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Baseball Legend Lenny Dykstra Looks Back on his Shakespearian Highs and Lows

Baseball Legend Lenny Dykstra Looks Back on his Shakespearian Highs and Lows: Katie Falkenberg / Contributor

Katie Falkenberg / Contributor

Nails. Lenny Dykstra earned that nickname as a hard-nosed center fielder for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s. His fearsome style of play and omnipresent massive wad of chewing tobacco made him a hero to fans of old-school baseball. Yet Dykstra, now 53, was a lightning rod for controversy, both during his drug-and-alcohol-fueled playing days and in his post-baseball career as a stock market adviser. In 2012, he was charged with bankruptcy fraud and sentenced to six and a half months in a Southern California federal prison.

Dykstra’s life story is Shakespearian in scope, and it’s chronicled in his new book, House of Nails (HarperCollins), a memoir that’s as brash and uncensored as the man himself. “In the writing of this book, there was literally blood on the keyboard every night,” Dykstra said on the phone with from New York. “If I’m gonna put my balls out there, I wanna make sure the story is true.” Read on to learn more about the man’s book, his steroid use, his prison days, his hard-partying encounters with Robert De Niro and… well, just read on.

The Cavaliers won the NBA title a week ago, and on the way back to Cleveland their plane stopped in Vegas so they could celebrate. Was the celebration that wild when you won the World Series with the ’86 Mets?
It’s so funny, man. In ’86, we had fun. We had beers and whatever. But with those Phillies teams in the ‘90s? Oh man. See, in ’86 I was a younger player. But in the ’90s, I was one of the leaders on the team. When I was on the Phillies, we made the ’86 Mets look like milk drinkers, bro. I’m not kidding. I’ve read all these stories about cocaine [use on the Mets] and this and that. In ’86, I didn’t even know what that fuckin’ was. But the fuckin’ Phillies? We were on a mission of mercy, man. [The Mets] partying? It was two beers or whatever it is that normal people do.

So the partying ramped up with your years on the Phillies—
Didn’t it?

That’s the sense I got from your book.
Oh fuck, dude. It ramped up? You gotta remember, I didn’t choose to have six surgeries on my knees. The baseball schedule is grueling. It’s the most difficult schedule in all of sports. That being said, I’d be hurting after the game, and I’d see my teammates drinking 20 beers, trying to take their pain away. And I said, “There’s gotta be a better way.” So I asked my trainer and he said, “Here, try this.” He gave me one white pill. It was a Vicodin. I took it and I literally thought I reinvented the fuckin’ wheel. One Vicodin, and one drink, and I was ready to rock the next day.

In the book, you write about quitting Vicodin. How big of a challenge was that?
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I went to Israel to do that. They didn’t have the stuff they have now to get off it. And I mean, I’m not a pussy, either. But I couldn’t get to the end, so I finally said, “Fuck it. There’s gotta be something else.” [My doctor] said, “There is.” And I said, “Okay, well, let’s get it.” He said, “It’s kind of different. It’s not here.” I said, “Well, where is it?” He said, “Israel.” I said, “Is that where they’re blowing motherfuckers up every day?” This was right in the middle of all the crazy killings. He said, “There’s more. You’d only be the second patient in the world to do it.” I said, “OK. Is there anything else I should know?” He said, “Yeah, he wants a quarter million bucks.” I said, “Lemme think about this. I’m gonna fly to a country where these crazy suicide bombers are blowing up people, and then I’m gonna be the second patient in the world to do it, and third it’s gonna cost a quarter mil? Fuck it. I’m doing it.” So I got on the plane by myself, and I took care of myself. I didn’t involve my family or nothing. I [took Vicodin] to get relief on the field, but at the end there was a big price to pay. Nothing’s free.

All the players are trying to work the umpires. I just did it like I did everything else—at the highest level.

One of the more shocking stories in your book is the chapter where you say you paid private investigators $500,000 to gather personal information on MLB umpires, and you used that information to blackmail them into getting better calls—
That story’s already been out.

