Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge"

Lenny Dykstra has lived quite a life.

To most baseball fans, he's remembered as the sparkplug of the 1986 World Series champion Mets and 1993 National League champion Phillies. But in recent years, he's known as an entrepreneur who has done time in prison fraud and money laundering.

A former assistant of his wrote a book three years ago talking about the hell it was to work for him, and certainly didn't cast Dykstra in the best of any light. Now, we get Lenny's side of the story, in a recently published autobiography called "House of Nails: A Memoir of Life on the Edge." (William Morrow Books) (And by the way, the former assistant appears nowhere in this tome.)

Lenny absolutely lets it ALL hang out this book. It's filled with tons of colorful language, so if that offends you, it might not be the book for you. But, like passing a total car wreck, you might want to check this out.

Even in his young life, he was always a confident guy, bordering on total cockiness. Despite being young and smaller in stature than most baseball players in high school, he forced his way on to his high school team, and it served him well. (He tells a funny story about meeting Fred Lynn, then of the Angels, back in the early 1980s at a tryout at Angel Stadium.)

Dykstra came to prominence as an outfielder with the Mets in early 1985, and his hard style of play earned him the nickname "Nails." He talks plenty about his time in New York, and his relationships with the Mets stars, like Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. But not all of them come away with his admiration. He has no use for manager Davey Johnson, who he claims was either drunk or hungover most of the time he was with the Mets. And he gets the knives out for one-time Mets phenom Gregg Jefferies, who he called "clueless" and "bizarre." (Dykstra calling anyone "bizarre" is pretty out there.)

He moved on to the Phillies in 1989, and opens up on his use of amphetamines, and especially, steroids. Dykstra says he had to go on the juice if he wanted to play baseball on a full time basis, and of course, make big money.

Sports were a big part of his early life, but once he retired in 1996, he turned his attention to the stock market, and making REALLY big money. He also opened a string of very successful car washes in Southern California, and he was allegedly worth about $50 million at one point. Dykstra takes his readers on his journeys, about what it was like to have his own private jet and fly around the world at a moment's notice.

Dykstra also goes into plenty of detail about his celebrity friends, including Charlie Sheen. He claims he was the one who urged Sheen to come clean to the world about his HIV diagnosis, and tried many times to get him clean of his addictions to drugs and alcohol. He also tells a rather strange tale of his relationship with Robert DeNiro, how they parties and did drugs together, but after Lenny met him a few years later, DeNiro had almost no idea who he was.

Lenny's book rivals that of any rock star's biography, with talks of wild excess. He paints a picture of an indestructable star, but of course, the fall headed his way was inevitable. He talks about how he tried to get clean (with a harrowing account of going to Israel to try some new way not approved in the US). But the fall that comes his way is over buying Wayne Gretzky's California estate in 2007, and the stock market tanking. He eventually gets nailed (if you'll pardon the pun) for bankruptcy fraud, and goes away for 2 1/2 years. He paints a very dismal picture of his life behind bars.

Dykstra's book is a cautionary tale for sure. In the final end, he realizes what's really important in life, namely his kids and a new grandson. But it is an enjoyable read (whether Lenny's telling the whole truth is anyone's guess, to be honest). You feel like you are sharing a beer with him as he tells you the ups and downs of his life.

And Lenny Dykstra's life hasn't been boring, that's for sure.

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Cuba's Baseball Defectors"

Cuban baseball is largely unknown to most American baseball fans. What most do know are the current crop of players from that island, like Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and Jose Abreu.

They all have fascinating backstories, and author Peter Bjarkman, one of Cuban baseball's foremost authorities in the US, has put together a fascinating look at the island's baseball history in "Cuba's Baseball Defectors: The Inside Story", which was released earlier this year by Rowman & Littlefield Books.

Bjarkman is the senior baseball writer for the web site Baseball de Cuba, and he takes the reader on the journeys of many Cuban baseball players through the years, those who left for the United States in search of greater riches, and those had stayed behind and became icons in their home country.

Bjarkman tells some incredibly fascinating stories of some of the most celebrated Cuban defectors (Leonys Martin's story in especially incredible), and it tells stories of kidnapping and drug smugglers from the Miami syndicate and Mexican drug cartels. The Cuban players keep on coming, and with the thaw in relations between the US and Cuba, the concern is that Cuban baseball will continue to decline (Bjarkman makes a comparison to the Negro Leagues after Jackie Robinson broke MLB's color barrier in 1947, and how that slowly went out of business by the late 1950s).

As a Red Sox fan, I read the Yoan Moncada and Rusney Castillo stories with particular interest. (Remember Castillo? The Red Sox would love to forget this tale.)

Bjarkman was given special access to baseball players throughout the island of Cuba, and you get a good reading on the day-to-day lives of those who play the sport for a living in the baseball-crazy country. He talks in great detail of Cuba's incredible record in international tournaments throughout its history (but doesn't have much use for the World Baseball Classic, as he believes it is just in business to bring more Cuban players over to the US and enrich MLB's coffers).

If you enjoy Cuban baseball, "Cuba's Baseball Defectors" is a book you must read. Bjarkman goes into some minute details about it, and at the end of the book lists not only the Cubans who have played in MLB since 1871, but has a comprehensive list of all players who have defected from the island since 1980.

There are plenty of stats, but there's even more intrigue and cloak-and-dagger stuff behind those men who left the country for various reasons to play ball in America.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

MLB Awards: Porcello Takes the Cy, Mookie 2nd in MVP

MLB handed out their awards this past week for 2016, and there weren't many big surprises.

Rick Porcello won the AL Cy Young Award, in a very close race with Justin Verlander. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello (14-8, out of a possible 30 votes), and he was left off two voters' ballots entirely. But Porcello had more first and second place votes than Verlander did (24-16), and that was difference, with Rick taking the award by five points (137-132). Corey Kluber finished third and Zach Britton was fourth.

You may have heard that Verlander's girlfriend, model Kate Upton, wasn't happy with the results.

Mookie Betts finished second in the AL MVP award, losing out to two-time winner Mike Trout. You can make a strong case for both, but Trout's win wasn't really close. He received 19 first place votes, and Mookie garnered 9. Trout won by 45 overall points. Jose Altuve finished third and Josh Donaldson, last year's MVP, finshed fourth.

The only other person connected to the Red Sox in an awards race was John Farrell, who finished fourth in the AL Manager of the Year award. Old friend Terry Francona won the award for the second time, having previously won in 2013 with the Indians. (How didn't Tito not win in 2004?). Jeff Banister finished second, and Buck Showalter finished third.

Nice to see another old friend in the awards winner circle in 2016, as Dave Roberts won the NL Manager of the Year for the fine work he did with the Dodgers in his first year as a manager, leading them to the NLCS this season.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

America Has Always Been Great, and Always Will Be

Well, this is the day when the United States of America will elect a new president, and it has always been a big deal and an important day for the country.

Today, the majority of the nation just wants to get it over with.

One of today's candidates has a slogan that says "Make America Great Again." I would argue that America has ALWAYS been great, going back to our painful divorce from the British Empire. We were the first to give democracy a go, and it has attracted people from the four corners of the earth wanting to be free.

America has gone through a lot in more than two centuries. We went through a civil war to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery. We've gone through two world wars, a terrible Great Depression, other wars that tore at the fabric of our nation, and a terrorist attack 15 years ago that sought to disable our way of life.

We've come through it all. And we're still here.

We've had good presidents, mediocre presidents and bad presidents. And we're still here.

No matter who gets elected today, America will go on. Whoever gets elected, we will have a divided electorate, many of whom will be very angry at who was chosen. They'll just have to grin and bear it.

The important thing is to vote. Vote your conscience. If you see fit not to vote for either of the two major party candidates, so be it. Your vote matters, no matter who you decide on.

And it's YOUR choice who to vote for. It's not my place to tell anyone who to cast their ballot for. That's for you and you alone to decide.

Men and women down through the centuries have put their lives on the line so we can have a day like this. We can go to the polls and decide who will run the store for the next four years. We honor their memory and sacrifice so we can have a free election, something that is unheard of in many parts of the world. Keep that in mind when cynicism creeps into your mind. It did for me, and I don't like either major party candidate. But I will do my part and cast a ballot today.

The United States of America IS a great nation. And it will be no matter who gets elected today. We've had our ups and downs, but we're still here.

Abraham Lincoln once said that America was "the last best hope of earth." That is especially true on this day. So, go vote. Make Honest Abe proud today.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Nice to See Another Media-Created "Curse" Fall

That was a World Series for the ages, eh?

And a Game 7 that will go down in Series lore, that's for sure.

The Chicago Cubs finally did it, and won their first World Series since 1908 with a stunning 8-7 win over the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings.

You can argue that this was the greatest Game 7 in MLB history. It had everything: clutch hits, untimely errors, game-tying home runs, head-scratching moves by the managers, and even an extra-inning rain delay.

No question it will be remembered forever. The Cubs blow a three-run lead in the 8th, and it looks like the so-called "curse" would continue, as the momentum was in the home team's favor at that point. But the gritty Cubs held on. A totally gassed Aroldis Chapman got the Indians 1-2-3 in the 9th, and then the rains returned, and held the game up for 17 minutes. The Cubs can consider this a blessing.

Tribe reliever Bryan Shaw walked Kyle Schwarber to open the 10th, and Alberto Almora went in to run for him. Kris Bryant hit a ball to the warning track in right center, and Almora tagged and went to second. It would prove to be the smartest (and most overlooked) play of the game, as the Indians walked Anthony Rizzo intentionally. Series MVP Ben Zobrist lined a double to left, and Miguel Montero singled to left, and the Cubs had a two-run lead they would carry into the bottom of the 10th.

Good thing they scored two. With two outs, 8th inning hero Rajai Davis singled in a run off Carl Edwards to make it 8-7. Joe Maddon brought in Mike Montgomery to face Michael Martinez, the light-hitting outfielder who was brought in in the 9th inning for Coco Crisp. That move would backfire on Terry Francona, as Martinez was the last man on the bench, and he grounded out to Kris Bryant, and the Cubs had their long-awaited third World Series title.

The Cubs became just the sixth team ever to comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series, the first to do it on the road since the Pittsburgh Pirates did it in 1979.

I'll admit I was pulling for the Cubs to win it all since the moment the Red Sox were eliminated in the ALDS. Through their Series run, I had flashbacks to 2004 seeing the Cubs come from 3-1 down. Like the 2004 Red Sox, they had to put their fans through all kinds of hell in the postseason, but they came away with the ultimate prize.

I guess you can get the Hall of Fame plaque ready for Theo Epstein. He's brought championships to two devoted fan bases that longed to see their clubs make it to the Promised Land.

And I feel for Terry Francona today, and the Indians fans. Tito is one of MLB's best managers, and proved it again this postseason. He handled the loss with class and grace, and he should also have sealed a place in his Cooperstown, despite his team's loss.

Joe Maddon maybe the luckiest man in Chicago today. While he's a great manager, he made some moves I still can't understand. Kyle Hendricks was in total command in the 5th inning, the Cubs with a 5-1 lead. He walks a batter with two outs, and brings in Jon Lester. He did the Indians a favor at that point, and after an error by David Ross, he wild pitched in two runs, and the Indians had new life. And Maddon totally overworked Chapman in the last three games of the series. Maddon's very lucky today, as had the Cubs lost, the name "Grady Little" might be following him forever right now.

My congratulations to all Cubs fans out there today, from all of us in Red Sox Nation. It's a great feeling to see your team win it all, after having to endure crap from the media for years and years about made-up curses and all that. Enjoy the afterglow of seeing your team in the winner's circle.

It never will get old, Cubs fans. Trust me on that.