06.28.10

Exclusive: Baseball's Amped-Up Steroids Pioneer

Baseball’s ugliest legacy has a new founding father. In an excerpt from Randall Lane’s new book, The Zeroes, Lenny Dykstra reveals how he and Jose Canseco were the trailblazers for “the juice.”

Baseball’s ugliest legacy has a new founding father. In an excerpt from Randall Lane’s new book, The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane, Lenny Dykstra reveals how he and Jose Canseco were the trailblazers for “the juice.”

Lenny Dykstra, professional baseball All-Star-turned-unlikely Wall Street guru was cranky. The launch of the Players Club, a financial magazine for professional athletes that he had hired my company to help him put together, was six weeks away, and he was overdue on a $250,000 payment to us. Lenny knew the cash request was coming this night, a topic as increasingly uncomfortable between us as a pubescent birds-and-bees sit-down.

After dinner, I gave him a ride in a cab to the St. Regis, which was on my way home, finally forcing the subject of money owed. “I hear ya, bro,” Lenny responded. “Come up to my room, and let’s talk about it.”

“So I needed to do anything I could to protect my job, take care of my family. Do you have any idea how much money was at stake? Do you?”

“Room,” it turned out, was modest. It was a breathtaking corner apartment overlooking both 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue, complete with shared butler, who rang the doorbell before entering to refresh the ice and fold the towels. The foyer opened into a grand living room, accented with antique moldings.

He had his laptops splayed around a little sitting area, creating his own multiscreen trading desk, and he instinctively migrated there. I sat in an overstuffed chair across from him. Grabbing the remote, he flipped on the giant plasma television sitting above the fireplace. It was tuned to CNN.

That day, February 13, 2008, had been an epic one for television news. Roger Clemens, probably the best baseball pitcher of the past half-century, had been hauled in front of a congressional committee. Clemens was the biggest name outed by the Mitchell Report—he and Lenny had shared the spotlight atop the front page of The New York Times—and like Lenny he had steadfastly and publicly denied using steroids. Now, along with his former trainer, Brian McNamee, who had told Mitchell about injecting Clemens (and had the syringes to back it up), Clemens had been subpoenaed to testify, under oath, facing the possibility of jail if he lied.

The testimony was riveting. “I fully support Senator Mitchell’s conclusions that steroids have no place in baseball. However, I take great issue with the report’s allegation that I used these substances. Let me be clear again: I did not.”

When pushed further, Clemens eventually confessed—on behalf of his wife, citing her desire to look good for an upcoming photo shoot. “My wife received a shot of HGH from Brian McNamee at my house. I think it was in our master bedroom. The year, I’m going to say 2003 possibly.”

book-cover---the-zeroes
The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane. By Randall Lane. 368 Pages. Portfolio Hardcover. $27.95. ()

It was engrossing television. And for Lenny Dykstra and me, an even more awkward subject than the money talk. He had denied the allegations about his connection to steroids in the Mitchell Report to me on several occasions, as vociferously as he had to the press. I knew he was lying. He knew he was lying. But now CNN had Clemens’ testimony on an infinite loop. Larry King played the highlights at 9 p.m., giving way to Anderson Cooper at 10 p.m., who repeated them for an hour again at 11 p.m., before ceding the network to a repeat of Larry King. It was like sitting in the Stuttgart living room of your grandfather, the rumored SS officer, as the History Channel played a World at War marathon. As we discussed everything and anything else, neither of us wanted to change the channel and acknowledge the steroid-pumped elephant in the room. So it just played and played.

“You know,” Lenny finally said, breaking the ice, “I was like a pioneer for that stuff.”

Randall Lane: Jim Cramer Stock Touting Scandal“Excuse me, Lenny?”

“The juice. I was like the very first to do that. Me and [José] Canseco.”

He straightened up, as he prepared, somewhat proudly, to reveal his role in this dangerous, unseemly history.

