"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Yeah, I Gotta Rash, Man

Did anyone catch the segment on Lenny “Nails” Dykstra on the latest edition of HBO’s Real Sports? Ex-ballplayer-turned-shrewd-businessman. It’s worth watching for the highlight clip they show of Nails throwing bolos at Dodger catcher Rick Dempsey back when he was with the Phillies. It’s also interesting to see how Dykstra looks and sounds like a troll, almost as if he’s drugged. (And if you want to get good and steamed, wait around until the post-segment interview between reporter Bernie Goldberg and host Bryant Gumbel, and dig how Goldberg cops out of telling the truth about Dykstra’s alleged use of PEDS.) Pat Jordan wrote a piece on Dykstra for Fortune.com back in December of 2006. The published version concentrates mostly on the nuts-and-bolts of day trading, but Jordan’s original (“The Dude Abides”) focused more on what it was like to hang out with Dykstra.

From Jordan’s orginial manuscript:

The Dude is trudging up Fifth Avenue on a bright, cool November afternoon, pulling his computers in bags behind him. He walks hunched forward like an old Stone Aged savage on bad knees, with a bad back. He says, “I got a lotta mileage on me, Bro. I’m workin’ the old man thing now.” He’s headed for the St. Regis, “like a home to me, Dude,” where he’s stayed regularly for fifteen years.

He stops at a newsstand and picks up a copy of the New YOrk Post, with its front page photo of Sadaam Hussein under a headline that reads: Next Stop Hell. The Dude smiles.

“Look at this fucker,” he says. “They found him in a hole! The Dude had no fucking plan, bro.”

Unlike most ballplayers, when the Dude left baseball, he had a plan. Not to go broke like many of his teammates. He invested his money in small, managable businesses, car washes, quick lube oil change shops, and in real estate, “That’s why they call it real estate, dude, ’cause it’s real,” and in mutual funds which his broker told him, “Was only blue chips, it’s sage.” The Dude was determined to make more money after baseball than he ever did in it. “Players think everything should be handed to them, dude,” he says. “That’s don’t work in the real world.”

…After dinner, the Dude and I go outside for a smoke. We stand alongside the St. Regis entrance in the darkness, watching limos pull up, doors being opened, long, shapely legs emerging from the backseat followed by an older man in a nice suit. The Dude says, “There was nothing better than winning in New York City, and in Philly. I’d rather dodge batteries in Philly than play in L.A.” He grabs a doorman, peels off a twenty and asks him to get him a bottle of water. But the Dude can’t wait. He starts walking around the corner to a Deli.

“I got ADD or sumthin,” he says. “I subscribe to 30 newsletters but I gotta listen to them on tape. I got no patience to read. I’m always thinking about the next thing. I didn’t get into stocks until I was confident I knew what I was doing. I even wrote a letter to Warren Buffett, that’s how naive I was. I wrote, ‘Mr. Buffett, I’m Lenny Dykstra, a baseball player. Could you teach me how to invest?’ He hand-wrote back on his own stationary, ‘Lenny, I’m a fan, I’d love to help you but I can’t. Best of luck.’ It was so fucking cool, dude.”

In the most recent issue of The New Yorker, Ben McGrath writes about Nails’ latest enterprise:

For many ballplayers, the growing-up point does not arrive until after retirement, when all the freebies vanish and equipment managers and hotel maids can no longer be relied upon for regular laundry service. Dykstra last played in the majors in 1996, at age thirty-three. Improbably, he has since become a successful day trader, and he let me know that he owns both a Maybach (“the best car”) and a Gulfstream (“the best jet”). The occasion for our lunch, however, was a new venture: Dykstra is launching a magazine, intended specifically for pro athletes, called The Players Club. An unfortunate number of his former teammates have ended up broke, or divorced, or worse. The week before we met, the ex-Yankee Jim Leyritz, himself twice divorced and underemployed, had hit a woman while driving home from a bar. He never grew up.

“You’ve got the ten per cent who are going to find their way no matter what,” Dykstra said of the athlete population. “And you get the ten per cent that are fuckheads no matter what—we’ll paste an ‘L’ to ’em.” The rest need guidance, and Dykstra, who will write a regular column called “The Game of Life,” is prepared to give it. “This will be the world’s best magazine,” he said.

As proof of the worthiness of his cause, he brought up his old Phillies teammate Pete Incaviglia: “Remember the big, burly guy? Best five-o’clock hitter in baseball history. Allergic to leather. Allergic to leather.” (Translation: Incaviglia could hit the ball a mile in batting practice, and was no good with a glove.) “Inky called me this winter, and he asked me for a job. And I felt bad—said, ‘Come on down.’ I showed him our business plan, and he said, ‘Where was that when I was playing?’ ” (Incaviglia, who now manages a minor-league team in Texas, later told me, “Lenny’s idea is the most brilliant, best idea I’ve ever heard in my life. It’s mind-boggling.”)

Dykstra’s business plan extends beyond the magazine. “We’re creating a life style!” he said, and emphasized that he wanted to encourage athletes in their prime to set aside a half-million dollars a year in a customized retirement account, thereby insuring “recurring cash flow” for life. He turned over a piece of paper and drew a small circle, inside which he wrote the letters “TPC,” for The Players Club. Next, he drew a larger circle around it and began connecting the two circles with spokes: “building bridges,” as he put it. At the end of the spokes, he wrote things like “annuity,” “private jets,” “real estate,” and “concierge.” That last one, he said, was for “when you forgot your wife’s birthday, and you’re in the on-deck circle. You go, ‘Oh, no! Batboy, go call the concierge service for The Players Club. Tell him to get flowers for my wife, and tell her I love her.’

In the Real Sports segment, I found Dyktra’s profanity refreshing. Otherwise, I thought he was a jerk, a guy with a chip on his shoulder, just the kind of guy I wouldn’t ever want to be around. Pat Jordan actually liked Nails, considered him to be an amiable guy, no small feat considering the fact that Dykstra tried to screw Jordan out of writing the article on two occasions before finally agreeing to it. Regardless, it is interesting that Nails is seemingly so good at what he does. Just goes to show, just because a guy is a schlub, doens’t mean he isn’t smart as hell.

Which reminds me of the real Dude, Jeff Bridges. When I was working as an assistant film editor on “The Big Lebowski,” one of my responsibilities was to synch the dailies–the footage from the previous day. Bridges was incredible. He simply was The Dude. A film actor, through and through, Bridges gave subtle variations with each take. He wasn’t like a lot of other actors, trained in the theater, who often needed several takes to warm up. Mostly though, Bridges wasn’t bright in the conventional sense. He wasn’t some hyper-articulate intellectual. But on film, as an actor, he was about as shrewd and gifted as anyone I’d ever seen.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver