House of Nails
William Morrow, July 2016
In a very interesting autobiography, subtitled both “The Construction, The Demolition, The Resurrection” and “A Memoir of Life on the Edge,” this wonderful professional baseball player lays it all out on the line: His almost obsessive determination to play professional ball from his youngest days, through his accomplishing that and much more, setting all kinds of offensive records in the greatest game in sports (OK, I am not the most objective person in that regard), through his losing almost everything when incarcerated, and then recovering his life when released and finding great success in the business world.
In what the author describes as “the greatest World Series in baseball history,” in “the best sports city in the world, New York,” at age 23, he played in an historic manner, helping the New York Mets win it all. (On a personal note, that end to the 1986 baseball season is what made this reviewer become a full-season Mets ticketholder, and I have attended nearly every ensuing game for the past 30 years.) I clearly remember Lenny Dykstra as an incredible player, giving it everything he had, and throwing himself up against the center field wall when a ball came his way, with no thought to the cost to his body. He is gracious in recounting the end of that game and noting that Bill Buckner’s error which cost his team the game, and the Series, was only one of the factors leading to that outcome.
Lenny Dykstra’s career highlights included a walkoff homerun in the NLCS in 1986, and a World Series homerun in both 1986 and 1993. The author had great talent as a ballplayer, and, in what I’m guessing is almost a necessity when achieving what he did, also seems to this reader to have an enormous ego. He says what is undeniably true: “. . . ask anyone to dispute the fact that not too many players have played at the level that I rose to, or accomplished the things I did in the postseason over my career.” But as this book nears its end, he admits “I know I have many flaws and have made many mistakes over the years. I know, too, that I will make more mistakes as I continue to work on regaining a life built with happiness and contentment; a life that I can be proud of.” Dykstra was not happy during the years he played for the Mets, chafing over being platooned at center field with the great Mookie Wilson [one of my favorite all-time Mets players]. Not long after, he left to join the Philadelphia Phillies. Of that time, he says “other than a little drinking here and there, I didn’t even know what drugs looked like then. Steroids were not on the radar yet. I know it’s hard to believe, but I would then make up for my innocence when I played for the Phillies.” He describes himself in 1993 at age 30 as being “put together like a Greek statue.”
Dykstra has strong opinions about most of those alongside whom he worked and played ball, e.g., he calls Davey Johnson, the Mets manager in the ‘80’s, an “overrated and underachieving manager,” although he credits many of his colleagues with being great ballplayers. He does not make excuses for his own forays into heavy drinking and use of steroids, cocaine and amphetamines, and credits that use with his becoming an All-Star in 1990. He at one point owned his own private jet, which he used to fly, among other places, to Paris, where he purchased a bottle of a 1936 wine for $3,000, and Germany, where he paid $75,000 cash for a “genuine German shepherd.” He proudly writes of his “good friends” Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen, among others. He made enormous amounts of money, both in baseball and in his off-the-field business [known at one point as the Car Wash King] and real-estate investments. Some of those moves, however, landed him in prison in 2011, ending his life as he then knew it.
This is a fascinating book [albeit, be warned, laced with profanity], for one who is a dedicated baseball fan, and a very fast read, and it is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2016.