Confessions of a Steroid Pioneer

My Dinner with Lenny Dykstra

By Scott Miller

Art by Patrick Kyle

June 27, 2016

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "This is going to be awesome, bro," the man with no front teeth—upper or lower—tells me.

Steak, medium-rare, sizzles on the platter. Sauteed mushrooms beckon from their bowl. Loaded baked potatoes are floating nearby like a couple of delicious, cumulus clouds.

We have come to meet and dine after three months of working through the details. Lenny Dykstra has finished his book, House of Nails, now set for publication June 28. I am home from spring training.

The idea was simple: One of the grittiest, droolingest and most notorious players from old New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies teams loaded with them is on the rebound, again. He spent more than a year in the cooler for bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets and money laundering in 2013 (seven months in a Los Angeles County jail while awaiting sentencing, then six-and-a-half months in the United States Penitentiary in Victorville, California). The three years of probation that followed is up in June.

The prison term ran concurrently with a three-year sentence for pleading no contest to grand theft auto and providing a false financial statement. There were other issues, too. A nine-month sentence after he pleaded no contest to charges of indecently exposing himself to women.

Dykstra always has been one part leadoff hitter, three parts charlatan.

"When you make it in the big leagues and you start making a lot of money, you can have anything you want, you know?" Dykstra tells me. "It made me understand. But you don't always get what you want. It don't work that way."

Since his playing career ended following the 1996 season at the age of 33, he's owned car washes, a private jet, a magazine catering to professional athletes and, once, Wayne Gretzky’s 13,000-square foot Southern California mansion. He bought that back in 2007, prior to the stock market crash of 2008, foreclosure, the bankruptcy fraud and...

"I've been through it," Dykstra says. "I stuck the flag in f--king Mount Kilimanjaro, and I sunk to the depths of Death Valley, bro. I've been all the way up and all the way down. My story's crazy. Crazy story. But it's real."

But the teeth.

He hooks his index fingers into the corners of his mouth and pulls, spreading his lips wide apart.

Looks like someone left the gate to a fence wide open, the gap is so pronounced.

According to Dykstra, he got beat up in prison.

"They knocked all my teeth out," Dykstra says. "I [have] a big, huge lawsuit. I talked to my attorneys yesterday.

"They came into my cell. They did it in my cell in Los Angeles County. The guys got indicted. All the sheriffs, they all got arrested.

"The deputy who beat me up came into my cell whistling, 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame.'"


"I'm not a p---y, either. Know what I mean? They arrested and indicted them, all the way up to the sheriff."

He says he fought back, but more deputies poured into his cell and overwhelmed him. As far as legalities, seven Los Angeles sheriff's officials were indicted in a jail probe late in 2013. Court documents do not mention Dykstra. He didn't provide any more details about his involvement in the case.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told B/R, "There is pending litigation and we will have to refrain from commenting further."

What started it?

"They like to f--king have power," Dykstra says.

He stabs at a piece of meat with his fork.

Lenny is right: The steak is awesome.

"They have awesome sauce here, too," says the man who impressively will navigate the bites of steak around his missing teeth.

✦ ✦ ✦

I first contacted Dykstra in mid-January, via e-mail. He answered within five minutes, and our dialogue began.

"The best time to get in touch with me is 24/7," Lenny wrote.

We can't meet right away because his son, Cutter, a minor league outfielder for the Washington Nationals, is getting married that Saturday to Jamie-Lynn Sigler, the actress who played daughter Meadow on The Sopranos.

The plan is to talk the following week, and we set up a tentative meeting for somewhere near Los Angeles International Airport before he takes a red-eye back to New York to meet with his publisher.

Then a couple of emails and phone calls go unanswered.

So much for 24/7.

Finally, he shoots me a note: "Sorry, there is no way humanly possible [to meet] as my book has me locked up 24/7—we will do it when I return from NY. Thanks."

Then come more book deadlines for him, and spring training for me. Mid-April, we finally talk again.

"We can have a nice dinner at this steakhouse 10 minutes from me, then go back to my house to talk," Lenny says. "We'll go back and have a good conversation."

"Great, but how about if I come to your place first and we talk," I counter. "Then we'll go have a nice dinner?"

"No, man," he says. "I gotta eat first."

Lunch? No, man, too early.

Um, OK. So we agree: He will make reservations for the following Thursday at 7 p.m. Great.

Driving to the restaurant that day around 5:30, an email buzzes in: "Hi, Scott, give me a quick call."

Uh-oh. Cancellation? Nope.

"Hey, if you're running early, we can meet earlier," he says.

Southern California rush-hour traffic precludes that, so I enter the steakhouse right at 7, nod to the maitre d' and inquire about a 7 p.m. reservation for two.

The maitre d' chuckles and shakes his head.

"No, Lenny didn't call," he says. "There are no reservations."

Two things are clear: The maitre d' knows Lenny, and this is not unusual.

"It's OK, I can seat you right over there," he says.

I ask how often Dykstra comes in. Oh, the maitre d' says, maybe once a week or so.

So I am seated, take a few whacks at the bread basket, and 10 minutes later, here comes Lenny.

✦ ✦ ✦

Dykstra is a charmer.

He is friendly, smiles, asks questions and, not surprisingly, looks weather-beaten beyond his 53 years. He talks fast and often mumbles, slurring words and, sometimes, sentences. Between that, the missing teeth and the ambient noise in the steakhouse, I ask him to repeat himself several times.

Of course, some things bear repeating even if you understand him the first time.

"I thought God put me on this earth to entertain with baseball," he says. "But I found out I have a higher calling: to entertain women."

He is joking—I think. A reference to his missing teeth, the pleasures that can provide and, well, moving on…

Image title

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra laughs it up before the start of Game 2 of the National League playoffs at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium, on, Oct. 7, 1993. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)

Along with prison and probation, he is in the midst of paying $200,000 in restitution. He says he already has served his 500 hours of community service by working in a homeless shelter. Among other things, he says, he served food to the homeless and collected baseball memorabilia for auction.

"At the beginning, it was rough," Dykstra says. "You know, if something's in front of me, I do it. I don't look for someone else to do it, I don't pout. I live my life going forward. It's something I had to do, and I did it.

"Like 'hell week' in football. You just grind through that s--t. Spring training. As you get older in baseball, spring training sucks, man. You know what I mean? You just try and get through it without getting hurt. Anyway, yeah, it's all part of the deal. You do what you gotta do. You take the path of poor me, or f--k it, I'm gonna take it head on.

"That's the way I've always been. Even when I played baseball."

He says it was difficult feeding the homeless, watching people live like that.

"They're not all there," he says. "It was a different experience. I remember when the judge sentenced me. Remember, they wanted five years of my life. The judge gave me six months.

"You do what you gotta do. You take the path of poor me, or f--k it, I'm gonna take it head on. That's the way I've always been. Even when I played baseball."

- Lenny Dykstra

(Though he faced up to 20 years for bankruptcy fraud, prosecutors recommended a sentence of two-and-a-half years.)

"And he said, 'I'm trying to figure out, who is Mr. Dykstra? We're going to find out. We're going see how he does with the poor people.' So he hit me with the 500 hours. And I did every one of 'em."

He says he's about halfway through paying back the $200,000 of restitution, that 10 percent of anything he earns, weekly, must go to that. So he's been doing autograph shows. A little bit here and a little bit there. And the upcoming book sales.

"But the main thing is the community service," he says. "That was a f--king long time.

"It was like a reality check. You had to dig deep. Makes you realize sometimes, you know, we take things for granted in life. I mean, somebody who didn't come from no money or nothin', but once you, I mean, dude, the money they're making?

"I used to make $6 million a year. I used to get $300,000 every two weeks. Today, they're making $15 million. That means they're getting a f--king million-five every two weeks.

"Dude, it comes fast, and it comes furious. It's staggering numbers."

Dykstra earned roughly $36.5 million during his major league career, according to

But it never was enough. Ask him to pinpoint a moment or two (or three) when things began to spin out of control on him, and he says it wasn't really one moment.

Then, he pauses. Long. Several seconds pass.

"Money became, like, the driving force of my life, you know?" he says slowly. "Even though I had a ton of it, I wanted more. Money's important; we all need money to live. But when you do things for the love of money, it's like the baseball gods…when you do things for the love of money, you get f--king brought back to reality real f--king quick.

"Next thing you know, you're sitting in front of your locker wondering how you're 0-for-15. It happens that quick. So it's kind of like, you know, so, I'm not looking for the big kill anymore. I don't need it.

"Prison, being locked up in a cage, changed a lot about how I think. But I don't recommend people take that path. Not really, know what I mean? I'm just saying, when you get put in a situation, you either deal with it, though, or you f--king quit. I'm not a quitter. I fought through that s--t. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but I did it."

✦ ✦ ✦

Steak gone, Lenny suggests moving to the outdoor patio for dessert

"Dude, they got a creme brulee that'll blow your mind," he says.

Sold. So we move outside, into the cool Beverly Hills evening.

"Out to the land of the great pretenders," Dykstra says, nodding toward the passers-by on the sidewalk. Rodeo Drive, self-described as "home to the epicenter of luxury, fashion and lifestyle," is two blocks over. "They'll be friendly until they find someone better."

The Mets' 13th-round pick in the 1981 draft, Dykstra broke into the majors in 1985, at 22. A year later, he was Davey Johnson's leadoff man for a New York team that won 108 games and then stunned the Boston Red Sox in a thrilling, seven-game World Series. A pivotal moment: Dykstra's leadoff homer in Game 3 to spark a Mets team that had dropped the first two games to Boston.

This was possible in large part because of Dykstra's heroics in the National League Championship Series, when he hit a walk-off home run in Game 3 against Houston Astros closer Dave Smith. It still ranks as one of the signature moments in Mets history.

Within three years, however, he was barely hanging onto his spot on the team. At 5'10" and 160 pounds, everything was a battle. On June 18, 1989, the Mets traded him and relievers Roger McDowell and Tom Edens to the Philadelphia Phillies for infielder/outfielder Juan Samuel.

That winter, Dykstra went straight to Vitamin S: Steroids. 

"I started because I had to," he says. "I was too small. I didn't forget how to hit. I was too weak."

He scored his first performance-enhancing drugs, he says, astonishingly easy.

"Hillbilly doctor," he says. "I lived in Mississippi with my wife. People live there, you know. My wife was from there. We spent offseasons there.

"I started because I had to. I was too small. I didn't forget how to hit. I was too weak."

- Dykstra on beginning to take steroids

"I cold-called a dude. I said, 'Hey, man' and told him the deal. I was so far ahead of the curve."

Dykstra had been losing playing time with the Mets, and as he says, you don't get paid if you don't play every day.

"So I said, I need to play," Dykstra says. "I finally got traded to the Phillies in '89, and I'm 150, 140 pounds. So I knew. [Then-Philadelphia general manager] Lee Thomas said, look, we're going to give you 1990. You'll be our everyday guy.

"So I knew '90 was it for me. So that's why I went to the library in Mississippi and looked it up. Ben Johnson, remember? (Johnson, the 100-meter gold medalist in the 1988 Olympics was stripped of his medal when he failed a drug test for steroid use.) I literally called up some doctor in Mississippi and told him the story I'm telling you. I have a family. I have a chance to make a lot of money. It's not that I can't play. I know how to do that. You don't have to teach me that.

"But the schedule is six months. I'm just not physically big enough to hold up. If I can just stay strong…"

In 1990, Dykstra led the NL in hits (192) and on-base percentage (.418), and he ranked fourth in batting average (.325).

Image title

Dykstra gestures while on base during a 1990 season MLB game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean Haffy/Getty Images)

"And I'm on the cover of Sports Illustrated," he says of the issue dated June 4, 1990. "Coincidence? I think not. That s--t works. I told baseball that."

Picture this: A 26-year-old Dykstra scouring the library shelves somewhere in the Mississippi sticks, pre-internet days, conducting his own private search for athletic rejuvenation. Voila! Deca Durabolin, his PED of choice.

"At its finest, dude," he says.

Three years later, he was playing in another World Series. For the Phillies in 1993, he led the NL in plate appearances (773), at-bats (637), runs scored (143), hits (194) and walks (129). He ranked second in the league in doubles (44), third in on-base percentage (.420) and eighth in OPS (.902).

He also finished second in the NL MVP balloting to Barry Bonds and was rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $24.9 million that, at the time, made him the highest-paid leadoff man in baseball history.

See, library research really can pay off.

"And I'm on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Coincidence? I think not. That s--t works. I told baseball that."

- Lenny Dykstra

This came just two years after he suffered a broken right collarbone, a broken right cheekbone, multiple fractured ribs and a puncture to his right lung in a drunken driving accident that also injured Phillies catcher Darren Daulton in May 1991. The two were returning from teammate John Kruk's bachelor party. Dykstra was charged with drunken driving.

As Lenny himself says, he always was way ahead of the curve. Except when he wasn't, like on this night on a winding, two-lane road.

