Well, nominations are now closed and we have some great candidates to pick from for our “2 Guys” Team outfield. Since basic baseball lore always speaks to the importance of being strong up the middle I wanted to start in centerfield. I know a few names jump out at you, but the first one I want to talk about is someone not always associated with toughness, Mookie Wilson.
Mookie was the epitome of the dirty uniform. When you think of Mookie, you think about him in motion. And when I started running my personal highlight reel of Mookie in my head it hit me. This guy always played full-out. Mookie ran hard, swung hard, hell, Mookie slid hard. And Mookie did some things on the bases you just never saw. Mookie scored from second twice, in one week, on groundouts in the summer of 1983. We chatted recently how the team began turning for the better that summer. Wilson was a big part of that.
Now, you can’t talk about Wilson without talking about that at bat. He is defined by it. What I remember is that once Mookie had two strikes I couldn’t really function any more. Sitting in the stands. At the plate, however, Wilson did what he did his entire career. He fought. Eventually, after fouling off two nasty pitches Bob Stanley threw the wild pitch that tied the game. Well, we all know what happened next.
We use a common expression to compliment this type of player, “He’d run through a wall for you.” But after watching Jason Bay these past couple of years, I’m not recommending that approach. The wall usually wins. The other guy we have to discuss was called “Nails.” Lenny Dykstra. He played hard, too, and was probably as close to Pete Rose in spirit (strengths & flaws, included) as any player I can recall. Lenny could have played 100 years ago and fit right in. He was Old School.
Lenny’s walk-off Game 3 homer in the 1986 NLCS was a huge moment in Mets history. Here he recounts that homer:
“When the ball took off, all I said was ‘Maybe.’ What else could I say? ‘Maybe, maybe, maybe.’ And my voice got higher with each one. Most of the time I can tell if a ball I hit is going out. But I haven’t hit that many home runs that I can always tell. Straw can tell on his. He can just stand there and watch it go out. Me, I’ve got to get going and get to first base at least. I’d look pretty weak if I watched it and it hit the wall. So I headed to first, saying ‘Maybe’ and hoping ‘Yes.’ It was a ‘Yes.’ It was. A home run. We win. We win. Sweet, man. Sweet.” — Lenny Dykstra.
The moment I really like, after the Mets lost the first two games of the ’86 World Series, and the games shifted to Boston, was Lenny leading off with a bomb. Game on. Lenny had a knack for seizing the moment.
I can’t locate the source for this story, something I read a while ago, but one day Dykstra bounded into the clubhouse and saw a player reading a book. Dykstra frowned, claiming, “That shit’s no good for your eyes.”
Yes, there was no way we could talk about this list without getting to Lenny. I’ll add one more huge 1986 postseason at bat for Nails, from the classic game you wrote about on our blog back in October. The other Game Six. Down 3-0 in the ninth, the team dead all day, Nails pinch hits to lead off the inning against the lefty Bob Knepper. His triple starts a three run rally that began all the craziness from that point on.
And yes, Lenny played hard, as hard as anyone, and lived hard too. The thing about Dykstra has always been that he seemed to only have one speed for everything in life, an unsustainable speed. He was done as a player at only 33 years of age, perhaps hastened by steroid use (rumors always abounded and he is listed in the Mitchell report).
Post baseball it continued. Stories began appearing about how Dykstra had become a genius stock picker and entrepreneur. Recently, our friend DD sent me an old New Yorker piece on Dykstra, from when he was at the height of his second career as a businessman. It sure was heady stuff, multiple mansions to live in, a full conglomerate of businesses. Nails Incorporated.
But alas, like his baseball career he could not maintain it. Worse, this time any illegal activity surrounding his success was more than rumor. Dykstra has been convicted of both grand theft auto and bankruptcy fraud and is currently serving time in federal prison.
So tough, I do think so. Gritty as a player, no doubt. Flawed, hell yeah too. That was always Nails. He has lived his life the way he played the game, balls to the wall.
I think it’s closer than a blowout, but in the end I would pick Nails.
Wait, what? I can’t even nominate Carl Everett? He hit his kids with a belt! What’s tougher than that?
File it all under . . . Sigh.
Back to Lenny. As a Mets fan, I’ve been around the block a few times. Seen my share of screw-ups, to the point where I don’t think I over-react very often. But when they traded McDowell and Dykstra — June 19, 1989 — that was a tough one to figure, except in the most cynical way. A move that had nothing to do with baseball. Said Dykstra at the time, “‘Heart and spirit?’ If you win, everything’s great. If you lose, people start to point fingers. We took it for granted we were going to win. Maybe the trade will shake things up for both clubs.”
In a comment that spoke volumes, Davey Johnson said, “I don’t make the trades around here.” You can almost hear the spit hitting the floor after he said it. (They finally got rid of him, too.)
The crazy thing was they dumped Mookie Wilson six weeks later, and installed Juan Samuel as the regular CF — which was fine, except for the small detail of Samuel not having the first clue as to how to play the position.
Oh well. The photo of Lenny in prison is depressing. So here’s something else to look at — a memory to savor — check out that stance!