Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dykstra slides... and... his luck runs out!

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Followers of major league baseball may expect this biography to be largely about baseball. If so, they are likely to be disappointed.

Once past the first 50 pages, readers will find references to the game few and far between.

The subject is Lenny Dykstra, one-time star of the National League's New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. His aggressive playing style (where he seemed determined to have the dirtiest uniform) endeared him especially to New York fans.

Nailed! mainly tells the sordid story of his dubious business career, most notable for his exploiting colleagues, including the author, and pulling scams on associates and other innocents.

American author Christopher Frankie thoroughly outlines Dykstra's business shenanigans. His style is sometimes unexciting, but that can be attributed to the complexity of the scenarios he is presenting. Besides, Frankie's background is business writing, where he is concerned with accuracy rather than dramatic revelations.

Dykstra, according to Frankie, is a self-serving money-seeker, unhampered by ethics. A rough-and-tumble character (his nickname "Nails" came "because he played the game hard," says all-star catcher Gary Carter), Dykstra follows a similar path in his everyday life as he did on the baseball paths as a youth and young man.

Now 50, Dykstra played big leagues for roughly a decade, starting full time in 1986 with the Mets. He was traded to the Phillies in 1989. He survived despite the impact of injuries in a professional sport with seasons of 162 games.

By 1995, Frankie notes, "The notoriously rock-hard, tobacco-juice-stained turf at urine-scented Veterans Stadium, where the Phillies played their home games, continued to take its toll."

Dykstra missed 100 games in that year alone, partly because of an arthritic right knee. (Not that the tobacco juice has much effect on his injury. The wad of tobacco that he chewed probably had a more negative effect on his health.)

Dykstra's business career ultimately dominated his lifestyle. He became quite successful on the stock market. He seemed to have a knack for picking stocks, and finding experts who would tutor him in business.

In partnership with his brothers, he developed prosperous car-wash businesses in California. He bragged about his success in accumulating wealth and what he was able to do with it. For example, he travelled in a private jet and in 2007 bought a house worth $17.5 million formerly owned by hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky.

Frankie, who had first-hand experience as editor of Dykstra's high-end lifestyle and finance magazine, Players Club, details Dykstra's abuse of staff (and family).

He was victimized, as were many others, by Dykstra's practice of hiring people and refusing to pay them. How Dykstra was able to get away with this behaviour is not always clear, although he seems to have been capable of using a combination of personal charm and his star status.

Yet a string of eight editors came and went in a year of Players Club's existence. It was a matter of time, however, before his lifestyle got him in trouble. He declared bankruptcy in 2008.

In 2009, L.A. police caught Dykstra up in a web of crimes. He was able to get a no-contest deal with a minimum of charges. The outcome was that Dykstra's potential jail time was reduced from a maximum of 12 years to four years or less.

In March 2012, a federal judge levied a sentence that put Dykstra in prison, with the likelihood that more charges would follow. Former baseball buddies found him failing in health and progressively erratic in behaviour. Dykstra now sits in jail, awaiting what the justice system has in store.

It's a sad story. Frankie quotes pitcher Ron Darling: "He's a complicated man who somehow lost his soul."

Ron Kirbyson is a Winnipeg writer who travels to Cuba in the winter to watch baseball.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2013 J7

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