CD's Connect the Dots...Tough As Nails

Ever stepped on a nail? I have! After the initial pain shoots through your body, you realize what just transpired and begin to understand the power of a nail. Unbending, unforgiving, tenacious. Its dogged ability to press forward endures where lesser objects would fail. The Phils once had a player that reminded his teammates of those exact characteristics. They nicknamed him Nails. Lenny "Tough as Nails" Dykstra.

The date was June 18, 1989, exactly 14 years ago today! The Phils were not called "the floundering Phils" that season for nothing, the name was appropriate and deserved. They were a team of players with little past and even lesser of a future. Oh, there were some talented players who had value. There was relief ace Steve Bedrosian, and Bedrock was his answering call. There also was infielder Juan Samuel, a player who was so fast people thought he would sprint directly into Cooperstown. Unfortunately, the sprint had turned into a crawl and a new address seemed the answer.

Amid this backdrop, the then Phillie GM Lee Thomas orchestrated not one, but two trades, almost simultaneously. He traded Steve Bedrosian to the Giants and then swapped Samuel to the Mets. They both occurred on June 18 and in return they received five players who would all give the Phils some valuable service. The Phils received bullpen ace Roger Mcdowell from the Mets and he would provide leadership and stability to a young club. From the Giants the Phils received third baseman Charlie Hayes, a fine glove and solid bat, who would bridge the gap between Mike Schmidt and Dave Hollins. They also received pitchers Dennis Cook, who could hit as well as he pitched, and lefty Terry Mulholland, who would prove a mainstay and was the ace of the 1993 staff that went to the World Series. Oh, and they received another player who would play more than a casual role in that ‘93 dream team. Dykstra! He of the tobacco chewing cheek. He of the absolutely filthy uniform. He of the extremely foul mouth. He of the "take no prisoners attitude" with talent to match.

Yes, the Phils did not know that on that day, 14 years ago today, they were about to change the entire chemistry of the club. That day Dykstra set foot in that clubhouse. Oh, it took a little while for the sharp tip to break through. Nails don't always immediately puncture everything they touch. But keep pounding away and a nail will eventually make its impact. As did Dykstra. The problem for the first few years.... and the last few, were injuries. He just could not stay healthy. It was either a broken wrist from an errant Greg Maddux fastball or a broken collarbone from an auto accident. But when he was healthy, as in 1990, he displayed talent, grit and leadership abilities. His .325 average that season showed what he could do if he ever stayed healthy. Which he did in 1993.

Ah, was there ever a more beautiful summer in the past 20 years for Phils phanatics than the Summer of ‘93? This was a Phillie team for the ages, built sturdy, tough and durable. Like a nail. The season lasted about 180 days. The Phils were in first place for 179 of them, that's how good they were. And make no mistake, it was very, very good. It had a warrior leader in catcher Darren Daulton - the Spirit of this team. It had comic relief in the talented first baseman, John Kruk - the Soul of this team. And it had a "never say die", "who says we can't win" dynamo in center fielder, Lenny Dykstra - the Heart of this team. Dykstra has had good seasons before. He thrived with his hits in ‘90, ran well in ‘91, finished strong in '92. But the summer of ‘93 saw Dykstra put them all together in one symphony, to create a season for the ages.

In the long and storied history of the Phillies there have been some exceptional seasons. Certainly Schmidt's 1980 season, Ashburn's '51 season, Carlton's ‘72 season or a few of the distant past seasons by the legendary Ed Delahanty. But you can probably count on one hand the number of finer total seasons a Phillie player ever had as compared to the season Nails put together in the Summer of ‘93. For one, glorious, compelling season, all the gifts of the mind, body and soul were there in one finely tuned athlete, as Dykstra practically willed the Phils to a pennant.

Should I dare dazzle you with details? Why not… I must say, though, that the numbers do no justice to the effort the man exhibited that season. He started all but one game, and hit .305. He scored a staggering 143 runs, hit 19 home runs, walked an astounding 129 times and stole 37 bases. For one year at least, there were actually 3 things you could count on... death, taxes, and Lenny Dykstra on first base. He lived on the base paths that season. Unbelievably, as good as he was during this time, he actually turned it up a notch during the playoffs, something he was famous for when he played for the NY Mets. Against the favored Atlanta Braves, he merely scored 5 runs in 6 games, was a catalyst again on the base paths, and had enough left in reserve to hit the home run that turned the series around, winning Game Five against reliever Mark Wohler by turning on a 97 mile per hour fast ball and depositing it into the right center field seats in the 10th inning. However, Nails was merely warming up. The World Series would be his stage...and sadly enough, his eventual swan song.

Playing again with incredible courage and vigor, Dykstra attempted to will his team to victory against a superior opponent, the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays. And, oh, how he tried. If Dykstra was a musician, Game Four was his masterpiece, a symphony of beauty, depth and sound, and played to an audience ready to clamor for an encore - the frenzied Phillie fanatics. And Dykstra played for them to their hearts content - hit two home runs and a double, drove in four runs, scored three runs.... and stole a base. He was everywhere that night, and when the Phils took a 14-9 lead into the eighth inning, it certainly seemed Dykstra's stage. Regrettably, the Blue Jays scored an improbable six runs in the eighth inning to win an impressive game, one that may never be repeated in a World Series game again. If ever there was victory in defeat - it was Dykstra and the Phillies that night - a night for the ages.... and a dramatic 15-14 loss.

Lesser teams would have folded after that night, not these Phils.... and not this Dykstra. He scored the run that stood up for a 2-0 masterpiece for Curt Schilling in Game 5 and the Phils went to Toronto to attempt the improbable, coming from 3-1 games behind to win a World Series. And, thanks to Nails, it appeared they might! His 3 run home run in the 7th inning of Game 6 led to an eventual 6-5 lead with but 2 outs to go, when Joe Carter spoiled the dream forever with a crushing blow, and a series winning home run, 8-6. For Nails, the numbers again were colossal ...a .348 average, 4 home runs, 9 runs scored, 8 runs knocked in, and 7 walks. Oh, and 4 stolen bases for good measure. As Dykstra slumped into his seat in his locker after this crushing loss, a certain sense of finality went with his slump. Dykstra, as was this team, was built for strength, not stamina - and for neither would it ever be the same again. Oh, he still scored runs with the best of the lead off hitters, and he would occasionally display the talent that had made him so feared. But a succession of injuries, most caused by his reckless abandon in diving for balls and crashing into fences, saw his final three years. He played only 184 games total from 1994-1996, barely over one season's worth. He would never again attain the heights of his 1993 Season of the Stars. In fact, by the time Dykstra announced his retirement in the Spring of 1998, Phils fans were actually relieved, hoping that with Dykstra's saved salary money, they could lure hold out draft pick JD Drew to the dotted line. This, of course, never happened.

The eight years of Dykstra's Phillie career saw a period of some of the most storied characters ever to grace a Phils uniform. They didn't always play well, but they played with heart, desire and fire. They were the epitome of a smallish lefty playing centerfield...a guy as tough as they ever come.... Lenny "Tough as Nails" Dykstra, a guy who truly was, tough as nails.

Columnist's Note: Mail, I get mail, and it is always appreciated. Comments, questions, or suggestions regarding the preceding article are welcome. Kindly e-mail me at connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD


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