Cycle Over A Cliff

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

It wasn’t all that long ago that Lenny Dykstra could be referenced as a breaker of stereotypes.

The myth of the typical brain-dead jock who had no interest in reading; wasn’t concerned about nuance; didn’t truly grasp what he was doing in business was shattered by Dykstra’s “success” after his baseball career ended.

Dykstra’s perception as a business savant was evidenced by the amount of money he supposedly had; the business deals he was willing to partake as a high-stakes gambler (something he also had a fondness for). He was willing and able to do whatever he needed to do to make it. As one of the more egregious and early examples of PED use becoming prevalent in baseball, of course Dykstra was willing to go that extra mile without fear of consequences.

Some see that as an attribute and it is…to a point.

He accumulated a lot of credit and bought a lot of stuff; he’d built a reputation as one who transformed himself up from a ballplayer to a boardroom titan whose aggressiveness on the field meshed seamlessly into the corporate world.

No, it wasn’t all that long ago that I shook my head and said, “Of all the Mets from the 1980s who you’d expect to hit it big off-the-field as an entrepreneur, Dykstra was the last one you’d pick.”

That was a team that housed Yale graduate Ron Darling; BYU graduate Rick Aguilera and other highly intelligent people.

But it was Dykstra who built up an empire.

Or so we thought.

It turns out that the instinctive belief of “no way”—based on historical facts that we were too brainwashed to believe—was accurate.

The empire wasn’t real, but the image was. Those who dealt with him treated the others who’d encountered him before as a barometer. “Well, if (blank) says Dykstra’s okay, then Dykstra must be okay.”

It was a cycle.

A cycle over a cliff.

Dykstra was arrested yesterday and charged with a whole host of white collar crimes relating to his myriad of businesses—most of which were feeding into one another as a Madoff-lite style bit of financial roulette and chicanery—ESPN Story.

While playing, Dykstra had no concept of half-speed. It was 1000 miles per hour on and off the field. Gambling? Partying? Playing as hard as he could and acting like an obnoxious, loud-mouthed (though still likable to some degree in a Manny being Manny sort of way) jerk? PEDs? Playoff homers? Writing books?

Lenny did it all.

It was easy to ignore his behaviors; his punch-drunk slurring when speaking; that he wasn’t educated enough to know what he was doing in the financial realm.

Because he had a large credit line, flamboyant lifestyle and the ability to purchase, rent, hire, buy and sell, Dykstra had “made it”.

But he hadn’t.

Unlike a true visionary like Steve Jobs; or a financial wizard like Warren Buffett, Dykstra didn’t do anything. He’d built up a lucrative car wash business—intelligently—while he was still playing, but that wasn’t enough. He had to be a big shot. All or nothing.

Unlike one who builds and creates, Dykstra’s money was the shifting and manipulation of paper; the use of his name and press clippings as a lever to gain access to cash and people with cash.

But it was a ruse that cannibalized itself.

Didn’t anyone who dealt personally with Dykstra stop and consider the possibility that it was all a farce?

Sometimes you need to take a step back and do the math; examine the reality of the stories people tell and calculate their likelihood.

It had to be right in front of their eyes, but the foundation of his acumen—success as a baseball player—wasn’t a building block for that billionaire future he envisioned. It was a sham.

Now Dykstra’s been arrested. Presumably, there are a lot of people swindled out money and time who must be wondering why they didn’t see the warning signs.

They saw them—they must have—but ignored them.

Dykstra was the last person from that Mets team you’d think would have huge non-baseball success post-career.

And he didn’t.


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