some capacity in the game again?  "No. It’s over and done.  I had my ride now it’s somebody else’s turn.”

We also discussed our Men’s Senior Baseball League.  I could hear the animated response in his voice as I explained that 45,000 people play under our banner.  "Are you kidding me?  Really? They all pay to play baseball?  I had no idea how big that is.  That is unbelievable.  I’m happy for everyone to be able to do that.”

Would he ever consider strapping them up again and playing in an MSBL World Series in Arizona, maybe with his son Cutter in the Father/Son division?  "I’d have to be able to run, first.  Those days are way behind me.”

I enjoyed my conversation with Lenny.  Yes, there is a whole bunch more you can learn about him in his book and it is an extremely interesting read and is on the New York Times bestseller list. Lenny touches on the stories from behind the clubhouse doors as well as all of the personal ‘no holds barred’ off-the-field nuggets that Lenny personally penned.  "I got rid of the writer because he wasn’t saying things like I wanted them said.  I wanted an honest and open accounting without any sugar coating.  I finished it myself and told things the way I wanted. It’s all me out there.”

I personally remember watching Lenny play at old Mile High Stadium in Denver when the Rockies came into existence and the Phillies came to town and it actually snowed during their April visit.  "Yeah, I remember that.  I also remember it snowing in August.  Colorado can be a wild place to play.”  But one thing was a constant.  He was always the first one running out on the field and ran all the way in, too.  He didn’t take one minute on the field for granted.  I enjoyed my minutes with old Dirt Bag ‘Nails.’

You can learn about purchasing ‘House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge’ by clicking on the title.  

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