I idolized Lenny Dykstra. My first memories as a Phillies fan are from following their surprising, heavily mulleted, flash-in-a-pan 1993 season and the subsequent run to the World Series. As an impressionable six-year-old, I was drawn to Dykstra’s gritty (yes, I said it), seemingly fearless style of play. All of the things that induce snarkgasms from us statistically inclined fans when they are said or written by “old school” baseball commentators are the things I most admired in Dykstra — his leadership, his hustle, his heart, his “intangibles”. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that he was also the best player on the team. My naive six-year-old mind could not yet comprehend things like sociopathy, degeneracy, and performance enhancing drugs (apparently even fully functional adult minds couldn’t yet comprehend this).
So as a little leaguer in my very first coaches pitch YMCA league, I wore Dykstra’s number four. I begged to be put in centerfield. I dove for flyballs with reckless abandon. I slid hard into home. I chewed large wads of Bazooka and spit profusely. All because Lenny did it, and if Lenny did it, then it must have been right.
In November of 93, with the wound of Joe Carter’s gut-wrenchingly joyous game six gallop still raw, my mother took me to the King of Prussia mall where Dykstra was doing a signing. After waiting for three hours in a line that snaked its way through the mall’s long concourse, I finally got my 30 seconds with the man. He shook my hand, I know that, but I can’t recall if he said anything to me. I was probably too starstruck to say anything to him, and he was probably too Dykstra to say anything to me. He probably grunted. I’m sure he grunted, actually. Then, he signed my most prized baseball card and we were shuffled off the stage.
For the rest of the week, I was beaming, as any six-year-old who meets their idol would. When I got home that day, I put on my Phillies uniform pajamas and practiced stealing second on the family room carpet.
In more recent years, when Dykstra was heralded by some as an investment whiz who had made millions on the stock market, I was skeptical, as I usually am when anyone claims to have become fabulously wealthy playing the stock market. As it turned out, my skepticism was warranted. Then, yesterday we learned that, in addition to his outstanding federal bankruptcy fraud charges, Dykstra will face 25 new charges in Los Angeles County:
Dykstra is charged with five counts of attempted grand theft auto, eight counts of filing false financial statements, four counts of identity theft, three counts of grand theft auto and three counts of possession of a controlled substance. All are felonies.
In addition, he is charged with one misdemeanor count each of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and unauthorized possession of a syringe.
If convicted, Dykstra faces up to 12 years in state prison.
Now that I’m in my 20s and cynical, I don’t have many idols anymore — certainly not athlete idols — so Dykstra’s long, sad descent into ignominy has not shattered my world in any way. I know what sociopathy and degeneracy are now, and while I understand that we are presumed innocent until proven guilty in this country, I recognize that both labels could aptly be applied to Lenny. But for anyone who, like me, became a fan in 1993 and looked up to Dykstra and has been affected by this news, try to look on the bright side. Yes, he’s being charged on 23 felony counts, but think of all the things he isn’t being charged with: assault with a deadly weapon; murder; child molestation; torture; planning, initiating, and waging wars of aggression; crimes against humanity; and so much more.
If nothing else, I think Lenny can serve as an object lesson in why we idolize the player, not necessarily the person. Leaving aside the discussion about chemical enhancement, Dykstra was a very good player and the platitudes about his “heart,” his “grit,” and his “hustle” were all basically true. For young players in the early 90s, he was a perfectly acceptable model after which to fashion one’s game. But baseball players are people too. Like us, the vast majority are upstanding citizens, but there are also bad apples. Lenny is a bad one. It’s funny that sometimes we are better positioned to make the player-person distinction as naive six-year-olds.