(H/T Tim Ryan)
Like any other mulleted Little Leaguer in the late 80’s and early 90’s, there was little I didn’t love about gritty Lenny Dykstra. Over the past few years when he went to being touted as a financial savant and then ultimately a white colar fraud who was munching on Twizzlers and being splattered on Deadspin, it was as amusing as seeing him crashing into the centerfield wall at the Vet. It was just another whimsical thing that the Dude was going to come out on top of and show his doubters how tough and resilient he was.
However, while amusing, the Lenny Dykstra Wall Street sideshow was weird…shoulder shrugging in a “good for him, I guess” kind of way, but weird.
It got weirder when the world learned of his attempted jail break of Doc Gooden from Dr. Drew’s made-for-TV rehab clinic.
With the Mitchell report verified what everyone already knew and what his giant head solidified, well, whatever happened next would be less than shocking.
Probably inevitably, Dykstra was convicted and locked up on, of all things GTA. It’s the lead-up to that incarceration that Nails’ one-time ghostwriter and confidant Chris Frankie outlines in Nailed!: The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra.
I got to speak with Frankie and somehow try to wrap my head around this insane C-F of a downfall of one of my childhood idols. After reading the book, there is no doubt I loath Lenny Dyskstra. He is a selfish, misogynistic, delusional racist. But damn, I can’t get enough of him.
Hugging Harold Reynolds: Does Lenny Dykstra have a single redeemable quality that isn’t negated by his very being?
Christopher Frankie: I write in the book about how Dykstra lost his soul and I think that’s an important point for people to take away from reading Nailed. There was an evolution - or devolution - to Lenny Dykstra. Readers will see some very dark times for Dykstra’s victims - and Dykstra himself — toward the end of the book But, he wasn’t always the raging criminal that is now in jail blaming everyone else for his predicament.
I am certainly not a Dykstra apologist by any means, but I do think it’s important to tell this story as accurately as possible and in a balanced way. When I worked for Dykstra in 2008, I saw manic behavior and a man struggling with serious demons. He could be a total jerk to people, but I also saw some positive qualities - at least early on. As several friends, family, teammates and even some employees I spoke to for the book note, Dykstra could be very decent and kind at times, especially to kids.
In the last few years, I think those qualities got buried beneath out-of-control toxic paranoia, greed and rampant drug and alcohol abuse. That in no way excuses his behavior, but I do think it makes it really difficult to assess who he really is.
HHR: How is it that seemingly intelligent people like Ron Darling and Jim Cramer actually somewhat defend (or defended Dykstra)? How does his reputation reflect on them? I even came away losing respect for former teammates who wished him well or felt sorry for him. Like the fact that they felt pity for Dykstra was somehow a bad thing and that their judgment should be questioned.
CF: There are a bunch of questions/ topics in here, so let me break them up.
First, let’s start with Cramer. Cramer didn’t defend Dykstra once things fell apart. That’s a major storyline in this book. However, Cramer bears a decent amount of responsibility for the rise of Dykstra as a stock picking savant. Even though, as I detail in Nailed, Dykstra made his own stock picks, the way he was promoted was reckless. Cramer gave Dykstra a column on his website and told HBO Real Sports reporter Bernard Goldberg that Lenny was “one of the great ones” in the stock-picking world. He also told Ben McGrath of the New Yorker that if he had still been running his hedge fund in 2008, he would have hired Dykstra to work there. Cramer has taken a lot of heat for these proclamations since Dykstra’s implosion, but has mostly chosen to keep mum on the subject. Cramer ultimately misjudged Dykstra, but because of his platform and influence, he should have known better. He had a duty to be more thorough, more responsible.
As for Ron Darling, I had a very different take than you did. He said this of Dykstra: ”He’s a complicated man who somehow lost his soul. Let’s hope when Lenny pays his debts to society that we judge him hopefully on his future good acts, not his lost years.” Darling has a personal relationship with Dykstra that stretches back more than 25 years, so for him to hope his friend can find redemption doesn’t seem unreasonable. I also hope that when Dykstra gets out of prison he chooses to do good rather than return to his evil ways.
HHR: Throughout the book I was led to wonder what your personal motives were to stick around. Warning signs were abound, no one was immune from the wrath, you weren’t being paid. What made you believe that he had the ability to successfully turn things around given the havoc that was being reeked around you?
CF: When I took the job I had no illusion that Dykstra was an organized guy. However, I thought the chaos would be temporary until we put the proper business infrastructure in place. After all, Dykstra was the media darling at the time.
The day of my first meeting with Dykstra he was being filmed for what turned out to be an overwhelmingly positive HBO Real Sports segment. He was receiving a ton of glowing press at the time. He was living in a mansion he bought from Wayne Gretzky for $18 million and had a private jet. On the business side of things, he had reportedly sold his carwashes for $55 million, had the endorsement of Wall Street heavy hitter Jim Cramer and had been writing for Cramer’s website for three years. So, all these things gave Dykstra credibility that made it easy to believe him when he would explain away a red flag that might have otherwise caused me to hit the road.
As for my motives, they were straightforward. I had quit a good job to work with Dykstra, so I was invested in seeing the stock newsletter and The Players Club succeed. I didn’t want to quit prematurely. My paychecks came in fits and starts, but the newsletter brought in money immediately, making it easier to think success was around the corner.
Of course, I later learned that the chaos introduced by Dykstra masked a lot of deeper problems that had yet to bubble to the surface. By the time I realized I needed to leave I was owed a lot of money, which I knew I would have no chance at recovering if I quit. But more importantly, I had brought a number of freelancers - friends and associates from previous jobs - into the mix and they were owed money. If I left, I knew they wouldn’t get paid and my professional reputation would be ruined.
When writing the book I knew my decision making would be subject to scrutiny and I certainly think its fair for people to decide whether my actions were reasonable. However, one thing to keep in mind is that I made a conscious decision while writing Nailed to delve into Dykstra’s backstory and provide multiple perspectives in order to fill in a number of gaps for readers. It was crucial to providing the balance I was seeking and in fully illustrating the arc of Lenny Dykstra. However, it also allows readers to know Dykstra is undoubtedly a bad dude at a time in the story when I was still trying to figure things out.
HHR: Does Dykstra actually have a track record that can be attributed to his own personal, hands-on know how?
CF: That’s a good question and I’m not sure I have a definitive answer for you. If you’re referring to his stock picking, Dykstra openly admitted that he initially knew nothing about stocks. He reached out to people he saw on TV, such as Jim Cramer and Richard Suttmeier, to get some tutoring in the world of stocks. So, it’s pretty clear he had help learning some metrics and likely in setting up his system. That doesn’t negate his record. He was still making the picks.
HHR: Was the car wash “empire” a fraud - not his own doing, but of those around him and his seizing on favorable opportunities? When he got more steadily involved did he, in fact, drive them into the ground?
CF: I don’t think it’s fair to characterize Dykstra’s success in the carwash business as fraudulent. He saw an opportunity, put some money behind it and knew how to use his name to give it visibility. I’m quite certain that if the carwashes didn’t have the Dykstra name on it, or his star power behind it, they would not have been nearly as successful. As owner, he deserves credit for that investment and those decisions.
The first carwash launched in 1993 when Dykstra was playing for the Phillies, so during the early years of that business, there was some distance between the business’ daily operations and Lenny. He hired his younger brother Kevin Dykstra, who was a minor league umpire at the time, to be the General Manager of the carwash and run the day to day operations. Lenny’s longtime friend and business manager Lindsay Jones ran the business side of things. Lenny was responsible for putting those pieces of the business in place. But, on a practical level, he was more of a figurehead.
That changed in 1998 after Lenny retired from baseball. He became much more involved and there was a lot of tumult during that timeframe. In 2003, Lindsay was either fired by Lenny or quit, depending on whose version of events you believe. The two sued each other. Kevin was subsequently fired. Lenny fired his uncle Wayne, too. Lenny then sold the businesses for $55 million.
Lenny ultimately sold the carwashes for a hefty amount, so I would characterize the carwash business as a business success, although on a personal level, the venture took its toll on his family.
HHR: How was he able to get away with what he got away with for so long?
CF: This is a major part of this story and one of the more astounding aspects of it. In 2008, the positive press - the HBO Real Sports Episode, Jim Cramer’s endorsement and the scores of newspaper and magazine articles- bought Dykstra cover when his finances started to go south.
However, in 2009 and beyond when Dykstra’s criminal behavior kicked into full swing, much of it played out in public. He was very brazen about it. He should have been stopped sooner by the authorities, but wasn’t. He openly defied the courts. He stole credit cards, damaged property, forged documents, threatened a woman with a knife, passed bogus checks, stole identities and took money from employees, etc. Many of his victims went to the police, including multiple women accusing Dykstra of sexual assault. His behavior was known to the authorities.
In fact, a hardworking member of the LAPD - Detective Juan Contreras - investigated, found nearly 20 victims in California alone, and built a wide-ranging case against Dykstra. Most of the victims were average folks. Prosecutors repeatedly declined to take the case until Dykstra stepped on the shoes of a lawyer with ties to the top levels of the LAPD. That’s when he was brought to justice for a few of his crimes.
There are still a bunch of crimes that Dykstra has not been prosecuted for in California - including many against the victims Contreras uncovered. And, to date, and no charges have been brought by authorities in New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania or any other state. Many people have been prosecuted for a lot less.