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Sex, Drugs, Nails: Talking to Lenny Dykstra About His Wild, Reckless Ride Through Life

Lenny Dykstra played the game hard on the field, and played dangerously hard off it. He wound up in prison for it, but his new memoir isn't about regrets.

by Dan Epstein
Jun 28 2016, 4:05pm

Photo by Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

"Hi Dan, how are you?" Lenny Dykstra says over the phone from somewhere in Los Angeles. "I've heard a lot of good things about you!"

"I'm great, Lenny," I reply. "How's it going?"

Dykstra goes silent for a second, and then chuckles. "It's tough to say, 'I've heard a lot of good things about you,' isn't it?"

Well, yeah, it kind of is. From 1985 to 1996, Lenny Dykstra was the sort of baseball player you loved to hate—unless, of course, you were rooting for the Mets or the Phillies teams he played on. A smack-talking competitor who never met an outfield wall he didn't try to run through, Dykstra earned the nickname Nails many times over for his hard-nosed play. Despite his modest stature (5'9", 160), Dykstra essentially willed, and later injected, himself to greatness, swaggering his way on to three National League All-Star teams, and making significant contributions to both the Mets' 1986 World Series championship and the Phillies' NL-winning campaign in 1993.

Read More: The Year Babe Ruth Totally Lost It, And Grew Up

Dykstra played even harder off the field, orchestrating post-game debauches at his hotel suite like Eisenhower planning D-Day, and once seriously injuring himself and Phillies teammate Darren Daulton in a drunken car crash. (They were returning from John Kruk's bachelor party at the time.) He also lost enough money in high-stakes poker games to trigger an investigation by the commissioner's office, and ultimately received a year's probation from Fay Vincent.

Dykstra hustled even harder, and fell even farther, following his retirement from baseball. He got involved in businesses ranging from car washes to high-end jet charters, and restyled himself as an investment guru, claiming that his financial acumen allowed him to build a $60 million fortune. But he also battled opiate addiction, and he racked up a shocking array of lawsuits, foreclosures, and even sexual-assault charges; in the end, he wound up doing sixth months in prison on charges of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, and money laundering.

He emerged from prison in the summer of 2013 somewhat chastened but still very much Lenny Dykstra. His new book, House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge (William Morrow), provides a head-spinning trip through his life's highs and lows, including revelations about his steroid use, the $500,000 he spent hiring private detectives to dig up dirt on MLB umpires, and the time he tried to get his friend Charlie Sheen to stop smoking crack and go public with his HIV diagnosis.

Given that it's piled high with dirty laundry and filled with more regrets, ornate self-justifications, and cautionary tales than you can shake a Louisville Slugger at, House of Nails is far more entertaining than your typical player memoir. Even if you don't always buy what Dykstra's selling, it's hard to not be at least somewhat charmed by his rambling, discursive, "Just you and me, dude" writing style.

"I called my editor and said, 'Listen, man, I've gotta fire this ghostwriter and write this book myself!'" he tells me. "But that's just how I roll, you know? My ghostwriter, it wasn't so much that he was bad, but he couldn't talk in my voice. Like, God himself can't talk in my voice, you know?" The conversation with Dykstra has been edited for length and clarity; a significant number of "dudes" or "bros" were harmed in the editing process.

VICE Sports: Why did you decide to write this book?

Lenny Dykstra: I decided it was time for America to know the truth. There's been a lot of shit written about me, but that doesn't bother me; that's not the issue. I just think this is a story that America needs to know. It's about a baseball player, but it's not about baseball, per se. It's about everything. And it's real. The publisher's lawyers checked on everything, and they came back and were like, "Wow, this is actually real!" Yeah, it is! There's fun and light stuff in the book, and then there's serious stuff. People are probably thinking that this book is gonna be a fucking joke, but they don't know that they're actually going to read a really good book, man.

