The On Deck Circle

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Archive for the tag “Lenny Dykstra”

Mediocrity, and a Mets Fans Life: Part 3

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, if you need catching up.

1983:  Is a hard year to write about.  Not because anything truly awful happened back then, but because it was such a waste of year.  For the past couple of decades, my best friend, James and I have always maintained that 1983 was the worst year ever.  Neither of us could provide you with specific reasons or examples of this awfulness, yet we definitely felt this in an almost visceral way as ’83 unfolded around us.  In other words, we’d hit bottom.  Tired of ourselves.  Tired of our aimlessness.  Tired of wasting time.  It was fun once, but now we simply hated where it was all headed, which is to say, precisely nowhere.

But, as they say (“they” have a lot of wisdom, and, apparently, a lot of freakin’ time on their hands), you have to hit bottom before you can bounce back up.  So, in keeping with that old adage, I started to do something I’d never done before.  I started to think about going to college.  Frankly, I’d had enough of the Working Class Hero bullshit.  Since Reagan, it was clear there was no money in it anymore.  Now, as the song said, “All you need are looks and a whole lot of money.”  Several people I’d known in high school were now halfway through college, and these folks were not what anyone would call the Kolbe High School Brain-Trust.  So, for the first time in my life, I started to save up money for college.

Apparently, the Mets had also finally had enough of their losing ways.  Sure, they finished the year 68-94, another last place season.  But more importantly, they’d begun to set the foundation for future success.  Rookie Darryl Strawberry, the first excellent position player the Mets had ever developed, enjoyed a fine season, slugging 26 home runs in just 420 at bats.  Perhaps even more importantly, the Mets traded pitcher Neil Allen to the Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez.  Keith instantly gave the Mets a credibility they’d lacked since they’d traded away Tom Seaver several years before.

1984:  Nothing much happened.  It took a year like this to make 1985 possible.  I guess I must have saved up some money.  I worked for most of the year at a light-industrial shop making some sort of things that were sold to the Department of Defense.  All the big money was in defense in those days.  But I was sticking to my plan.

As for the Mets, a shooting star named Dwight Gooden exploded onto the scene.  In his rookie year, he led the N.L. in strikeouts with 276 in just 218 innings.  He just made it all look so easy.  And the Mets, astonishingly, won 90 games for the first time since their improbable 100 win season back in ’69.  Clearly, happy days were here again.

1985:  In the mid-80′s, not a lot of culturally very important moments were taking place, though blues guitarists Robert Cray and Stevie Ray Vaughan were shining bright for anyone who cared to notice.  As for me, well, I’d landed a new job at a local bank through a friend of mine.  It was perhaps the coolest, easiest job I’ve ever had.  Automatic Teller Machines were just becoming nearly universal at that time, and the banks decided that they needed a stable of on-call drivers to attend to the simpler tasks of refilling the machines with cash, clearing jammed bills, changing the receipt tape, etc.

The beauty of the job was that we could camp out in a local bar and wait for our beepers to go off before we hit the road.  I worked the late shift from 5:30-midnight with a friend of mine.  We’d drive from Fairfield down the Connecticut coast all the way as far as Greenwich, or as far west as Danbury.  Some of the girls who rode with us were very cute, and, strictly against the rules, sometimes we’d even occasionally pick up a friend and bring him with us.  I was 22-years old, the money was easy, the summer was a lot of fun, and I was still sticking to the plan.

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Franc...

Dwight Gooden at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Shea Stadium, the Mets were having a fantastic season, ultimately winning 98 games, but couldn’t quite catch the damned Cardinals.  New addition Gary Carter, along with Keith Hernandez, Gooden, Strawberry, Mookie Wilson, and pitchers Ron Darling and Sid Fernandez as well as a brash young rookie named Lenny Dykstra, were playing with a swagger never quite seen before in Queens.

Gooden finished the season with 1.53 ERA and lost just four of 35 starts.  In my mind, it was the greatest pitching season I’ve still ever seen in my life.  The Mets were now New York’s team, and it felt great to be a Mets fan.

1986:  An odd and fantastic year.  My gig at the bank continued through the summer, and I now even had a radio show on a college radio station with my friend Dave, WVOF-Fairfield.  It was a college radio station, and we got to play anything and everything we desired, from bits of Monty Python albums, to Classic Rock, Prog Rock, Alternative Rock, and the Blues.  “Take the Skinheads bowling, take them bowling!”  I was also going to make a break for it, escaping southern Connecticut for the comparative wilds of Maine.  But that wouldn’t come until the day after Thanksgiving.  Until then, I got to enjoy the Mets epic adventure of a season.

In the National League, there really was no competition against the Mets in 1986.  The Mets led the league in most offensive and pitching statistics.  They won 108 games.  Gooden became the first pitcher in MLB history to post three consecutive 200-K seasons to begin a career (and he had just turned 21.)  Their clubhouse was a mess, and Davy Johnson, though he did his best and was a very intelligent manager, was probably in a bit over his head with this group.  Game Six of the N.L.C.S vs. Houston is still the greatest game I’ve ever seen played in my life.  It was a roller-coaster ride, an epic 16-inning classic.

For the benefit of any Red Sox fan who might still be reading, I won’t recount the history of the ’86 World Series.  I will say, though, that when Dykstra hit a lead-off home run at Fenway Park in Game Three, my friend Gregor dunked his beeper in a pitcher of beer, and there it remained until the game was over.  Just a few weeks later, I landed in a distant corner of snowy, York County, Maine.

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science...

Luther Bonney, Masterton Hall, and the Science building at USM’s Portland Campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1987-89:  I combine these years because they were all a bit of a blur.  It seemed like, except for a few short, warm days every year, it was always winter.  Also, I’d never seen so many white people in one place in my entire life.  Being a white guy myself who’d moved from a place where white was just one color in the social fabric, it quickly became apparent that the denizens of York County (and later, Cumberland County, just up the road where they had roads) were of a species I’d never encountered before.

Meanwhile, I had finally enrolled at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham / Portland, Maine.  I was to major in Political Science, though I wasn’t really sure what the hell I was going to do with a Poli-Sci degree.  All I knew was that it felt right to finally be going back to school, long after many of my high school classmates had already graduated.  I had also begun working at L.L. Bean in Freeport.  But we’ll save that story for later.

Next up, a wild ride through the ’90s!

Ten Facts About Lenny Dykstra

You may have heard that former Mets / Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra, already serving jail-time

Grand Theft Auto (film)

Grand Theft Auto (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

for Grand Theft Auto, has now had an additional six months added to his prison sentence for bankruptcy fraud, hiding baseball gloves and other souvenirs from his playing days that were supposed to be part of his bankruptcy settlement.

Apparently out to convince the public that he isn’t a one-trick pony, he has also been accused of indecent exposure through the use of Craigslist ads.

Alas, there was a time, not that long ago, when Lenny Dykstra was merely a well-paid baseball player.  Dykstra played in the Majors from 1985-96.  You may recall him as being a fine ballplayer.  That’s how I choose to remember him.

Here are ten facts about Lenny Dykstra, the baseball player:

1)  He was born Leonard Kyle Dykstra in Santa Ana, CA in 1963, and raised in Garden Grove, CA.

2)  He was drafted by the Mets in the 13th round of the amateur draft in 1981.  He was just 18-years old.

3)  Listed as 5’10″ and 160 pounds, he was a small but tough (as Nails, hence his nickname) package of speed and surprising power.

4)  In his MLB debut on May 3, 1985, leading off for the Mets, Lenny went 2-5, scored twice, drove in two runs, stole a base, and hit a home run to straightaway center-field off of Reds pitcher Mario Soto.  It would be the only home run Dykstra would hit in 273 plate appearances in ’85, but he would go on to hit 80 more in the regular season in his career.

5)  In the Mets World Championship season of 1986, Dykstra, in his first full season at age 23, finished among the top 20 in N.L. MVP voting.  He was successful in 31 of 38 steal attempts, drew more walks than strikeouts, finished in the top ten in the N.L. in WAR, and posted an OPS+ of 129.

6)  In the ’86 World Series against the Red Sox, after the Mets had lost the first two games of the Series at Shea Stadium, Dykstra led off Game Three at Fenway Park by launching a lead-off home run down the right-field line.  It was one of four hits Dykstra would tally that evening.  The Mets would go on to win the game, 7-1.

7)  In 32 career post-season games for the Mets and the Phillies, Dykstra posted a triple slash line of .321 / .433 /.661, with an astonishing ten homers in just 112 at bats.  He also scored 27 runs, and was a perfect 5-5 in stolen base attempts.

Juan Samuel

Juan Samuel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

8)  Dykstra was traded for Juan Samuel in the middle of the 1989 season.  In the one half-season that Samuel played for the Mets, he posted a triple slash line of .228 / .299 / .300.  His OPS+ was 76.  Dykstra would go on to lead the N.L. in hits twice, in runs scored once, in walks once, and in on-base percentage once with the Phils.  In his first four years with the Phils, he would post OPS+ scores of 138, 132, 122 and 144.

9)  In just 1,278 MLB games, Dykstra produced a career WAR of 41.0, higher than former star players Gil Hodges, Don Mattingly, Al Oliver, Carlos Delgado, Curt Flood, Tony Oliva and teammate Darryl Strawberry.

10)  Dykstra retired as a player at age 33 in 1996 after just 40 games.  His no-holds barred style of play resulted in injuries that certainly shortened his impressive career.  Still a young man, Dykstra, lured by the temptation of easy money, fell prey to many of the same influences that have destroyed the lives and reputations of so many others along the way.

Here’s to hoping he is able to salvage the rest of his life someday.  Meanwhile, I prefer to recall Dykstra as the player he was, not the man he was to become.

After I post this, I’ll be taking a hiatus from blogging for a few weeks until after the New Year.  Might be doing some traveling, for a change.  Hope you all have a great Christmas, or whatever it is you celebrate.  Stay safe, and I’ll see you when I get back.

Cheers,

Bill

Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons: Part 5 – The Phillies

Let’s begin with a trivia question.

How many Phillies pitchers have ever won a Cy Young Award?

O.K., so you got Steve Carlton (4).  Good.  Anyone else?

Let me give you another minute…

Give up?  How about John Denny in 1983. This is surely one of the Best Forgotten Baseball Seasons of all time.

Let’s talk about John Denny and the ’83 Phils.

In 1982, Steve Carlton won the last of his four career Cy Young Awards.  Apparently, his teammate John Denny was paying attention.  The ’83 Phils were a very good team, going 90-72 that season.  They beat the Dodgers in the N.L.D.S., but lost to the Orioles (remember when the Orioles were good?) in just five games in the World Series.  It was Denny’s first season with the Phillies.

Denny had previously won an ERA title pitching for the Cardinals in 1976, so he did have a history of effectiveness prior to coming over to Philadelphia.  But 1983 turned out to be the best season in his career.  At the age of 30, he posted a record of 19-6 with a 2.37 ERA.  The wins were the most in the N.L.  His ERA was second best.

He pitched 242 innings, had a WHIP of 1.162, fanned a career high 139 batters, and surrendered only nine home runs all year.  His 0.3 home runs per nine innings led the league.

Strangely, he made eight errors, the most of any N.L. pitcher.

Outside of 1983,  Denny was one of those pitchers who never enjoyed a great deal of run support in his career.  In ’76, for example, his record was just 11-9 in 30 starts despite winning the ERA title.  And in 1984, the year after he won his Cy Young, his record was just 7-7 in 22 starts.  His ERA in ’84 was 2.45.

In his 13 year career, Denny posted a modest record of 123-108.  He managed only seven seasons of 10 or more victories.

While some pitchers are just getting started at about age 30 (Dazzy Vance, Randy Johnson, Jamie Moyer), others hit a wall.  At age 33, just three years after winning his lone Cy Young Award, John Denny retired from baseball.

So who is the only other Phillies pitcher to win a Cy Young Award?

The answer (enjoy an extra one of your favorite beverages tonight on me if you got this one correct) is Steve (Bedrock) Bedrosian in 1987.

Other than to say that this was certainly the single most absurd Cy Young choice in the history of the award, I won’t spend too much time of Steve Bedrosian.  He won the award that year because The Save, the single most overrated stat baseball has ever developed, was just coming into vogue back then.

Bedrosian saved 40 games in ’87, the only time in his career that he would lead the league in saves, and the only time he would ever top 30 saves in a season.  The Phils were just 80-82 that year, so I guess having saved half of his teams wins impressed a great many voters that year.

But we’re not here to talk about Steve Bedrosian.

The (other) player on the1987 Phils who had one of this team’s Best Forgotten Seasons was Juan Samuel.

Sorry, Mets fans.  You can come up from under the table now.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, bringing up Juan Samuel’s name without warning to a Mets fan is akin to a soldier who suffers from PTSD suddenly hearing a car back-firing.

You see, on June 18, 1989 (exactly 21 years ago today), Juan Samuel was traded from the Phils to the Mets for Lenny Dykstra and Roger McDowell.  This obviously qualifies as one of the worst trades in team history.  Dykstra became an integral part of the Phillies for the next several years, helping lead them to the 1983 World Series.

Roger McDowell was a competent relief pitcher for the Mets 1986 World Championship team.

Juan Samuel was, uhm, Juan Samuel.

Adding insult to injury, Samuel only played on the Mets for the second half of ’89, posted a horrific .228 / .299. / .300 triple slash, then the Mets traded him away to the Dodgers.

So why am I including him here?  Because in 1987, Juan Samuel had one very impressive season.  Playing second base that year (in later years he would move to the outfield), he played in 160 games, leading the N.L. in plate appearances (726), at bats (655), and triples (15).  He also led the league in extra base hits with 80.

His power numbers represented career highs.  He hit 28 home runs and drove in an even 100.  He also scored 113 runs and had 35 stolen bases.  He had 329 total bases, and made the All-Star team.

He also struck out more times than anyone else in the league (162).  The player that Samuel most resembles is a young Alfonso Soriano, when Soriano played for the Yankees.

Samuel was one of those middle infielders who had good range, but who also made quite a few errors.  He led all second baseman in put outs with 374, and his range factor of 5.05 was 4th best in the league.  But his 18 errors were also the most of any second baseman in the N.L.

He led all second baseman in errors three times in four years, which is why by 1989, he had been moved to the outfield.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have much of a feel for that position, either, so the Dodgers moved him back to second for a while in the early ’90′s.

Juan Samuel ended up having a respectable major league career, being named to three All-Star teams, twice leading his league in triples, and stealing almost 4oo bases.  He hit over 160 homers and 100 triples, and scored over 100 runs three times.

Just don’t ever say his name in front of a Mets fan without warning, or it could get real ugly.


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