The trade rumors must seem like electric jolts to Lenny Dykstra. Unpredictable in timing, unnerving in voltage and certainly never satisfying.
Lenny Dykstra, already a pretty hyper kid, cannot get used to those rumors. They get to him every time, invariably leading him to believe the New York Mets might set him free. Every time he rides to the top of that roller coaster, he plummets, because the jolt sizzles for a while, then fades away.
Yet, because Dykstra is Dykstra, the letdowns do not dampen the excitement whenever his name creeps into the headlines. Again and again, Dykstra, who wants a trade, believes freedom is at hand.
Right now, the hopes are low because the best the Mets’ top trader, Joe McIlvaine, will say is that talks on all fronts are “dormant.”
Dykstra is one-half of one of the game’s most successful platoons -- “Mook-Stra.” That center-field combination not only features, but stars, Mookie Wilson and Dykstra. And the Mets just love the two-headed, four-legged, fleet-footed creation. “Mook-Stra” sparks the team, no matter which center fielder Davey Johnson pencils in.
Dykstra gives power from the left side, stirs hearts when running the bases, ignites the team at the most appropriate times. Wilson? He does the same, only from both sides of the plate. Liquid mercury on the bases, the veteran Wilson is amazingly adept at catching fire just when it seems Dykstra might be wearing down. Or wearing out Johnson’s patience because of the little guy’s not-too-welcome penchant for trying to hit home runs. When Wilson wears down or becomes a bit of a defensive liability or the Mets can afford to stack left-handers in the lineup, Dykstra takes the stage.
It is definitely a case of a team putting its priorities first. The Mets look at the two halves and see a whole player who, in the last three years, has helped win two division titles, one pennant and one world championship. The team figures, why mess with a good thing? So even though both halves of “Mook-Stra” have had trade requests on the table since 1987, the pleas for freedom have gotten the duo nowhere.
“Although both players don’t like to admit it and won’t admit it, they are a good tandem and have complemented each other well,” McIlvaine said. “Although we have considered a lot of different possibilities involving both players in trades with other ballclubs, we’ve never really come up with a solution that would make us a better team.”
“That’s great -- for them,” Dykstra said. “Not for us, though.”
Wilson, who turned 33 last month, is almost resigned, and is even contemplating life after the majors. When you get to that age, it is understandable if the pastures of a newly purchased farm in South Carolina might compete with the green grass of Shea.
But Dykstra is only 26. Unlike Wilson, he cannot point to seasons where he was able to claim center field as his own. Knowing it will not happen this season, unless something drastic and unexpected occurs, hurts.
This winter has been particularly tortuous because, at times, it seemed the Mets’ resolve was cracking. Dykstra’s name actually was mentioned seriously as one of the components in the now-ended talk with Atlanta involving Dale Murphy. When the talks were hot, Atlanta Braves general manger Bobby Cox read the words from Dykstra. “Someone asked him how it would feel to go from a winning team to one that lost 100 games,” Cox said. “He said, ‘If I was there, they wouldn’t lose 100.’ You’ve got to like that.”
But the talks floundered. The Braves also wanted pitching prospect David West. The New York Mets said no. So Dykstra stayed.
“It’s frustrating,” Dykstra said. “It’s also a great compliment that teams want me and say nice things about me. I wouldn’t mind, though, if some of those things come true. Because this is definitely not easy to accept.”
Last week, another possibility surfaced. In Fort Lauderdale, before a rare New York-New York match-up, Yankees Manager Dallas Green waxed poetic about Dykstra, about how a little Metslike spark might look pretty good in pinstripes. He is a “juice guy,” said Green, “has pizazz.” Green practically salivated at the notion of Dykstra playing center field at Yankee Stadium between Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield, fitting into the lineup with run-and-gun guys like Steve Sax.
The media, with throngs from both sides of town, picked up the beat from Green. Then speculation rose another notch when McIlvaine and Yankees General Manager Bob Quinn huddled for an hour behind closed doors. Another rumor, as big as the Big Apple, was born. Again Dykstra dreamed.
“Playing in Yankee Stadium, that would be really nice,” he said, a broad smile crossing his baby face. “They’re ready to win, too. But the main thing, though, would be to just be playing every day.”
But the jolt was inevitably followed by the letdown. Certainly, the Yankees have a need. And Dykstra has a want. But the Yankees and Mets don’t have a match, unless the Yankees could give the Mets a strong candidate to play center full-time. If the Yankees could do that, why would they need Dykstra?
So Dykstra returns to reality, to “Mook-Stra.” All he can do is harness his abundant nervous energy, pointing it in the direction of National League pitchers and catchers whenever he can.
“I ask for a trade all the time, whenever I get a chance,” he said. “I ask reporters if anything’s happening. Ain’t nothing happening. That’s the way it is.”