And whether he successfully navigated them or not, the curves kept coming.

Where did he get the idea for PEDs? A teammate? 

"No. I did it."

He shakes his head.

"Drugs are out now, though. They changed the game, dude. C'mon, how can you not take drugs? I'll go make $60,000 and take orders from somebody while you go make $30 million? Money changes things."

Even with the drugs and the money, Dykstra's clock was ticking quickly. After the 1996 season, at 33, he was finished.

So he went looking for his fixes elsewhere.

✦ ✦ ✦

Iconic actor Jack Nicholson lives not far from here.

This comes up because Lenny is telling me about stopping by Jack's house just the other day to get a blurb for the book jacket.

According to Dykstra, the two have been longtime friends, dating back to when the outfielder would leave tickets to games at Dodger Stadium for the star of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and other classic films.

Affecting a dead-on Nicholson imitation, Dykstra says he would often hear the actor cackle "Where's ol' Nails?" as Dykstra approached the stands before games.

Ah, the days of fast times and All-Star appearances (1990, 1994, 1995).

"C'mon, how can you not take drugs? I'll go make $60,000 and take orders from somebody while you go make $30 million? Money changes things."

- Lenny Dykstra

But after baseball came a string of other ventures. First came the car washes in Southern California, then a string of other businesses that led to his spectacular crash and much of his family cutting contact with him. At one time, he was writing a financial advice column with Jim Cramer's At another, he attempted to launch a high-end charter jet company. And the magazine? It ceased publication after he filed for bankruptcy in 2009, leaving some employees unreimbursed for expenses

Promises, broken.

"Remember, though, I didn't get stupid overnight," Dykstra says, the pretenders continuing to walk by the patio on this Southern California night. "I was pretty f--king smart. I built this magazine called The Players Club. I didn't build a magazine because I wanted to get in the magazine business. It was a conduit, or a tool, to get to players. But I only did that because I had my partner, AIG, the biggest insurance company in the world, bankrolling me.

"Then they went f--king bankrupt. What the f--k? (For the record, AIG was folded into a $182 billion government bailout program.) And the bank that gave me my loan on the Gretzky house, they went bankrupt. In 2008, the whole world dried up. Yeah, man.

"But I don't want to come off as somebody that's making excuses. I didn't have to buy the Gretzky house. But when the biggest bank in history goes down, when they tell you we're going to put you in this loan and your payment is going to be this much, and they say, 'OK, you're not going to bankrupt your own customer, are you?' They were into predatory lending. All of them were. "

Washington Mutual, the country's largest savings and loan association that collapsed in 2008, was his lender, Dykstra says.

"But the story's not about pity," Dykstra continues. "I mean, there's nothing else to really talk about. Have I done things that I'm not proud of? Yeah, I admit that, I have. But did I ever do anything that justified me getting locked in a cage for two years? No. I didn't.

"And there's real deep reasons why that happened, too hard to even explain. And people wouldn't get it and they'd think, 'There he goes again, blaming everybody else,' so I don't even want to go down that road.

"The thing about it is, I look at what happened, and you've gotta learn from it, you know? I've never been a pity guy. That's not how I roll."

"Have I done things that I'm not proud of? Yeah, I admit that, I have. But did I ever do anything that justified me getting locked in a cage for two years? No. I didn't."

- Lenny Dykstra

One aspect of the family business, the baseball part, continues rolling today: Luke, 20, is hitting .319/.352/.375 for the Rome Braves, the Class-A affiliate of Atlanta.

And while the Nationals' Harrisburg affiliate released Cutter, 27, in early June, he has turned his father into Grandpa Nails: He and Jamie-Lynn are the parents of Beau, now 2.

Luke, meanwhile, was Atlanta's seventh-round pick in 2014 and currently appears to be the better prospect.

"Great kid," Braves general manager John Coppolella says. "He's a baseball rat. A gamer.

"No off-the-field problems."

Speaking of which, Dykstra's life today is completely different than the one he once imagined.

"I've always had a great relationship with my kids, you know?" he says. "By the grace of God, or whatever power is up there, I was able to get out in time for my Luke's senior year of high school."

His ex-wife, Terri, he says, asked him to move back into the house during that time to help with Luke.

"So, like, Terri, she got a job working for an oral surgeon," Dykstra says. "I remember one day I'm doing the dishes and Terri comes home from work.

