Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Sports

May 7, 2013

Getting Nailed

Lenny Dysktra's former right-hand man—and victim of his financial fraud—tells all in a surprisingly even-handed account.

Elliot Magruder

Hindsight has been unkind to many of our widely held beliefs from the mid-2000s.

Remember those days? Tiger Woods was considered a loyal husband. Working the graveyard shift at White Castle was sufficient income to qualify for a $500,000 mortgage. Lindsay Lohan was an American sweetheart who could do no wrong.

Christopher Frankie
"I tried to capture why people are drawn to him and that charisma he has. When you met him, you wanted to like him."

Christopher Frankie

Yet all of that seems relatively reasonable compared to this anachronism: a straight-faced Jim Cramer describing former Mets outfielder Lenny Dykstra as "one of the great ones" at picking stocks.

Cramer could lavish Dykstra with praise because "Nails" had spent his post-playing career creating an empire. The cerebral and feisty centerfielder amassed a fortune through the creation of a luxury carwash chain and seemed to possess an inexplicable ability to pick stocks that never lost value. Dykstra made full use of that financial success, living in style after purchasing Wayne Gretzky's palatial estate in Southern California.

How Dykstra destroyed his business and his own life, as well as the lives of countless others around him, is a fascinating tale of riches to rags, one of excessive hubris and a wanton indifference towards consequence.

Author and financial expert Christopher Frankie worked intimately with Dykstra through those halcyon days and through to his eventual fall. He then went on to chronicle it with painstaking precision. In his recent book Nailed!: The Improbable Rise and Spectacular Fall of Lenny Dykstra, Frankie vividly details his time serving as the right-hand man to someone Jon Stewart once described as a "horseshit chomping man named Nails."

Frankie probably knew the diminutive whirling dervish better than anyone in early 2008 as Dykstra fixated on creating The Players Club, a magazine meant to showcase and preserve the wealth of professional athletes.

He served in a multitude of roles, including as a ghostwriter of Dykstra's popular financial newsletter and the president of Nails Investments. Frankie was even named controller of The Players Club as Dykstra viewed Frankie as someone "who controlled things."

But as Frankie details in brutally honest fashion, Dykstra betrayed a shocking indifference to the well-being of those lured into his chaotic orbit. From creating a mosaic of his own feces on the walls of a hotel bathroom, to being kicked out of a luxury hotel for yelling racial slurs, Nails had an unsavory side, and Frankie details it all. By maintaining a neutral tone, though, Frankie manages to humanize Dykstra amidst all of his self-inflicted turmoil.

In a wide-ranging interview conducted over the phone—which has been edited for length and clarity—Frankie discusses whether he has forgiven Dykstra, how the admittedly brash and uncouth outfielder was able to appeal to business people, and whether Nails will ever again have a relationship with the Mets.

Gelf Magazine: The piece that spawned Dykstra as a financial guru was an interview he did with Bernard Goldberg on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. You went back and talked to Goldberg, and he seemed confident to this day that at least at some point, Dykstra was "for real" as a trader and stock market expert. What about him made you think that as well?

Christopher Frankie: There a couple of parts. That Real Sports piece was phenomenally successful. It actually aired the month I started working for him. It made me believe in Lenny, as did Cramer's endorsement. There were also a number of well-respected publications who had supposedly done their homework and were saying that Lenny was legitimate.
The proof is in the pudding with certain things; Lenny had sold his car wash business for $55 million dollars and he had an expensive house. He made more money after baseball than he ever did on the field. Everything seemed to check out, though there were red flags that should have been obvious to me and a reporter like Bernard Goldberg.
What made Lenny credible was his system. He used the stock market equivalent of the Martingale System which means if you lose money on a bet, you double down until you get back to even. In working with Lenny, he actually was a pretty smart guy on certain things. He was crafty; he really had a knack for making money.

Gelf Magazine: The New York Daily News said the book was "a surprisingly even-handed look" at Dykstra. Given what he has done to you and your coworkers at The Players Club, was it difficult to write about him in an objective way?

Christopher Frankie: I thought that was the most important thing, I mean who wants to hear an employee bitch about their old boss for 300 pages? I tried to capture why people are drawn to him, and that charisma he has. When you met him, you wanted to like him; he seemed lost in a way. Plus the only way to tell the story in a credible way was to provide different perspectives.
I struggled with it because I could have written the book in two ways. One, to put the reader fully in my shoes and to inform the reader of what I knew when I knew it. Or, I could have provided multiple perspectives and shown the backstory. I chose to ultimately go the second way, though the downside is the reader knows Lenny is a bad guy while I am still trying to figure that out.

Gelf Magazine: Despite all of what Lenny has done, it seems like his Mets teammates accept him for who he is. He was released from custody to attend Gary Carter's funeral and teammates like Wally Backman seemed worried about him but not judgmental. Will he have a relationship with the Mets once he is released from prison?

Christopher Frankie: If you look at other Mets players like Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry, though their problems weren't as extreme as Lenny's, they had public problems but are nonetheless still welcome with the Mets.
If he comes out and strikes a repentant tone and enough time passes, he could be welcome again. I will say, in the courtyard at Citi Field they have flags attached to the light poles to commemorate different Mets throughout the years, like Ed Kranepool and Gooden, and Lenny used to have one. When all this happened, his was taken down and replaced by one for Marv Throneberry.
That said, the plaque for his game three home run-game against the Astros in '86 is still there, so the Mets will have to walk a fine line on that.

Gelf Magazine: Have you forgiven Lenny? He still owes you roughly $120,000, right?

Christopher Frankie: That money is probably never coming back, so I had to move on from it a long time ago. I was annoyed about it at first, but there were two types of people who got screwed financially by Lenny. The first are those who were owed money by Lenny and never got paid. I am in that group. The second are those people who are still paying Lenny's bills for him because he stole their credit card. Those are a different level of victim, and if I was paying my credit card for Lenny's private jet or his stay at the Carlyle, I might feel differently.

Gelf Magazine: Do you think Lenny Dykstra, with his excess, ignorance of the consequences and unrealistic expectations, has become a symbol of the financial crisis of 2008?

Christopher Frankie: I think it's one of the most interesting aspects of the story. Against the backdrop of the economy going south, Lenny Dykstra came into power. In what other environment could we believe that just anybody can get rich without paying their dues? Lenny would spend however he wanted without any regard for the consequences, and then one day he just didn't have the money to pay the piper.

Gelf Magazine: You've talked about how you were enabling Lenny. That seems like the Faustian bargain: if we perceive that someone will make us rich, we will tolerate almost anything, right?

Christopher Frankie: I definitely had no illusion from the beginning that he was a boy scout. You expect boorish behavior from any professional athlete, though what Lenny did was certainly in a different category. That said, I thought it was part of the package if you were going to work with him and be successful.

Elliot Magruder

Elliot Magruder is an attorney and writer living in New York City.







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Article by Elliot Magruder

Elliot Magruder is an attorney and writer living in New York City.

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