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Steve Wulf
June 04, 1990
Lenny Dykstra's .400-plus batting spree has the surprising Phillies in the chase
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June 04, 1990

Off And Running

Lenny Dykstra's .400-plus batting spree has the surprising Phillies in the chase

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Nails may lack a certain polish, but he is very much a winner. No club he has ever spent a full season with—in the majors or the minors—has finished below second place. Phillie relief ace Roger McDowell, who came over with Dykstra from the Mets last June, played with him in the minors and, like Dykstra, married a girl he met while playing in Jackson, Miss. "Lenny and I aren't best friends or anything like that, but if there was anybody in the world I would want to be traded with, it would be him," says McDowell. "The first time I saw him in the Sally League, he was a 12th-round draft choice, but he was driving a white Porsche, and he knew he was going to be in the big leagues someday. He has this winning glow about him that you can see even when he just walks through the clubhouse. I'm glad I don't have to play against him."

"When I was coaching with the Cardinals, I hated the little ass," says Leyva. "I sure as hell love him now."

The nonplayer most responsible for the Philadelphia turnaround is general manager Lee Thomas. Right after he came to the Phils from the St. Louis organization, in June 1988, Thomas made a series of trades—Lance Parrish for David Holdridge, Shane Rawley for Tommy Herr and two minor leaguers, Milt Thompson for Steve Lake and Curt Ford, and Phil Bradley for Ken Howell and a minor leaguer—that met with bad reviews and mixed success. But Thomas didn't become gun-shy, and in the space of 16 days last season he pulled off the three trades that have made the Phillies a contender. On June 2 he traded Chris James to the San Diego Padres for Kruk and Randy Ready. Then on June 18, he dealt Steve Bedrosian to the San Francisco Giants for Charlie Hayes, Dennis Cook and Terry Mulholland, and Juan Samuel to the Mets for Dykstra and McDowell.

"My most important consideration in all those trades was chemistry," says Thomas. "We did our homework, and even though some of those guys weren't playing regularly, we knew they were winners. The manager can't motivate a team by himself. He needs guys who will get on their teammates for not showing good work habits."

Three of the players acquired last June are now in the Philadelphia lineup nearly every day: Dykstra in center, Kruk (.265) in left and Hayes (.290) at third. Ready (.304) has been an invaluable utility man. Two of the pitchers, Cook (5-0) and Mulholland (3-2), are in the rotation, and McDowell (12 saves in 12 opportunities) is the closer. More important, the trades transformed the clubhouse atmosphere. Mike Schmidt, whose number 20 was retired Saturday night, recently told Jayson Stark of the Philadelphia Inquirer , "These guys could make a 40-year-old feel 30 again. Sometimes I wish they could have made those trades before I retired. I might still be playing."

"Look around this room," says Kruk. "There's not one guy here you'd want to invite to dinner. But there's not one guy here I don't want to play baseball with."

Kruk is very much a kindred spirit of Dykstra's. When Kruk was with the Padres, owner Joan Kroc once shouted some encouragement to him from her field-level box after he had struck out. Without looking to see who had made the remark, Kruk snapped back, telling Kroc to do something unimaginable to herself. Dykstra, with his huge chaw in his left check, and Kruk, with his wad on the right side, look like the bookend sons of Don Zimmer. It's not a coincidence that Kruk's and Dykstra's former clubs are struggling. In fact, they're exactly what the Padres and Mets need.

The Dykstra trade was not an immediate success. Though he liked the idea of playing regularly after being platooned in center by the Mets, Dykstra wasn't happy being on a last-place team. Remember, this is a player who was so popular in New York that a woman once came to Shea Stadium in a wedding gown with a sign that read MARRY ME, LENNY. Dykstra hit .300 his first month with the Phils, but then he began to lose interest. After the All-Star break, he got fewer hits (56) than he already has this season. "People have to keep in mind that I had to make some adjustments to playing every day for a team that was out of it," says Dykstra.

In the off-season, Thomas had a few heart-to-heart talks with Dykstra. "I told him that if he didn't want to play for the Phillies, I would find him another team,' says Thomas. "I also told him I thought he was the man who could turn us around."

Working with free weights over the winter, Dykstra bulked up to 195 pounds, almost 30 pounds more than he weighed at the end of last season. "I did it strictly for stamina," he says. "I've already lost 10 of those pounds in two months."

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