Book Review: Nailed!

Not all of the books sent to me for review come from the good folks at the University of Nebraska Press.  The folks at Press Box Publicity also have my contact number and, back earlier in the year, sent along Nailed! The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra.  I’m not a Dykstra fan by any means, though I remember his time in the big leagues, of course.  I’d also seen the Deadspin posts and other articles about his legal troubles after getting into the financial world.  I expected it to be an interesting read.  I did not expect it to be an engrossing one.

Make no mistake about it, Dykstra doesn’t come off as a sympathetic person at all in this book.  Even in the beginning of the book, where most works like this would try to set the person up as a good person that just went off the rails, doesn’t paint him in a good light.  To be fair, I do think author Christopher Frankie might be trying to–the tales aren’t told with any malice or spitefulness, it doesn’t appear–but when one of the “fun” anecdotes is Dykstra doing drive-by sprayings with a fire extinguisher, you wonder just how far the classless roots run.  (I will admit that the story about Dykstra breaking into Angels Stadium on Christmas to play baseball on the field does have more of a “boys being boys” vibe that you can identify with.  However, that comes on the heels of a story of him pretending to have no lunch money at school to beg quarters off of people and make $10 or so on a regular basis.)  Even the story told about him helping out his sister, who had a baby as a teenager, isn’t one of him earning money to help give her what she needs but instead trailing a delivery truck and taking diapers and formula off of it.

When the focus of the book starts out this unlikable, it’s hard to believe you want to keep going.  Yet Frankie continues to church out story after unbelievable story about working with Dykstra, who did seem to have some natural aptitude when it came to the financial markets.  However, his greed, arrogance, and lack of basic human decency keep you reading, because you just can’t believe someone would do things like this, then you wonder just exactly what else is he going to do.

While there does seem to be some corroboration on these stories, let’s not forget that we don’t necessarily have an unbiased narrator here.  Frankie does a good job of setting himself up as a good and decent person beholden to a slimy individual.  Even his exit strategy entails getting two other people paid before him, leaving a good sum of money on the table just to get away from Dykstra.  It well may be true and I sincerely hope that it is, but you do have to acknowledge that Frankie has a motive for making himself look as good as he does.

That said, even if Frankie is exaggerating by 20% on the atrocious behavior of Dykstra, it still paints a picture of someone you would never want to deal with.  Dykstra tended to be excited about new people, use them for whatever he could get out of them (including getting them to put major bills on their personal credit cards, saying it was a loan but never paying them back), and then turning on them in vile and profane ways.  It’s a story that plays out over and over in this book.  (And I mean profane ways–Dykstra’s language is what you’d expect to hear out of a salty ex-ballplayer, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with.)

Dykstra seems to have started out with a chip on his shoulder, maybe because he never fit the physical profile of an outstanding baseball player, and he’s carried that chip into his post-baseball life, expecting that he could take what he wanted and bully people if they called him on it.  This is a person that took money from his own son without his knowledge after Cutter Dykstra signed a professional baseball contract.  When you are taking money from your own child, you have a serious problem.

You also will not believe the assistant/secretary/handler Dorothy in this book.  Time and time again she comes to Dykstra’s aid, even after he trashes her.  She quits, but runs back.  She makes excuses for him, such as “Well, Cutter doesn’t need that money.  Lenny’s just protecting him because a 20-year-old doesn’t need half a million dollars in the bank.”  Really?  Protecting him?  Doing him a favor?  Sure.  It seems also likely that Dorothy helped Dykstra when the house of cards began to collapse and he started falsifying documents and stealing identities.  It’s an astounding case of devotion and blinders.

This really is a must-read book, because as mentioned, you keep shaking your head in disbelief, wondering how there is a person in this world that could do these things, but then you keep reading to see just how bad it’s going to get when situations become less than rosy.  By time you get into the sleazy, creepy Craigslist ads, it becomes less of a surprise and more of the natural progression of a terrible life.  It’s sad to see Dykstra’s Players Club concept, which started all of this rolling, become a casualty of someone that had less than a single clue of how to do things.  I think that professional athletes could have used that Players Club.  Lenny Dykstra sure could have.

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