I always held myself to a certain standard as a player. The fans were really important to me; I'd sit at my locker before a game and say, "If I was a fan, would they pay money to watch me play?" So this book, I couldn't let it out there until it was right. The legal stuff was the hardest [to write about]. I went with just the facts, but it's so fucking intense and complicated. To try to explain it all is impossible; it's too hard for most people to fathom. Between you and I, I've got some heavy-duty artillery on a lot of people, which is why they locked me up—they didn't lock me up for selling a piece of fucking furniture, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, I just laid out the facts. But there's way more to it, dude.

It seems like you emerged from prison with a heightened sense of self-awareness.

Yeah. Do I recommend that people go to prison to get some fucking clarity about their life? Not really. [Laughs] But I realized some stuff about family; I thought I was doing great as a dad because I would be there with my kids, but I was always thinking about my next deal, how I was going to make more money. Money became my drug, you know? Money isn't a bad thing; you need money. But when you do things for the love of money, and just run people over ... it's kind of like in baseball, where as soon as you get on a good streak and think you got it all figured out, the baseball gods come down and bring you back to earth real quick. Well, the life gods fucking came and got me, dude!

I mean, I know this book is not for everyone, because I do talk a lot about pussy and drugs and money—and pussy and drugs and money! [Laughs] But there's a lot of humility in there, too.

You talk a lot in the book about "playing the game right"—but you're not talking about not celebrating or showing emotion on the field.

No. I mean, there's only one way to play the game. Either you're right or you're wrong; there's no "in the middle." The game is played off the scoreboard, see? The scoreboard dictates what you should be doing. When I see a guy go up there hacking when they're down two runs in the ninth, and swinging at a first-pitch fastball, I just can't watch it. I can't take it.

Everything I did in baseball was very statistically oriented, and that's something people don't know about me. They think I'm just some renegade, you know? But how else am I going to lead the league in hits in two different years? As an offensive player, it's about learning how to limit damage and deal with failure. If you're the best player, you're going to fail 70 percent of the time, which is the opposite if you're a pitcher. Like, a pitcher should be walking out to the mound like he's got a 15-inch cock, you know? All he's gotta do is throw the ball over the plate! Look at Tom Glavine, man; he's in the Hall of Fame, dude, and this motherfucker threw so soft I wanted to catch it and throw it back to him! But he played right, by throwing strikes and getting ahead, which changes all the percentages. You go up there thinking you can hit him, and the next thing you know, you're 0-for-4, and it's like, "What happened?"

That "15-inch cock" expression recurs numerous times in the book. How different do you think your life would have been if you'd actually had a 15-inch cock?

Well, I would have been like my man Straw [Darryl Strawberry]—we called him Soul Pole, you know? This guy, he had to tape his cock to his leg, bro! I mean, think about it, that's not gonna fit in a jock! I finally asked him one day, "Straw, I just gotta ask you—that cock, have you ever got it down to the base?" I'm not a health major or anything, but, you know, body parts, man. I asked him, "Have you ever been able to go all the way in with that fucking weapon?" And he said, "No. I always hit a wall!" [Laughs]

The 1986 Mets have a reputation for getting up to some crazy shit, but you imply in your book that the 1993 Phillies were even crazier.

That '93 team, we made that Met team look like fucking kindergarteners, dude. I've read all the stuff about how the Mets were partying, doing blow—I didn't even know what blow was. I didn't see any of that shit. We had a few drinks and stuff, but in '93, dude, you talk about taking it to the next level. I mean, we just did whatever we had to do to win. If someone was hurt, we'd say, "Fuckin' just out-drug it!" And if we were playing another team on the road, our motto was, "We're going to go into their house, take their money, and fuck their women!" And I led that charge every fucking night! I was one of the most hated players in the league, but my teammates loved me. Of course those other teams hated me, because I made their jobs hard!

So, it must have been awkward to be traded from the Mets to the Phillies in 1989, right after the Mets took two out of three games from them.

