Have you ever dealt with someone with whom you had a negative first impression of, but then they started to sway you, only to come full circle and make you realize that your first impression was spot on? That sums up Lenny Dykstra.
When his pro baseball career ended in 1996, he had pretty much become the prototypical dumb jock. With softball sized wads of chewing tobacco in his mouth and a penchant for mumbling through interviews, “Nails” came off like a long haul truck driver.
I didn’t pay much attention when he finally hung up his spikes, but if you had pressed me at the time for what his post-MLB life would be like, I would’ve guessed that it would entail a series of failed sports bar ventures broken up by periodic stays in rehab.
So there’s that negative first impression. Then a decade slides by and all of us pretty much forgot about Nails. That’s until Bryant Gumbel’s sometimes credible HBO show “Real Sports” brought him back into the nation’s consciousness with a profile in 2008. The basis of the piece was that Nails had become some sort of financial genius.
At the time, it’s not newsworthy if a Cal Ripken or a Joe Montana had blossomed into a Wizard of Wall Street. We actually expect high achievement from guys like that. So let’s be brutally honest, the only reason that “Real Sports” profiled Nails was that they too shared that same first impression that the rest of us had: he was a dumbass.
Even the people singing his praises had to qualify what they were saying because, you guessed it, they too had considered him to be a dumbass. In this roughly one minute clip from the trailer for “The World According to Lenny,” supposed stock market guru Jim Cramer weighs in on Nails:
Is it just me or does the voiceover guy saying, “Then he took a year off to master the stock market,” sound like a line you might hear in a really funny “Mr. Show” sketch? Getting back to Cramer, he echoed the same sentiments in the “Real Sports” piece as he did in the clip above, basically saying that, “Nails has overcome his dumbassedness to master this stock market thingy!”
And it wasn’t just Bryant Gumbel who was doing a double take and re-evaluation of Nails back then. Ben McGrath of “The New Yorker” took up the cause in the print media world with a piece in March of 2008 entitled, get this, “Nails Never Fails.” But while singing Dykstra’s praises, McGrath also dropped hints that the dude was a giant asshole. Here he recaps a lunch meeting the two had at the swanky St. Regis Hotel in New York:
Dykstra ordered a Coke and French fries with ketchup: “And I’m actually going to have that as my meal—might be the oddest order of the day.” (Healthy living was never his specialty.) When the Coke arrived, he sent it back, believing it to be Diet. After the fries were delivered, he made a show of extracting a “You’re welcome” from the waiter, who had since moved on to another table. “I pay a thousand bucks a night—actually, three thousand bucks a night—and people are discourteous,” he said, shaking his head. “There’s some point in life when you have to grow up.” (New Yorker)
The piece ended up being a de facto advertisement for Dykstra’s newest can’t miss business venture at the time, a magazine called “The Player’s Club.” I’ll let McGrath give an overview:
The Players Club will be published monthly, and will be sent, free, to active professionals in each of ten sports, along with their agents, and club and league officials, for a total circulation of twenty thousand. It will be “photographically lush,” according to its editor, Randall Lane, and, to the extent possible, “peer to peer”—written by athletes. (The Utah Jazz forward Kyle Korver on video games, for instance, and the old Mets captain Keith Hernandez as food critic.) “It’s not just about the bling and the toys, though there’s some of that,” Lane told me. “There are all these hard-luck stories. We’re going to educate these guys to take advantage of this windfall. ‘Keep Living the Dream,’ that’s our working slogan.” Lane, who was once responsible for assembling Forbes’s annual list of top-earning athletes, is now the president of Doubledown Media, which publishes niche magazines for the extremely wealthy: Trader Monthly, Dealmaker, Corporate Leader, Private Air, and the Cigar Report. (New Yorker)
So you can see, it was good to be Nails back then. But it wasn’t long before chinks started appearing in the armor of America’s favorite tobacco chewing ex-MLB’er turned investment guru/publisher. Kevin Coughlin’s piece for “GQ” in April of 2009 entitled “You Think Your Job Sucks? Try Working for Lenny Dykstra” was the first big hint that maybe folks were a little too quick to dump those first impressions. Coughlin made the mistake of getting a job at “The Player’s Club” and provided glorious details like the following:
The strangest part of working at The Players Club, though, is Lenny’s adolescent antics. Editorial “brainstorming sessions,” fueled by Coca-Cola and ice cream sundaes, typically last until dawn. But this does not mean things are getting done. Most meetings are simply extended hang-out sessions, with Lenny cracking up at his own jokes or asking us to watch the Real Sports segment over and over, especially the moment where Lenny points to his seat on his private plane and says, “This is where the Big Man sits.” He also seems to relish letting go a long, leisurely fart for the amusement of his employees or showing off his silk tie and saying, “You see this tie? I paid $500 for it” as he rubs it on his crotch and laughs at our embarrassed expressions. (GQ)
One of the greatest insights the piece provided was a look into how Nails handled payroll at the magazine:
Lenny, it seems, does not exactly have a handle on the cash-flow aspect of running his business. I’m informed by other employees that I should deposit my paycheck as soon as I receive it, as Lenny sometimes moves money out of his accounts, and once it’s gone—well, good luck. Previous employees, I learn, have left when their paychecks never materialized; Lenny openly calls such employees “losers,” “not gamers,” or “quitters.” (GQ)
“The Player’s Club” folded up its tent in early 2009, which resulted in a torrent of lawsuits from people who had been jilted by Dykstra during the magazine’s short life. But as Coughlin’s “GQ” piece showed, it wasn’t a case of a well run niche magazine going belly up. On the contrary, it was a study in what happens when people trust a bad dude. And as it turns out, Nails is a very bad dude.
Since 2009, they guy has been hurtling toward jail time. He filed for bankruptcy in July of that year and that’s the point when he REALLY kicked things into high gear. He bounced a check to a call girl in 2010 and in 2011 this beauty of a story came out:
According to the rejection memo by Los Angeles County prosecutors, a female housekeeper alleged Dykstra would force her to give him oral sex on Saturdays. However, the 41-year-old woman’s case seemed to flounder because of an apparent lack of evidence that the activity was forced.
The woman told investigators she “needed the job and the money so she went along with the suspect’s requests rather than lose her job,” according to the filing, and “returned to work in the suspect’s home with knowledge that she obtained from the Internet of a claim of sexual assault by another woman.” (Los Angeles Times)
Well, as bad as Coughlin’s experience was in working for Dykstra, at least he was never forced to blow the guy. So while Dykstra dodged a bullet on that charge, his luck finally started to run out. Earlier this year federal prosecutors charged him with one felony count of embezzling from a bankruptcy estate. Then this hit the news wires yesterday:
Downtrodden former Mets star Lenny Dykstra was hauled out of a Los Angeles courtroom in handcuffs yesterday after prosecutors slammed him with 25 felony charges for allegedly possessing drugs and faking financial records to lease luxury cars.
The Los Angeles DA’s office nailed Dykstra, 48, with eight counts of attempted grand theft auto, eight counts of filing false financial statements and four counts of identity theft for allegedly duping the high-end automobile dealers.
He was held in lieu of $500,000 bail and is due back in court Friday to enter a plea.
LAPD detectives said they stumbled on a cache of cocaine, ecstasy and human growth hormone in Dykstra’s home while investigating the leased-vehicle scam. (New York Post)
Why the hell is Dykstra STILL doing steroids? Was he planning a baseball comeback when his financial empire started to crumble?
If he’s convicted on all the state charges, Nails faces up to 12 years in jail. That will ample time for him to plan yet another reinvention of himself to sell to the public. Trouble is, everyone’s back to their first impression of the guy. Burn us once, dumbass, shame on you. You know the rest.
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