A Cop reporter keeps a milkman's hours. And so it was very early on May 6, 1991, in the newsroom of the San Luis Obispo, Calif., County Telegram Tribune, that Danna Dykstra Coy was idly scanning the wires to see what troubles the human race had gotten itself into overnight. Various crimes and other news streamed by on her computer screen until she came to the bulletin about the famous baseball player and the fast car and the trees in a place called Radnor Township, Pa.
Lenny Dykstra, the tough and energetic centerfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies, had skidded the fast car into the trees, severely injuring himself and teammate Darren Daulton. Both men were hospitalized. More to come. Danna Dykstra Coy didn't want to hear about more to come.
"I'm a reporter, right?" she says. "So, here I am, reading off the wire about how my brother almost died, waiting to see whether or not he's dead. It was a sickening thing for me." She tried to get through to him at the hospital, but nobody there believed she was his sister. It occurred to her that had one of the Los Angeles Dodgers rolled his car in San Luis Obispo, she might have tried to gel through to him by pretending to be a relative. "The people at the hospital told me that everybody was saying they were related," she says.
Details kept coming in flickers of light on her screen. The stories told how Lenny Dykstra had broken through in 1990, batting .325 after flirting with .400 for the first few months of the season and making the All-Star team for the first time. They told how hard he played the game, how he took the extra base, how he took out the infielders and how he would take on the outfield wall if he had to do that to win the game. Some of the stories compared him to Pete Rose, but those were the ones that also mentioned that Dykstra was then on probation, put there by commissioner Fay Vincent's office for having gone almost $80,000 in the hole playing poker very unsuccessfully against a notorious Mississippi cardsharp named Herbert Kelso.
There was still more to come. Dykstra and Daulton had been driving home from a teammate's bachelor party at a bar called Smokey Joe's. Neither man had been wearing a seat belt, even though Dykstra clearly had been speeding. They had tested Dykstra's blood alcohol, and he had rung up a .179, nearly twice the legal limit. A good cop reporter, Danna Dykstra Coy knew what .179 meant. If her brother had hit a person and not a tree, .179 meant a possible seven years in prison, it also meant that whatever public sympathy her brother might have enjoyed was completely gone. In this country, Danna Dykstra Coy knew that .179 trumped .325 as surely as Herbert Kelso's four kings used to beat Lenny Dykstra's straight.
"The first reaction was, 'Oh, god. I guess he'll be O.K.' " she recalls. "The second reaction was anger. Like, 'Dammit, why was he driving drunk?' "
She finally got through to the hospital three days later but still couldn't speak to Lenny. He was sedated and in great pain, having broken his cheekbone, collarbone and three ribs. But he was going to be fine. He was alive and so was Daulton and so were both their burgeoning careers. They were two lucky fools. That was what everybody said about Lenny Dykstra for the rest of last season, even when he came back and hit .297 before running into a wall in Cincinnati on Aug. 26, breaking his collarbone again and effectively ending his season.
For his first seven years in the big leagues, Dykstra had been a model of how to play the game. Now, and for the foreseeable future, he would be an object lesson in how not to lead your life.
"It's nobody's fault but mine," he says. "I'm not bitter about it. I'm the one who created the problem. I'm the one who put myself in the position to be judged. I did realize that in one second I could've lost everything I had and everything I worked so hard for. One second, boom, it could've been gone."
Baseball players are not usually very reflective; nobody whose profession considers a 70% failure rate successful could afford to be. However, if circumstances have ever conspired to drive a ballplayer to introspection, they did so for Dykstra, probably one of the least introspective men in the game. Preparing to come back from a year in which he was disciplined, injured and repeatedly rendered a public spectacle, he was hit with the second pitch he saw this season, breaking a bone above his left wrist, and was sidelined until April 24. Now, oddly, he is chewing over his life like a plug of Red Man. He is confronting his own celebrity and his own mortality. A man who once said that he didn't read because it was bad for his batting eye is looking back and seeing his life a little differently now.