It was such a fucking awkward experience, dude. You know, I'd been with the Mets since I was 18, and we'd won a World Series. And how I found out about it—I was watching TV in the clubhouse, and I heard Harry Kalas talking about it. Harry was one of the greatest guys I've ever met. This guy was not only a great announcer; he dropped trou with me in the fucking Jacuzzi with chicks, you know? I mean this guy was a fucking stud! [Laughs] But that's how I found out I got traded. And then it was like, "Davey wants to see you in his office." Davey didn't really say anything, because he was always hungover.

You're pretty hard on Davey Johnson in the book, calling him an "overrated and underachieving manager." The guy managed for 17 years and finished with a .562 career winning percentage. Are you saying he was just lucky?

Un-fucking-believable, man. He was the luckiest fucking guy I ever met! But the problem is, luck only takes you so far in the game. When it came time at the big dance, he made some big mistakes. Think about it: What's your job as a manager? You're hired to make the right decisions at the right time; that's what you're getting paid to do, and if you can't do that you're failing. In 1988, when he leaves Gooden in to start the ninth with a two-run lead [in Game 4 of the NLCS], with Randy Myers waiting in the bullpen... As I say in the book, the demise of the Mets whole organization starts there. It was basically 11 years of misery because Davey made the wrong decision. We're going to the World Series if he lets Myers start the ninth; we would have been up 3-1, and there's no way the Dodgers would have come back from that.

Do you think you would have had as much success as a player if you hadn't used steroids?

Fuck no, dude. Look, the bottom line is, if you're not an everyday player, you're not gonna get paid. And if you're sitting there at spring training, and the guy next to you is all fucking yoked and looks like a fucking Greek statue, what are you gonna do? Feel good about yourself for just taking your fucking vitamins? Yeah, good, you do that—and you'll get fucking released and have to go get a real job, motherfucker! You'll be making 60 grand a year and taking orders from someone, as opposed to making $15 million and chasing pussy and living large. So there's not much of a decision there. At least, it wasn't for me!

But I was way ahead of the curve there; this was in the off-season between '89 and '90.... I told the doctor, "Look, my life's on the line." I said, "It's not that I can't play—I'm not worried about that. I just need something that will keep me durable and strong enough that I can continue to play and execute what I know how to do." I knew how to hit, but it's different hitting when the bat is feeling like a telephone pole. So this guy writes me a prescription for Deca Durabolin, and it's no big deal. He tells me to get the shit at Rite-Aid or wherever, and come back and he'll show me how to put it in. I get the harpoons, I'm taking my cycle, I get a trainer ... and the next thing you know, I show up at spring training weighing fucking 192, fucking ripped and shredded and ready for anything. So, do they work? Yeah, they work.

And you sound pretty convinced that Bud Selig and MLB were aware that players were using them.

They had to, dude. With the strike [in 1994-95], the fans were upset. So what gets them back in? The balls rocketing out of the fucking yard at record paces. Brady Anderson hits 50 fucking home runs! Really? [Laughs] But it really pisses me off with the Hall of Fame. How the fuck are the three best players in the history of the game not in the Hall of Fame?

You mean, Barry Bonds—and who else?

And Roger Clemens, who was fucking filthy, and fucking Pete Rose. I mean, this motherfucker got 4,200 hits, dude! Is it a Hall of Fame for what people do on the field, or is it a Hall of Fame for how people behave off of it? And, by the way, I'm all for people being good guys—that's great, that's awesome. But what's the fucking threshold? What about all the guys in there who were taking amphetamines? What about the guys who beat their wives?

What's too bad? Taking amphetamines every night, which all those guys did? That's the most performance-enhancing drug on the planet. You play every day, with all that traveling and stuff like that, you need something that'll take you north, bro. And they all took it! With steroids, it's just that we're in a new era of technology. They didn't have them back then—but if they did, they would have taken them then. Ty Cobb and all them other motherfuckers!

Because players are always looking for some kind of edge?

Yeah. Well, I don't know if everybody is, but I sure the fuck was! And I got one, too!

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