Book Review: House of Nails: (Lenny Dykstra) A Memoir of Life on the Edge

I recently bought Lenny Dykstra’s book, House of Nails

Here is my review of the book:

  • Lenny Dykstra (Nails) isn’t much of a writer. This makes for an extremely quick and easy read. I mean, the one thing I appreciate about it is that Nails doesn’t spend twenty pages diving into his childhood. Literally, you’re a page and a half about his growing up and then it’s on to the next stage of life. Dykstra writes as he thinks, one would guess. His mind moves fast and so do the pages. You will get that sense as you read through it.
  • It also has it’s downfalls with this quick style. There are literally chapters that seem titled ‘The Bear and the Cave” and Dykstra writes “The Bear went into the Cave.” and calls it a chapter. He simply doesn’t spend enough time diving into what I really wanted out of this book. I wanted more perspective about guys like Darryl Strawberry, Gary Carter, Doc Gooden, all those ’86 Mets, John Kruk, Darren Daulton, Mitch Williams, all those ’93 Phillies. Go into details about guys in baseball. Dykstra really doesn’t give us any depth at all about these guys. He rips through seasons. It seems like one page you’re hearing about his freshman year in High School and him losing his virginity and the next page he’s homering in the 1986 World Series. The only guys he dives into great detail on are Davey Johnson (who we get the sense he does not like because Johnson platooned him), and Charlie Sheen (we wonder how much of the Charlie Sheen chapter is truth and how much is Lenny Dykstra story time).
  • There are some inaccuracies in this book, which someone should have caught. We’ve caught at least two, which means there are certainly more if someone fact-checks Dykstra. First off he is talking about the 1986 Mets when he says in Spring Training that the Darryl Strawberry-Keith Hernandez fight happened and was no big deal. This didn’t happen in 1986 when the Mets were at their Zenith. It happened in 1989. Anyone who has studied or followed the Mets through this era knows that was the beginning of the end of that core making a run. I would expect someone who played on that team to know that, not be three years off.
  • The other small inaccuracy that we noticed was when Dykstra was talking about the 1986 NLCS and Mike Scott’s dominance. He mentions in Game Four that the Mets only run was on a ‘Straw home run’. He mentions two other Strawberry home runs in the series (these actually happened) and he talks a bit in-depth about his own home run in game three. To end the chapter talking about that 1986 NLCS, Dykstra even says that there were only three home runs hit in the series; contradicting his own damn storytelling just pages before. Just brutal.
  • It becomes clear that Dykstra is not interested in being known as a good guy. He mentions his growing up at Angel Stadium in Anaheim and getting a baseball from Joe Rudi when he was 15. He says this served as his inspirations to throw away thousands of baseballs to fans in his career, so many that the Phillies asked him to tone it down for expense reasons. In the same breath, he admits he hurriedly marry’s his wife on some courthouse steps and then said quickly he was headed to play a round of golf. There is very little written about inner character struggle by Dykstra. There is no mention of any type of faith or higher power. It’s much more about money, cock and balls, etc. Nails does not have a mind that operates with a lot of reflection and consciousness. I guess this was to be expected, but rather interesting.
  • Dykstra goes into some detail about what a ‘pussy’ Gregg Jeffries was and how much his teammates hated him. He also goes into detail about Kevin McReynolds (to a degree) and his disdain for the sport of baseball and love for hunting.
  • There is some decently detailed steroid talk, including how Dykstra got started on steroids. He supposedly did some research at a local library after the 1989 season and looked up a doctor in the yellow pages that would give him Deca-Durabolin.
  • The most interesting part of the book – and part we wonder if factual – is that Dykstra declares he paid $500,000 to hire a private investigator to follow around every umpire in Major League Baseball. He did this to gain an edge in 1993 over the strike zone and get favorable calls. Dykstra doesn’t name any names, but says he found certain umpires to gamble on sports and have huge gambling problems. He found another umpire to be homosexual. He would mention these things under his breath during at-bats with the Umpires and then gain favorable calls. His fight with Rick Dempsey at Dodger Stadium was according to Nails; due to Dempsey brown-nosing an umpire who was up from AAA that night who Dykstra had no dirt on. That umpire was named Ron Barnes.

Overall, this is a good baseball read. Dykstra loves baseball and any baseball lover should enjoy the quick flip through the pages. It also has some interesting nuggets about the crazy life off the field of a ballplayer that goes into some partying, women, and drug usage.

We would guess that somewhere between 75-80% of the memoirs of Nails written in the book are true or at least seeded in truth at their roots. No one will ever know how much is true.

The one criticism that we have of the book is it lacks in depth details, which we suppose is to be expected from a guy like Dykstra. We recommend this book to any baseball fan. But if you’re expecting deeply detailed dirt or to learn something you never knew before about a whole host of guys Dykstra played with, you aren’t going to find it.