Book Review: House of Nails by Lenny Dykstra

house-of-nailsHouse of Nails
Lenny Dykstra
William Morrow, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-0624-0736-8
Hardcover

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.

Book Review: Wherever I Wind Up by R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey

Wherever I Wind Up
R.A. Dickey with Wayne Coffey
Blue Rider Press, April 2012
ISBN: 978-0-399-15815-5
Hardcover

This is a fascinating tale, about a fascinating man.  R.A. Dickey is much more than a talented pitcher: He is a former English lit college student; he once [attempted to] swim the Missouri [and was partially successful]; and most recently climbed to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, a height of over 19,000 feet, for charity, in an effort to raise awareness and funds to stop human trafficking and prostitution in Mumbai.  He is a devout Christian, and though at times less than perfect as a Christian, husband and father, that is no longer the case, and there can be no doubt as to his love for and devotion to his wife [his childhood sweetheart], his children and his God.

Nominally, and obviously, a sports book, this novel is much more than that.  To the author’s credit, he names names, and is generous in his praise while being candid in his assessments when circumstances warrant it.  In addition to an insider’s view of the game of baseball, there is the occasional quote from ancient Greek or Chinese philosophers.  In 2011 he completed his 15th season of professional baseball, in a remarkable story.  Despite some horrific abuse suffered when he was eight years old, detailed in the book, he overcame great odds to be where he is today, also detailed in the book.

Full disclosure:  This reviewer is a passionate fan of the New York Mets, the team where Mr. Dickey is now a trusted part of the five-man pitching rotation, and I have been a Mets full-season ticket holder for 25 years, attending at least 70 [out of 81] home games each of those years.  But my admiration for the author goes beyond the obvious – he is a courageous human being as well, as this book makes clear.  Called a “phenom” when he started out, he was the Tennessee State player as a senior in 1993, an All-American at the University of Tennessee and a starter for Team USA in the 1996 Olympics.  After playing in the minor leagues over a long period of time, he is offered a signing bonus of $810,000 by the Texas Rangers.  It is the realization of his dream.  Until he undergoes the routine physical examination required before the contract can be signed, and it is found that he was apparently born without an ulnar collateral ligament – the main stabilizing ligament – in his elbow, and the offer is summarily withdrawn.  Ultimately, he signs for $75,000.00.  How he proved himself, remained in the major leagues, and became one of the premier – and few – knuckleball pitchers pitching today, is quite a tale.

The book is highly recommended, for readers who are baseball fans certainly, but for those who are not as well.  As you can probably tell, I loved it.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, April 2012.