BrooklynFans Of Books: “House Of Nails”

Mets legend Lenny Dykstra’s House of Nails is a lot like the man himself.

It is a wild ride from beginning to end, through the highs and lows of his epic successes and failures.

House of Nails is a Shakespearian tale of an underdog who willed himself to be a champion, did whatever it took to stay on top, enjoyed wealth and fame as much as anybody, and then was undone by the very traits that propelled him up the mountain.

The book is full of wild stories, as would be expected, about drugs, drinking, groupies, and his unconventional friendship with Charlie Sheen, who was just one of the many celebrities that Dykstra was friends with.

Dykstra was known for pushing the envelope, and was an abuser of steroids, “greenies” (amphetamines), and prescription painkillers during his career. In this book, he reveals who knew about his steroid use and looked the other way.

One of the tallest tales from Dykstra is how he hired private investigators to tail umpires so he could blackmail them into preferential treatment.

After his playing days, Dykstra made it big with a carwash business and in the stock market. CNBC’s Jim Cramer was one of his biggest boosters and called Dykstra “one of the great ones.” He started a magazine for pro athletes called “The Players Club,” not to be confused with Derek Jeter’s Player’s Tribune.

At one point, Dykstra was worth $50 million, flew around the world in a private jet, and bought Wayne Gretzky’s palatial estate.

Following the housing collapse, Dykstra was arrested. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to felony charges of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, and money laundering.

The book opens when Dykstra is released from prison in 2013.

“The feeling I had upon realizing I was free is hard to describe. It was surreal. Mainly because I knew I wasn’t a criminal and never once considered myself one, even when locked up.

“If you’re reading this, the question you must be asking yourself, and one I certainly ask myself, is ‘How did I get here?’

“Trust me, I had a lot of time to figure that out when I was locked up. For now, I’ll just say I made some mistakes. Some I am not proud of, others I had no control over. But did I ever commit a crime that justified the United States of America taking away my freedom and locking me up with murderers for two years? Did I deserve to spend three years on probation? Was it fair that I had to pay $200,000 in restitution to the same people who I believe stole millions and millions of dollars from me?”

This book also tells an amazing baseball story, as Dykstra starts from when he was a kid through playing rookie ball for the Mets at a high school field, through the minors to making the Mets.

“Growing up, my biggest fear was being average. I wanted to be rich; I wanted to be a millionaire. I get what I want, one way or another. So I became a millionaire – many times over, I might add. How? Hard f**king work!

“I knew at an early age I was different from the other kids. I knew I was going to play in the major leagues. In fact, I never doubted it.

“As a kid, I loved playing baseball, but I loved winning more. I went to school for one reason: because I had to in order to play baseball. I lived and breathed baseball. In high school, I never even had a beer.

“I had one friend growing up. Why? Because I needed someone to play catch with. Period.”

Dykstra had a rude awakening when he arrived to play for the Shelby Mets, in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he saw they were playing on a high school field and his manager, Danny Monzon, didn’t know who he was and didn’t care.

“Monzon, who was from The Bronx, had been a utility player for the Minnesota Twins before becoming a major league manager for the Mets. A lot of former players who end up coaching in the minor leagues are not always the happiest people on earth, and for good reason: it’s much tougher than the public perceives it to be. Basically, if you coach or manage in the minor leagues for an extended period of time, you have two choices: suffer or become a professional drinker.”

Dykstra also held scorn for Davey Johnson, his manager throughout his time with the Mets.

On meeting Davey before his first game, Dykstra wrote, “He didn’t say anything more to me than ‘Good luck.’  I didn’t take it personally. Davey didn’t have more than two words to say to most people – until he started drinking, which was a nightly event.”

Dykstra came up to the Mets in 1985, and knew going into 1986 that they had a team that could win it all.

“In 1986, the pieces of our team fit together like a perfect puzzle.

“We had two transcendant talents hitting their prime in Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Guys with that much physical talent and potential rarely come around – and we had a pair of them on the same team.

“In the clubhouse, we had the leadership of Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter. Keith played the most important role on the ’86 team. He was smart and was the best first baseman  ever played with, or against, in my entire career. I would describe his style as ‘smooth.’ It was actually fun to watch him play, and anyone who knows me understands I don’t say that about many players. Plus he was the best clutch hitter I ever shared the field with. He wasn’t overly strong or powerful, but he could leave the yard when he had to. Whenever he needed a hit, he seemed to be able to get it.

“Behind the plate, we had Gary Carter. The thing that Kid doesn’t get remembered for enough is how tough he really was. Everyone knows Carter never met a camera he didn’t like, and knows he enjoyed being in the spotlight, but behind that he was really a winning player, a guy you wanted to go to war with. He’s been remembered as the final piece of the puzzle when he was traded to the Mets before ’85.

“At third base was Ray Knight, a real veteran player, and Howard Johnson, a truly great guy. Wally Backman, our second baseman, wasa smart player; it’s unbelievable he is not managing in the major leagues again. I see some of these bozos managing in the big leagues and think, Why doesn’t someone give Wally Backman a second chance to manage?

“On the mound, we would go as far as the foursome of Doc (Gooden), Ron (Darling), El Sid (Fernandez), and Bob (Ojeda) would take us.

“Doc was clearly the ace of the staff, and his talent was one of a kind. I don’t even know how to accurately describe how good he was, since it’s really hard to categorize or compare him to anyone else I had seen before.

“Ron Darling was the number two starter. He was living proof that you could have a successful career without much stuff. What he lacked in talent he made up for with his preparation and knowledge of the opposing hitters. He wasn’t overpowering, but he could throw pitches for strikes. And that’s what matters when you’re in a pennant race. I wasn’t close to Darling – but I wasn’t alone in that respect; he wasn’t close with many people. He has always treated me with respect, and I am happy to see him flourish in the booth as a baseball announcer.”

Darling also has a book out this summer, Game 7, about his start in the last game of the 1986 World Series, and that is also a worthy addition to any Met fan’s library, as is House of Nails.

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