Performance-enhancing drugs seemed to be everywhere at the time. Besides the almost-daily revelations that brought down one sports idol after another, my company’s flagship magazine, Trader Monthly, was increasingly getting tips about similar issues on Wall Street. These steroids were mental—amphetamine-based ADHD drugs, particularly Adderall, as a way to sharpen focus and gain an edge. In late 2007, we conducted our largest—and last—survey of our readership, recording 2,500 responses to a variety of issues. We asked about Adderall, and 11 percent of our respondents admitted using it to get a boost against their peers.

Our questions pushed further. If you received an illegal insider tip, a sure thing, and had a 20 percent chance of getting busted, would you use it? Only 5 percent would. What about only a 10 percent chance of getting caught? The number spiked to 20 percent. And what if you had zero percent chance of getting discovered? Suddenly, the number surged to 55 percent. To the majority of our readers, cheating wasn’t an ethical issue. It was simply a matter of whether they’d get caught.

That seemed to have been Lenny’s philosophy. “At first it wasn’t even illegal. Then, after a few years, I had to go to a doctor, and get a prescription. You know how I got my stuff? Just walking into a pharmacy, bro. It was as simple as that.

“You gotta understand, there were only 28 people who had my job in the whole world.” He was referring to the fact that there were only 28 Major League Baseball teams (there are now 32), and that each only had one starting center fielder. “And thousands of people wanted those jobs, and every year, there were guys trying to take my job.

“So I needed to do anything I could to protect my job, take care of my family. Do you have any idea how much money was at stake? Do you?”

I gave him a generic shrug. I didn’t express judgments, or ask any followup questions. I just listened, the way a psychiatrist might.

“Twenty-five million dollars!” he said, answering his own question. “Twenty-five million!” He was referring to the final contract of his career. In 1993, bulked to dimensions approaching a fire hydrant, Dykstra had gone to the plate more times (773) than anyone in the century-long history of professional baseball. He led the National League in hits, walks, at bats, and runs scored, and set career highs in home runs, RBIs, doubles, stolen bases, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He finished second to Barry Bonds as the league’s Most Valuable Player. And the Phillies rewarded him with a four-year, $24.9 million contract, giving him another baseball record: the highest-paid leadoff hitter ever. It was one of the worst deals in Phillies history: He quickly broke down physically, and never played another full season.

What Lenny Dykstra really did, by his own admission, was steal $25 million. He had duped the Phillies into that contract based on a completely manufactured performance. But he didn’t view it that way. “Real money, bro, there’s no way you can’t do everything and anything you can to maximize that.”

Of course, what he conveniently left out was the worthy candidate who played by the rules—and chose not to endanger his long-term health—and didn’t get that job because Lenny cheated. Or the worthy pitcher on another team who lost his job because a 160-pound weakling turned 200-pound muscleman tagged an ill-timed, artificial home run off him.

Our meeting went long and late. Every time I brought up money, he smiled. “You’re just trying to get out of here, dude.” The quid pro quo was abundantly clear: He didn’t want to be alone, and if I wanted to get paid, I’d keep him company.

At 12:42 a.m., he asked about wiring instructions. Even though I’d sent them before, I re-emailed them from my phone. Still, he didn’t move to make the payment. Instead, he began talking about mortality. Lenny had turned 45 three days earlier, and he bemoaned how broken down his body was, how he didn’t expect to make it past 50. As if to illustrate that, he removed his teeth, and put them on the table, flashing a gummy, toothless smile at me.

It was now 2 a.m.—Valentine’s Day would begin with Lenny Dykstra—and the doorbell rang. The ghostwriter for Lenny’s upcoming investing book, bleary-eyed and dressed in sweatpants, was reporting for duty. He’d spent the early evening sleeping, knowing that he was covering the Lenny shift until dawn. I was dismissed.

“How much do I owe you?” Lenny asked quietly, even though he knew the answer.

“$250,000.”

So he pecked out the wiring instruction to his broker with two fingers. As I left, the ghostwriter and I silently nodded to each other, coldly and knowingly, like night watchmen on a shift change, both all too aware of the ugly hours and nature of our work.

Randall Lane is editor at large at The Daily Beast. The former editor in chief of Trader Monthly, Dealmaker, and P.O.V. Magazines, and the former Washington bureau chief of Forbes, he is the author of The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane.