I recently had the opportunity to chat with author Christopher Frankie about his new book, NAILED! The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra. You may remember Lenny Dykstra from his time in the Majors (he played with both the Mets and the Phillies). You may remember him for his $55M car wash empire, or his affiliation with Mad Money’s Jim Cramer. Or you may remember him for his increasingly baffling behavior that was so publicly scrutinized.
So without further ado, let me present Christopher Frankie.
Matt Warden: You were obviously motivated to write this book. What prompted that?
Christopher Frankie: First and foremost was the realization that this is an absolutely astonishing story and that my front row seat in 2008 allowed me to tell this insider’s tale with the texture and context that was severely lacking in the mainstream narrative. Many people had heard some of Dykstra’s story from TV and the newspapers, but I guarantee they haven’t heard it like this.
On a personal note, I also wanted to show how and why so many smart, talented, hard-working and well-intentioned people got caught in Dykstra’s web and had such a hard time walking away. It’s a story of abuse, leverage, coercion and manipulation that I think will shock many people.
MW: What made working with Lenny so difficult to cope with?
CF: The manic and self-destructive behavior that wreaked havoc on everyone in Dykstra’s life. The chaos he introduced into nearly every situation masked a lot of his misdeeds.
What also made working for Dykstra so difficult in 2008, when I worked for him, was the contrast between his public image and what I saw behind the scenes. The positive press, such as the HBO Real Sports feature, as well as Jim Cramer’s endorsement, his $18 million mansion and private jet, all gave Dykstra added credibility and helped him explain away the “red flags” that would surface during the beginning of his financial downfall. It made it very difficult to discern fact from fiction at the time.
MW: What surprised you the most during your time around him?
CF: The turn – how he went from a guy who was short on cash to a paranoid criminal. It didn’t happen overnight, but as his drug abuse apparently amped up, he slid further away from reality, eventually stealing credit cards, bullying and coercing employees, and later threatening one female job applicant with a knife and forcing her to give him an x-rated massage.
MW: Dykstra was an idol of yours once upon a time, correct? What initially drew you in?
CF: Nails was my childhood hero, so the chance to work with him was a fun idea. But, what really drew me in was that he had a good story that people seemed to identify with on a level I had never seen before. And, I respected the way he had seemingly reinvented himself after baseball … twice. He became a carwash kingpin and sold that business for $55 million and then later was billed as a golden god and stock market savant. He had good business ideas, such as The Players Club, and I was excited for the challenge and opportunity to be a part of it.
MW: Who would you most compare Dykstra’s skillset to among today’s major leaguers?
CF: Collin Cowgill of the Mets. He may not have the talent that Lenny had, but he plays center and has been drawing a lot of comparisons to Nails for his effort. He even wears #4. In the minors, Lenny has a son named Cutter in the Nats system and he is probably the player most similar to Nails in terms of style.
MW: What was the most improbable aspect of his “rise?” Do you think he could have succeeded in the league without steroids?
CF: Let’s answer the second question first: Yes, I think he could have succeeded without steroids. When he broke in with the Mets he was not the hulking Lenny Dykstra we saw with the Phillies. He initially attracted scouts and eventually made it to the big leagues on grit, determination, skill and a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. Now, would he have made the All-Star team three times without steroids? We’ll never know since the only time he made the All-Star team was when he was taking the juice.
As for the most ‘improbable’ aspect of his rise, I think that becoming the highest-paid leadoff hitter in all of baseball at one point is extremely improbable for an undersized 13th round draft pick. Don’t forget, his legacy in baseball is that he is the measuring stick many current scouts use to measure the big league viability of smaller players.
After baseball, I think all the business successes would be considered improbable by 99% of Dykstra’s fans and teammates – that’s what made it such a great story in 2008.
MW: Loaded question. Who is the real Lenny Dykstra? He often times viewed life in terms of absolutes (you note in your book that matters were always “black and white” with Lenny and that any shade of gray equated to excuses). Should we, as readers, consider him similarly?
CF: Right, Lenny hated ‘the middle’. He would do whatever it took to move the ball forward – and as we saw later in the book, that often included illegal activity. He wouldn’t tolerate excuses, saw things only in black and white. He was the ultimate ‘what have you done for me lately’ kind of guy.
At times he also seemed like a very loyal, old school kind of guy. He seemed to love his family, particularly his boys – I know this sounds hard to believe because of some of what I detail in the book, but I do think that to be the case despite his actions. It was these extremes that made Dykstra such a complex figure. He certainly was not the cartoon character we’ve come to know over the years. I also think he is a guy who has a lot of scars that have impacted him in troubling ways and those scars have manifested in some pretty ugly scenarios.