"I look at her and she looks at me and I said, 'What a world. I'm f--king doing the dishes and you're coming home from work. What a 360." Image title

Lenny Dykstra of the New York Mets looks on during batting practice prior to the start of a game circa 1986 at Shea Stadium. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

So, Lenny says, he got to spend the entire eight months of Luke's senior year helping to prepare him for pro ball.

"See, the public doesn't really have an idea," Dykstra says. "There's baseball and there's pro ball. Meaning, you're together almost seven months. So you have to have something you can depend on and you can trust to take up to that plate, or you're going to go f--king haywire. It wasn't until I learned that on my own, meaning the right way to hit and the right way to play, which would have made it a simpler game. Instead of wondering and trying different things.

"There's only one way to hit. You either hit right or you hit wrong. If you see a hitter up there and count is 1-0 and he's a right-handed hitter and he hits a foul to the first base dugout, he doesn't have a clue what he's doing. You gotta be guessing. You have to guess the extra strikes. Half the players, I guess, [don't even try] taking like a strike in the ninth inning when you're down two runs. Think about [swinging], that's selfish. Even if you hit the motherf--ker, there's a 70 percent chance you're going to make an out.

"It's changed. There are things they can get away with because they have so much talent. But at the end of the day, they're still cheating themselves, their teammates, the fans, the organization, from doing the job they could do if they had the discipline to play right."

Dykstra thinks back to his own playing days.

"When the game would end, I would always go and sit in front of my locker just for two minutes by myself and say to myself, 'OK, if I was a fan, would I have paid money to watch myself play tonight?'" he says. "That's how I judged myself. Even if I took a collar or something, if I played right, good fans know. So many guys play wrong now. It's very disturbing."

He excuses himself to go to the restroom. As he does, he hands me his laptop and invites me to scroll through some pictures that will appear in House of Nails. He is beyond excited to share his story through the book's pages. There he is with Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden. In the World Series. As a skinny kid. As a steroids-addled Hulk. It's all there.

"When the game would end, I would always go and sit in front of my locker just for two minutes by myself and say to myself, 'OK, if I was a fan, would I have paid money to watch myself play tonight?' That's how I judged myself."

- Lenny Dykstra

When he returns, he says he has to go, that he's got a friend waiting. He starts glancing toward the sidewalk frequently, as if something else is out there.

Wait, I tell him. I thought I was going to give you a ride back to your house and we were going to talk awhile longer?

No, man, he says. He can give me the real story, but first I need to get the green light from my editor that everything is a go, and then my guy must talk with his guy.

Lenny, I say, I have the green light. Why else do you think I drove up here for dinner?

We'll talk, he says. You driving home tonight? Why don't you call me on your drive home and we can talk some more?

But Lenny, I'm here right now and—

His laptop screen now is showing a picture of his private jet from back in the day. He rhapsodizes about making a snap decision to fly to Italy.

"Beyond cool," he says. "Addictive. P---y's taken countries down. It's literally made people make bad decisions. But when you've got a plane, f--k dude. It makes p---y look like a red-headed stepchild. It's crazy. And I loved it. Had a good plan, too. But there's so many things..."

So many things. Writing this book, he says, is the most difficult thing he's ever done in his life. Except, he started with a noted co-author, Peter Golenbock, but says he fired him because Golenbock couldn't find his voice. B/R sources say Golenbock wrote much of the book but was lopped off of the project before Dykstra had to share any significant money with him.

"I've written books with some of the greats in baseball, and I couldn't get his voice?" Golenbock tells B/R.

Looking back, Dykstra had an All-Star baseball career, things went south on him afterward and, now?

It's why he's calling the company he created for this book the "Third Chapter." Because the first chapter of his life was "great," the second chapter was "ehhh" and the third chapter "hasn't been written yet."

"So you should talk to your guy about what he wants," Lenny says, rising to leave. "If you want a big swinging dick story, I can do that. Pictures, everything. I'm talking about behind-the-scenes stuff."

He asks me to turn off my tape recorder. It is nearly 9:30 p.m. as we exit the steakhouse, with Lenny alternately insisting he has a friend with him or that a friend is waiting. Something. As we stand on the sidewalk and say goodbye, a white sedan pulls up and Lenny hops in.

In a corner of the front window, a placard contains the logo for Lyft.

The red meat lived up to its billing. The creme brulee? Good, if not mind-blowing.

Then again, not everything comes as advertised.

Meanwhile, as the pretenders continue walking by, the sedan pulls clear out of sight.

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball.