Lenny Dykstra paced his Westwood apartment, fidgeting with a butterfly knife and mumbling profanities to an attorney. A succession of visitors, including a hulking bodyguard and a personal assistant named Destiny, streamed through the 12th-story penthouse.
One wall held a framed poster from Dykstra's days with the Philadelphia Phillies, his cheeks characteristically bulging with tobacco chaw. Against another wall leaned a Sotheby's real estate sign, sullied with specks of fresh dirt.
Dykstra, nicknamed " Nails" by baseball fans for his tough style of play, said he uprooted the for-sale sign from the front lawn of his Thousand Oaks mansion. It had been staked there at the direction of court officials overseeing his bankruptcy case. Then, Dykstra said, he changed the locks to the neo-Georgian home and threw a victory party there to celebrate what he saw as his reclamation of the $17.4-million showplace, bought from hockey star Wayne Gretzky in 2007, at the top of the housing bubble.
"If you [mess] with Nails," Dykstra said, nodding at the sign, knife still in hand, "you get the hammer."
Dykstra, a self-styled financial guru who sells his investing expertise through a website and occasional TV commercials, charmed Wall Street and the sports world with his stock-picking columns and fast-spending life after baseball.
But by 2009, most of the money was gone, and the three-time major league all-star filed for bankruptcy protection, saying he wanted to stave off foreclosure and reorganize his finances. Instead, Dykstra's creditors quickly pushed him into a court-ordered liquidation.
At age 47, the Nails who posed bare-chested for an '80s-era New York Mets glamour poster has turned beefy and grizzled. He has a thatch of graying hair and is missing several teeth. His marriage has crumbled. His baseball pals have made themselves scarce. The bejeweled 1986 World Series ring was pawned, then sold.
Still, like those days on the diamond, Dykstra has proved he's not going down without a fight. He has challenged the bankruptcy proceedings at nearly every juncture and has managed to keep creditors away for months. At times representing himself, Dykstra argues that he could right his finances if he were allowed to pursue lawsuits against various parties.
Court officials, creditors and former associates say the ex-ballplayer is in over his head and should submit to the unwinding of his once-gilded existence.
"It's a slow-motion car wreck," said author Randall Lane, who devoted a chapter to Dykstra in his recently published book about Wall Street excess, "The Zeroes: My Misadventures in the Decade Wall Street Went Insane." "He is a perfect metaphor for what happened to many people, but he did it on a scale that was monumental."
Dykstra's bankruptcy filing lists assets of $24.6 million and debts of $37.1 million. Unsecured creditors, which number close to 100, offer a snapshot of his former life as a high roller: credit card companies, the Carlyle hotel in New York, Mercedes-Benz Financial, the venerable Rubenstein public relations firm and several former employees, including the pilots of his private jet.
The Gretzky mansion is by far the most valuable and hotly contested piece. Claimants include Wall Street titan JP Morgan Chase & Co. and private equity firm Index Investors.
Dykstra currently lives in a two-bedroom bachelor pad in the Westwood high-rise, where, according to court documents, he has missed several months of rent. He is also fighting eviction attempts by Wells Fargo, which foreclosed on the property's owners.
The apartment is filled with remnants of his flush days, including flat-screen televisions, sports memorabilia and ornate office furniture. Photographs of his three sons — his middle son, Cutter, is a minor league baseball player — are scattered throughout the place. His desk displays a framed photo of Dykstra with President George H.W. Bush smiling on a sunny golf course.
When not in court, the retired center fielder spends most of his time in his living room staring at two flat-screen computer monitors, firing off e-mails to people involved in his case, plotting a financial comeback and chugging Red Bull energy drinks.
Dykstra said he moved into the apartment last winter after living for months in various odd spots including an airplane hangar and his car after the mansion was placed under control of the court. His attempt to retake the Thousand Oaks property this summer was short-lived, and the court has barred him from returning there.
"I was a wanderer, dude. I was like Gandhi," Dykstra said. "He lived out of a bag."
Dykstra, who grew up in Garden Grove, helped the Mets to a 98-win season in his first year in the majors, 1985, and he became a star the next year, helping them win the World Series.