He also had very good insight into people and he used that for evil purposes – he gained leverage on people and used that to manipulate them into doing what he wanted. Now, a lot of the bad behavior can be attributed to drugs and booze. How much? I think that’s a question each person has to decide for themselves. I honestly don’t know where Lenny ends and the drugs begin.
MW: Dykstra seems charismatic, determined, and completely confident in his abilities. I can see how these characteristics might propel him in any number of endeavors. I bet it earned him a lot of free passes. Thoughts?
CF: Yes and no. Early in his baseball career, he earned everything he got. Later on, the bravado and turning on the charm when he needed to, helped him get away with a lot of nonsense the rest of us could never pull off … and probably would never want to pull off.
MW: Are you surprised that his world didn’t “unravel” sooner? He was so destructive to himself and others around him so frequently.
CF: Absolutely! I am shocked he was not arrested and prosecuted earlier because much of his criminal behavior was done out in the open for all to see. He was very brazen about it. I remember thinking when actor Randy Quaid was arrested for skipping out on a $10k hotel bill that Dykstra’s transgressions were ten times worse, but no one was apparently doing anything about it.
And, I write in Nailed about how police detective Juan Contreras was pounding the pavement, doing a lot of investigating and building a very solid case against Dykstra yet none of the prosecutors wanted to take the case initially. Eventually, Dykstra stepped on the wrong shoes – a lawyer who had ties to the top levels of the LAPD – and that’s when he was brought to justice for a few of his crimes.
MW: Is this a cautionary tale? If so, cautionary to whom? What should we as readers take away from all this?
CF: It is a cautionary tale for a lot of people. For celebrities, it’s a sad tale of someone getting drunk on his own positive press … for believing everything he touches will turn to gold without the necessary hard work. And, it’s a classic example of someone thinking the rules don’t apply to them.
For most people though, this is a cautionary tale about hubris and taking shortcuts. Lots of people that are smart run good companies and good ideas into the ground because they are bad business people, lack discipline, or because of their own vices. Nothing is a replacement for hard work and discipline.
I think readers should also examine the double standard we have when it comes to professional athletes. I saw a recent article about how we cheer for the Lenny Dykstras of the world because they play for our team and can hit a ball really far. I’m guilty of it too. We don’t care if they are a good person or not – that has never been the measuring stick in pro sports. Maybe it should play a bigger part. If it did, guys like Jamie Moyer, who does a lot of charitable work, would be the highest paid player and have the most fans. He may not have been the best pitcher, but maybe we should root harder and cheer louder when guys like that do succeed.
MW: What’s your favorite Lenny Dykstra anecdote … not mentioned in the book?
CF: While interviewing people for the book, I heard this story a few times but it just didn’t fit into the narrative in a logical way. But, it is quite funny.
When Lenny was with the Phillies, he was warming up before a game and there was this older guy in the stands who kept staring at him. It was bothering Lenny so much that after a while he asked one of his teammates: Who’s that dick that keeps staring at me? The teammate replied: That’s Dick Nixon … you know, Richard M. Nixon. Apparently, Nixon was a fan of Nails, but Lenny had no clue who the 37th President of the United States was. But, he was correct in one sense … the guy staring at him was a Dick.
MW: Do you have a website? Do you Tweet? How can our RABers get more of you? We demand more!
CF: On Twitter, folks can follow me @DykstraNailed. I have a fan page on Facebook for the book entitled ‘Lenny Dykstra Gets Nailed’ or people can friend request me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those interested in the book, you can get a hard copy or a kindle copy at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com, or in the few book stores left.
MW: Should folks go out and buy this book immediately?
CF: Absolutely! If you thought you knew the Lenny Dykstra before, I think you will be blown away by how much of it you don’t know and exactly how shocking this story is. I did my homework, reviewed thousands of documents, interviewed more than 75 friends, family, employees, ex-teammates of Dykstra to add to my personal experience. I think people will enjoy the book, laughing at some points and squirming at others.
MW: Thanks so much for your time, Chris. We here at RAB wish you the absolute best.
So there you have it folks. Get off the interwebs and stop staring at the Google and go buy this book (unless you need Google and the Internet to buy the book in which case you should stay on, but still be prompt about buying it).
In case you needed some further incentive, here are a few reviews so far:
* The New York Post is calling the book “explosive”
* The New York Daily News: “gripping new book” that is a “surprisingly even-handed look at Lenny Dykstra”
* The Tampa Bay Tribune: “a fair and even-handed” depiction of Dykstra that is “hard to put down”
* Inside Socal: “Ultimate literary portrait of what Dykstra should be remembered for when others want to romanticize about the way he was 20 years earlier”