I heard you talk about it in an interview with Colin Cowherd last year. But now you’ve published the details—
Listen, it’s real simple. I led the league in hits for two years. I don’t say that to brag. I say it as a fucking fact. There’s only one guy that can lead the league in hits. [Note: Dykstra tied for the league lead in hits with Brett Butler in 1990.] There’s no higher league, by the way. The next step up is God himself, you know? Now, I didn’t lead the league because I was the best hitter. Not even close. I’m a little guy. But I finally figured out how to hit. The first thing you gotta know about hitting is that balls and strikes matter. I realized early on that umpires control my life. I started studying counts and percentages. All the players are trying to work the umpires. I just did it like I did everything else—at the highest level.

So it gave you a competitive edge. Did you ever leak information that you dug up on an umpire, or did it never come to that?
Once in awhile I might say, “Excuse me? You call that a strike? Weren’t you at Rick’s [Cabaret] last night? We’ll get back to that.”

You write about your steroid use in the book. Without steroids, what chance would you have had to be a successful everyday player in the majors?
No chance. Because I’m a little guy. For me, I actually did them for the right reasons. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that kids do steroids. Steroids are out of baseball, as you know.

I’m curious if you read Juiced by Jose Canseco because—
No, man. I didn’t read that book.

Because he implicated players and—
I don’t name names, man. There’s no reason to. There’s so many. That’s why when I talk about women, it’s just pussy.

But you do tell a story about Robert De Niro snorting your cocaine for four days in St. Barts. Then he gave you the cold shoulder when you saw him at his restaurant in New York. What motivated you to include that story in your book?
Look, he didn’t even know who the fuck I was, man. I was in St. Barts with some friends. We helicoptered in. There were two presidential suites where we were staying. He had this big fuckin’ yacht parked out there. So I have a banana daiquiri, and I’m making small talk [with De Niro]. And then I end up in the bathroom with him and you know … I had a code name for [cocaine]. I called it Keith Richards. You can’t say, “Where’s the blow?” You gotta say something. Who better than Keith Richards? He looks like a line of blow. So I said, “You want some Richards?” And he said, “What’s that?” And I said, “You know, Keith Richards?” And before I could get that motherfucker out, it was boom, bing, bang. Four nights in a row. $500 bottles of wine sent over. It’s all good. Then when I saw him in New York, what’s he gonna say? “Hey! Good to see you. Last time I saw you we were hittin’ rails.” I mean, c’mon.

You mention in the book that you’re acquaintances with Donald Trump, and that you’ve sat in his box at the U.S. Open. What’s something that voters don’t know about Trump that you do as a friend?
I don’t know him that well. I was in his box with P. Diddy. I just know he has a lot of fuckin’ money. I was in the box with Lenny Kravitz, too, who’s cool without trying to be cool. But I have no voting status. I’m a convicted felon. The United States of America took my right to vote away. But I’m not fuckin’ going near [the presidential election], you know that, right? I got hit by a lot of pitches, but not that many.

At the end of the book, you write that baseball prepared you for the challenges you’ve faced in life. How did baseball prepare you for incarceration?
It was horrible. Six-by-nine cell. Twenty-four/seven. Nothing can prepare you for that. It’s just like anything else because I fought through that shit. Know why?

Because I knew it was going to end. I never had the mindset that I was a criminal, because I wasn’t. I didn’t do anything to justify the United States of America taking my freedom away. But that’s another story, a long fucking story, that’s complicated.

Harper Collins

Harper Collins

In your book, you call women “pussy” and I was curious if your editor—
No, no, no! I’m not calling women “pussy.” Instead of saying, like, “ladies,” I’m just trying to keep it simple. I’m a simple man.

Sure. I was just curious if your editor ever said, “It’s 2016. You shouldn’t simplify women like that”?
No, I simplified it. My book editor is awesome, by the way. Peter Hubbard. It was kind of funny, because I had a ghostwriter. You know, everyone has a ghostwriter. I didn’t know what the fuck all this stuff was. I’ve been asked to write a book for a long time, but I finally decided it was time for the American people to know the truth. Maybe this will give people some hope. Because no one loves it more, bro, than a little fuckin’ guy like me going against all the 6-foot-2 pretty boys. And I’m making the big leagues. And they’re rooting for me, especially because I’m playing on the East Coast. But then when you get up there they want to see you come back down to their level. Misery loves company. So not only did I go down to their level, I went beneath their level, dude. So now they really love me. That’s why on this social media shit I’m doing, I’m just being raw and hanging my balls out there. People love it. The haters are going away.

You write about owning a Maybach and a Gulfstream, and purchasing Wayne Gretzky’s $18 million mansion. Do you still have a passion for that kind of lifestyle, and the luxury items?
That’s actually a great question, man. Because what really was my fall, or whatever; it wasn’t that I got fuckin’ stupid overnight, dude. I never failed as a business. When you pick the biggest insurance company in AIG as your partner and they go fuckin’ bankrupt, that’s a problem. It’s almost like in baseball. As soon as you think you’ve got it figured out, the baseball gods — that’s we call ’em — they bring you back to earth. At that point in my life, I was making so much fuckin’ money, just running over people. And it’s almost like the gods were like, “We’re gonna test you now.” And test me they did, brother. Look, it’s not about money. We all need it, and I know how to make money. But when it’s for the love of money, that’s when the problems happen.

Two of your sons play minor league baseball. What kind of advice do you give them about living life as a ballplayer?
One of them just retired. He’s married to Jamie-Lynn Sigler. His name’s Cutter. He’s a great kid. He’s got a great future. He has all the good from me and none of the bad, which is a lot. He’s a great husband and father. He was almost ashamed, but I told him, “Cutter, I don’t love you any less because you didn’t make it to the big leagues. Welcome to the other 300 fuckin’ billion people who didn’t do it either.” You have a better chance of getting hit by lightning than making it to the big leagues. The scary thing about that is the people in the big leagues don’t even know how to play!

What current major leaguer reminds you the most of your style of play?
Probably this guy on the Angels, [Mike] Trout, but he punches out too much. I could still go up in the majors and not strike out 100 fuckin’ times in a year. It’s fuckin’ selfish. Granted, pitching has gotten way better. It’s gotten way better for a reason: In hitting, as in life, you try to get in a predictable situation. You want the count in your favor. That’s why in the ’70s and the ’80s if you got a 2-0 count, you were getting a fastball. Now they throw anything, meaning they’re trying to deceive the hitter, throw his timing off. So the pitching has gotten way fucking better.

Who was the toughest pitcher you faced?
Luckily I didn’t face him that much. But I’d face him in the All-Star Game. I nicknamed him the Creature. Randy Johnson, 6-fuckin’-11. He’s the fuckin’ left-handed Loch Ness Monster. He wasn’t fun to hit off of. I battled him in an All-Star Game. I got a walk. Then fuckin’ [Barry] Bonds hung me out to dry, that cocksucker. That’s another problem I got, man. The Hall of Fame. How can the three best players not be in the Hall of Fame? Bonds, Roger Clemens and Pete fuckin’ Rose. Is it a good guys’ club or is it a hall of fame for baseball? Look, it’s entertainment. What I took seriously was just putting people in the seats. The big chew, grabbing my cock, and all that shit. Nowadays all these players talk to each other. When I played, if we caught you talking to the other team, we were fighting. We lived by one motto: We’re going into their house, we’re gonna take their money, and we’re gonna fuck their women.

That’s quite a motto.
That’s called reality. That’s called we’re playing for millions of fucking dollars.

Which of your opponents did you respect the most?
A lot of guys. Bonds is the greatest player to ever play, but he’s a dick. So we’d pitch around him and walk him. I’d say, “What the fuck? Drill him in the fucking neck. Save time.” One of the guys I respected the most is a guy I played with, and that’s Keith Hernandez. He taught me how the game works.

You wrote in the book that you’d tell your wife that you were going to rehab for 30 days, but then you’d never go. Instead, you’d go party for 30 days. And you did this multiple times—
That’s fucking genius, man.

Did you ever actually go to rehab and get sober?
I went to Promises at the end. I’d have one of my guys go to these places, pay the 100 grand, check me in. But I was flying up above the clouds, bro. Soaring with the eagles.

So you never got sober?
Hell yeah, I got sober. I didn’t drink for 7 years. I haven’t touched anything for 3 years. What do you mean? I’m stone cold, bro.

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