Is Lenny Dykstra’s Post-Prison Comeback Already Over?

Sure, his brand-new book landed on the Times best-seller list. But the feds want the profits, his Twitter ghostwriter is suing him, and Robert De Niro is really pissed.

Lenny Dykstra signs copies of his memoir at a Cherry Hill Barnes & Noble on July 6, 2016.

Lenny Dykstra signs copies of his memoir, “House of Nails,” at a Cherry Hill Barnes & Noble. Photo by David Gambacorta

Lenny Dykstra was in Germany — a “fucking cool” place if he’d ever seen one — when he spotted a woman walking a German Shepherd and felt the urge to do something crazy.

It was November 1993, and Major League Baseball had sent the Phillies star centerfielder on a trip to promote the sport across Europe. He was staying in a posh hotel with his then-wife, Terri, when he noticed the dog from his 20th floor balcony. Dykstra had German Shepherds as pets when he was a kid growing up in California; he prized their loyalty.

Now he was in Germany. “This is where German Shepherds come from,” he told his wife. Dykstra bolted downstairs and grabbed a concierge who spoke English. “I said to him, ‘You have to come with me and talk to this lady outside. I want to buy her fucking dog.'” The concierge convinced the woman to walk into the hotel, where Dykstra made her an offer: $5,000 in cash for the dog.

Nein. 

Dykstra made another offer, then another, until he hit a number the woman couldn’t refuse: $75,000. He got the dog, and collected a hundred bucks from the stunned concierge who’d bet him the sales pitch wouldn’t work. That anecdote is just one of the many batshit crazy moments that pop up in Dykstra’s new book, House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge. It was released by Harper Collins two weeks ago, and is already on a list of New York Times best sellers.

The episode offers some insight into Dykstra’s mindset, both on the field and off: doing whatever it takes to get what he wants — to win — and prove the naysayers wrong in the process, no matter the cost. He’s been utterly inescapable since the memoir hit the shelves, showing up on the Howard Stern show to talk about how he works as a gigolo for elderly women (“You’re talking about a fucking gray bush, bro,” he noted); pissing off film legend Robert De Niro; threatening to “rearrange” the face of actor Mickey Rourke; and declaring, once and for all, that he used steroids when he was the Phillies’ offensive spark plug in the early 1990s.

For most retired athletes hawking a memoir, any of the above tidbits would probably prove fatal. But Lenny Dykstra is … well, different. Out of all of the beloved figures in Philadelphia sports history, few are as perfectly suited to navigate this post-Kardashian world of tell-alls and TMI and shameless self-promotion as old Nails.

Phillies and New York Mets fans of a certain age are lining up in bookstores for his autograph because they still love him for the fearless way he played the game, and can’t help but hope that he’s found redemption after a downfall that saw him lose a fortune, ruin countless relationships, and receive separate prison sentences for grand theft auto and bankruptcy fraud.

The memoir’s early success suggests that Dykstra could be headed toward better days, a deeply flawed figure who, at age 53, has finally learned from his past mistakes. But there’s some evidence that the opposite is true. Noah Scheinmann, a production company executive who managed Dykstra’s Twitter account, just filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against him alleging unpaid wages. Peter Golenbock, a veteran best-selling author, claims Dykstra fired him — and cheated him out of tens of thousands of dollars — after Golenbock co-wrote much of the memoir. And TMZ Sports reported earlier this week that the federal government is coming after Dykstra’s book earnings to square away restitution he still owes on his bankruptcy fraud case.

The more things change, Dude, the more they stay the same.

DYKSTRA’S STORY is one of excess and betrayal, and his memoir doesn’t shy away from glimpses of either. He delights in describing how he bought a Gulfstream jet — the “big-swinging dick of private aviation” — and spent ridiculous sums partying with celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Rourke and De Niro, the latter of whom Dykstra claims he once shared cocaine with during a visit to St. Barts. He even told De Niro his codename for cocaine: Richards. “I named it after Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. He looks like a line of coke,” Dykstra writes. De Niro told the New York Post that the anecdote is “bullshit.”

Dykstra also details his repeated attempts to get clean and sober, which included traveling to Israel to undergo an experimental procedure in a desperate bid to beat a Vicodin addiction. He pulls the curtain back on his friendship with the actor Charlie Sheen, who turned to Dykstra for support when his own addiction woes spun dangerously out of control several years ago. The scenes he describes are raw and honest depictions of a couple of guys trying to crawl out of a black hole.

Yet there are betrayals everywhere you look. Dykstra has plenty of kind words in his book for Terri, the mother of his children, but also unleashes lecherous lines like this: “After baseball, I was living in Philly and indulging in one of my greatest weaknesses: women, or pussy, the most powerful thing in the world.” (Terri filed for divorce in 2009.) He paints his old Mets manager Davey Johnson as an incompetent who drinks too much, and describes his former Mets and Phillies teammate Greg Jefferies as “a whiny little bitch.” The trash talk is great for book sales, but it’s rubbing some people the wrong way — like retired Mets star Darryl Strawberry, who said Dykstra “should be ashamed of himself” for ripping his old mates.

Elsewhere, readers are parachuted into specific moments in Dykstra’s career: his rise to the pros, his playoff heroics on the 1986 World Series–winning Mets, and his seven-and-a-half-year stint with the Phillies, which saw him evolve from an injury-prone but talented ballplayer to a difference-making three-time All Star who led the team to the World Series in 1993.

“Physically, I knew I was not built to withstand the rigors of playing every day for a full 162-game season,” he writes. Faced with a make-or-break opportunity as he headed into the 1990 season, Dykstra turned to steroids — his “special vitamins” — and a personal trainer. The transformation was less than subtle.

“I walked into camp — more like strutted into camp — with an ego just as big as my muscles. I weighed 190 pounds, cut up and ripped with not an ounce of fat on me. I looked like a fucking Greek statue. I walked onto the field like I had a fifteen-inch cock, and it was like, ‘Okay, motherfuckers, there’s a new fucking sheriff in town.'”

Dykstra led the National League in hits in ’90 and again in ’93, when he was also runner-up for MVP; the Phillies rewarded him with a $24 million contract extension. He says he didn’t shy away from injecting himself with steroids in front of the team. No one cared. “They wanted to win,” he writes. “And Lenny Dykstra on steroids was going to give the Philadelphia Phillies a much better chance to win than Lenny Dykstra off steroids.”

I reached out to the Phillies to see how they felt about one of biggest stars from the iconic ’93 team claiming that he used steroids, and suggesting that the organization had been A-OK with it. “We’re going to pass on your Dykstra story,” Bonnie Clark, the team’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email. (Dykstra is not on the team’s Wall of Fame in Citizens Bank Park; fellow ’93 Phillies Darren Daulton, John Kruk and Curt Schilling are.) I made multiple attempts to arrange an interview with Lenny, too, all of which fell through.

The team is probably less-than-thrilled with the other eye-popping revelation in Dykstra’s book: that he paid a private detective agency $500,000 to dig up dirt on umpires. He used the information as ammunition in the batter’s box, asking the umps about their gambling habits or trips to gay bars. His strike zone changed accordingly. “Fear does a lot to a man,” he writes.

Considering the amount of hand-wringing that usually follows any allegation of cheating in professional sports — “Deflategate” is still a thing, you know — Dykstra’s admissions should theoretically be a PR nightmare. But none of the dozens of Phillies and Mets fans who pile into a sprawling Barnes & Noble in Cherry Hill to meet Dykstra in early July seem turned off by any of these nuggets.

“He was my guy when I was a little kid,” Jon Kates, 31, a South Jersey guy in a green Dykstra T-shirt, says shortly before the Dude shows up to sign copies of his book. “The hard-nosed way he played, the dirt on the uniform, the tobacco spit all over the carpet at the Vet, I loved everything about it.”

The friendly conversations between people in line taper off when Dykstra enters the store around 7:15 p.m. He’s wearing a black T-shirt, gray pants and a tan baseball cap. A silver mustache hovers over his mouth; he claims he lost his teeth at the hands of brutish prison guards in California. (Yes, that scene is recreated in the book.)

There’s something striking about the sight of Lenny Dykstra sitting in the middle of the bookstore, a small yellow sign to his left reminding everyone that, yeah, he really is a New York Times best-selling author. Even he seems surprised to be there, pausing briefly to eyeball his surroundings. The fans are pleased as punch that he’s mixing it up with them. One guy who’s wearing a shirt from The Shining chuckles when Dykstra mentions that marijuana is legal in Colorado, where the Stephen King horror classic was set.

Another fan advises him to keep doing what he’s doing. “I love that line,” Dykstra mumbles, as if he’s just been touched by a ray of enlightenment. He grabs a pen and begins scribbling on the blue tablecloth, repeating the words aloud. “Keep … doing … what … you’re … doing.”

Philly native Michelle Gallagher, 38, and her mother, Debbie, 62, gush about their encounter afterward. Dykstra gamely posed for a photo, and personalized a few books for their relatives. “I thought it wouldn’t be that crowded. He’s had a seedy life. But maybe he turned it around now,” Debbie says. Michelle nods. “Everybody remembers that ’93 team. No matter what, he was on that team,” she says. “Hopefully he’s living a calmer life now. He seems nice.”

Seems being the operative word.

NOAH SCHEINMANN HAS KNOWN Dykstra since 2008. Scheinmann runs his own production company, No Regrets Entertainment, in New York, and met Dykstra through a mutual friend in the business after HBO: Real Sports spotlighted his unexpected transition from ex-baseball player to stock market guru.

The two developed a pitch for a reality TV show called The World According to Lenny, and shopped it around unsuccessfully to a variety of networks. Behind the scenes, Dykstra’s life was starting to crumble. His decision to buy an $18 million mansion that once belonged to NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky — the real estate equivalent of that German Shepherd story — put him on the road to financial ruin. Little by little, friends, family members and even people who worked for his short-lived magazine, The Players Club, started suing him over a litany of financial disputes.

(Despite being a high roller, he allegedly had a habit of not paying people what he owed them, a topic that doesn’t really get examined in the warts-and-all memoir. One former employee, Christopher Frankie, wrote a book about his brushes with Dykstra’s “manic and self-destructive behavior” and tendency to allegedly bully and coerce those around him.)

Scheinmann says he was among a handful of people who remained close to Dykstra even while he was in prison. Last year, with Dykstra’s memoir on the horizon, the two men started kicking around promotional ideas. Scheinmann says they worked out an agreement for him to serve as Dykstra’s consultant on social media. The job quickly evolved into an around-the-clock role after Dykstra officially joined Twitter in early May and earned an enormous following with a single tweet: “Oh so this is Twitter? I can say whatever the fuck I want right?”

“He started to go back to his old ways of expecting anyone with him to work 24/7,” Scheinmann says. “It was always a concern that Lenny can turn on you. That’s part of living in the unexpected world of Lenny Dykstra … but I believed and hoped that his prior mistakes and the consequences that came with them would allow him to grow and change a little bit.”

Scheinmann says he signed a contract for the work he did for Dykstra, but things went south early last month when Dykstra asked him to sign a nondisclosure agreement, and Scheinmann replied by asking Dykstra to rework their agreement to reflect the fact that his social media duties had expanded — he was ghostwriting the Twitter account — and also had done some work on the memoir. “He responded basically by firing me,” Scheinmann says.

So Scheinmann filed a lawsuit against Dykstra in Manhattan federal court last week. His attorney, Jon Bierman, says the lawsuit seeks more than $90,000 that Dykstra owes Scheinmann for work he did, plus an undetermined bonus he’s owed based on book sales.

Peter Golenbock, meanwhile, says he isn’t getting a dime from the Dude. He’s written or co-written nine bestsellers with former ballplayers like Johnny Damon and Billy Martin, actor Tony Curtis, and Jose Baez, the defense attorney who represented accused murderer Casey Anthony. Golenbock jumped at the chance to work with Dykstra. “He’s a character of characters,” he chuckles.

After laboring for months on House of Nails, Golenbock claims, he was unceremoniously fired — something about Lenny needing to maintain his own voice. “Unbe-fricking-lievable,” Golenbock says by phone. His work is still in the memoir, of course. Dykstra gives him a mention in the acknowledgements, so it’s not a complete loss. Well, except for the fact that, according to Golenbock, he hasn’t been paid what he is due. (Dykstra’s publicist at Harper Collins could not be reached for comment.)

“The thing I discovered with George Steinbrenner is that narcissists have no shame. It doesn’t exist,” Golenbock says. “It’s what enables them to do the dastardly things that they do to other people.”

He isn’t suing Dykstra, opting instead to just move on with his life. But he sees his former collaborator promoting the memoir on TV and radio all the time, including that eyebrow-raising appearance on the Stern show. “You listen to him now, and he sounds like he’s losing his mind,” Golenbock says. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to Lenny. He’s got a substance abuse problem, and that’s not good. He certainly has a sex addiction, and addictions, as you know, don’t end well for people. I don’t know what he’ll be doing in 10 years. Maybe he’ll be okay. Or maybe he’ll be dead.”

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