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In Your Face : If Not Your Hair : That's the Phillies' Lenny Dykstra, Who Leads Off, Mouths Off, but Who Never Backs Off

March 20, 1994|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Dude, as he calls others and is called himself, reflects on his record-setting, reputation-enhancing performance of 1993 and says:

"I basically went from star to superstar. I basically proved I'm more than the best leadoff hitter in the game. It's nice to have that recognition, but I'm more than a leadoff hitter.

"I proved I'm the impact player I've always considered myself to be, a situation hitter capable of getting the home run, double, walk, whatever the situation requires.

"I've worked hard and made myself into one of the top five players in the game. Do they pay leadoff hitters what they're paying me?"

Lenny Dykstra prodded and carried the surprising Philadelphia Phillies to a National League championship and Game 6 of the World Series with a virtually unparalleled season that was rewarded with a four-year, $24.9-million extension that can stretch to five years and $30.4 million if the option is exercised.

The extension highlighted a winter in which the catalytic Dude proved again he is a man for all seasons.

Consider:

--He kept the peace and boosted the European economy while representing the major leagues on a five-day trip to Paris, Dusseldorf and Amsterdam during which he popped for a $13,000 dinner party at a noted Paris restaurant and bought his wife, Terri, a three-carat diamond for $41,000.

--He began what he hopes will be the entrepreneurial phase of his career by opening the Lenny Dykstra Car Wash in Corona Hills. He calls it "the Taj Mahal of car washes" and arrived for the opening in a rented limo. Attendants wear Phillies' uniform tops, and the waiting room features $300,000 worth of memorabilia, which may interest the IRS, considering that Dykstra was among those interviewed in the card-show inquiry that has focused on Darryl Strawberry.

--He also illustrated that some things never change by engaging a Pennsylvania state senator in a verbal and--almost physical--confrontation when the senator objected to Dykstra's language as they dined in a Philadelphia restaurant.

--He either fired--or was deserted by--longtime agent Alan Meersand, who announced in mid-January he was fed up with Dykstra's behavior and no longer wanted to be associated with him.

"All I'll say is that it was an interesting 13 years, and I chose to pass the torch," Meersand now says, asked by the players' union, it is believed, to desist from slinging mud.

Dykstra, who said he fired Meersand long before the extension was negotiated, declined to renew the verbal war.

"I don't want to go down that road," he said. "I mean, the things Meersand said were a comedy. That's why he has no players left."

Meersand represents Travis Fryman, Damon Berryhill, Darrin Jackson, Jesse Orosco and Steve Trachsel, a Chicago Cub rookie pitcher, among others.

Meersand's attorney, Mark Kalmanshon, said he sent a termination letter to Dykstra on Jan. 19, at which point Meersand had not been notified--orally or in writing--that he was being terminated by Dykstra.

Kalmanshon also said Meersand was a member of the team that negotiated the extension and is still owed agent's fees from the last year of the pre-existing contract, from the extension and from various endorsements. It is a contention, he said, Dykstra seems to be disputing.

"We're at a preliminary stage on that," he said, refusing to speculate on possible legal action.

For Dykstra, of course, life goes on, the controversies almost as persistent as the tobacco stains on his jersey.

"I wouldn't be the player I am if I dwelt on the negative," he said.

The year's probation for illegal gambling in Mississippi, the near fatal injuries in the alcohol-related auto accident of 1991, the broken arm he suffered on opening day of 1992, the Philadelphia magazine account of his alleged rude and obscenity-laced treatment of employees and fellow gamblers during a night he lost $50,000 in Atlantic City have all had impact on his growth and maturity, he said.

And last year it could be measured in terms of motivation.

"I was fed up with people trying to judge me as a person, how I lead my life," he said. "I wanted to shove it in their face by taking my performance to the next level."

He did it in remarkable style, but even that was accompanied by dark rumors that refuse to die. Did desire account for the dramatic change in his physical stature? Did weight work in preparation for the 1993 season turn Little Lenny into a semi-hulk, or was it anabolic steroids?

"There always has to be a reason," Dykstra said. "It's as if hard work isn't good enough. Nobody on this team runs more, lifts more, works more than I do, but no, there has to be the false rumors.

"Well, I've had so much written and said about me that I don't pay attention anymore. All I can tell you is that I knew I had to get stronger--physically and mentally--and that it didn't happen overnight.

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