As the Mets wait anxiously for a determination on David Wright’s spinal stenosis condition from renowned back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins in California, the odds of their 32-year -old captain finishing out all 5 1/2 years left on his contract are slim. The odds of him ever being remotely close to the 25-30 homer/100-RBI player he was are even slimmer.
At least that’s the grim assessment of Lenny Dykstra, the ex-Met who, at 33, had his own career aborted by spinal stenosis. (For the record, Don Mattingly was 34 when a back injury ended his career prematurely in 1995.)
“It’s a bitch, man,” said Dykstra, speaking by phone from Los Angeles Friday. “The day I first knew something was really wrong remains as vivid with me as the day I went to jail and they closed the doors behind me. I went down to get a ground ball in San Francisco in 1994 and — wham — it hit me like a bolt of lightning. It was like a sniper shot.”
They say spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spine — is a congenital condition and Dykstra has no idea how he came to be struck down by it, even if the previous year, 1993, was when he showed up in Phillies spring training with some 15-25 pounds of added bulk (which he always attributed to “vitamins”) and had one of his best seasons, leading the NL in runs and hits. All Dykstra knows is what Watkins told him when he went to him for an evaluation in ’94.
“I remember being shocked when Dr. Watkins said: ‘I hate to say this, Lenny, but it’s not gonna get better. We can relieve the pain somewhat, but this is something that’s gonna require surgery at some point and that could end your career.’
“That’s why I’d say the odds for David are tough. I tried to play through the pain. I just couldn’t do it.”
Dykstra finally succumbed to surgery in 1996 and held out hope that he could make a comeback. But as he explained: “What they did was remove the crown and bored out the spinal canal, but when they do that, you lose your range of motion. I felt like I was on skates. I couldn’t play anymore. It’s one thing for people with everyday jobs but playing baseball every day is on a completely different level. What the public doesn’t understand is the schedule is grueling.”
Dykstra, who did 6 1/2 months in federal prison for bankruptcy fraud in 2013 and spends most of his time now following the minor-league careers of his sons, Cutter and Luke, says he lives with pain every day.
“I wish David the best,” he said. “I know he’s the leader in their clubhouse and he’s gonna want to come back and be the player they need him to be. But it’s going to be very tough for him. I’m still in pain every day and I don’t have to take grounders at third and swing the bat five times a game, every day for six months.”
MONEY FOR NOTHING
While the Mets will be happy just to have Wright back in the clubhouse and in the lineup, if he’s reduced to a .260 singles hitter, there will have to be a meeting of the minds over the $ 67 million they owe him from 2016-2020. At least if Wright is forced to retire, as Dykstra and Mattingly were, the insurance will presumably cover a large percentage of it. Such is the risk in giving contracts of seven or more years to players 29 or older. There are five such contracts right now looming or already established as foolhardy financial disasters:
Robinson Cano: In the second year of his 10-year, $ 240 million deal, he’s been a primary reason for the Mariners’ slow start, hitting .251 with 1 HR and a .295 OBP entering the weekend. Sources say he’s miserable in Seattle. Had he not allowed Jay-Z to make a name for himself as an agent, Cano could’ve played his whole career in a ballpark made for his swing and been the Yankees’ first Dominican captain.
Albert Pujols: In the fourth year of his 10-year, $ 240 million deal with the Angels, he was hitting .238 with a .294 OBP as of Friday.
Jayson Werth: The Nationals, with a seven-year, $ 126M deal in 2011, paid him like a power-hitting cleanup hitter, which he wasn’t. He was hitting .208 with 2 HR and 12 RBI when he was hit by a pitch last week, the third time he has gone down for a lengthy DL stint with a broken wrist.
Elvis Andrus: In the third year of a 10-year, $ 131 million deal with the Rangers, he was hitting .241 with a .298 OBP, 11 errors at shortstop and four caught stealings in 10 attempts. All-Star not.
Carl Crawford: He has been nothing but hurt since the Red Sox signed him to that idiotic seven-year, $ 142 million deal in 2011, and this season is no different. Was hitting .245 with 1 HR and 3 RBI when he went down with an oblique injury on April 28.
Going back, Alfonso Soriano was hurt a lot and had only three productive seasons during the eight-year, $ 136 million contract he signed with the Cubs in 2007, and Ken Griffey Jr. had only three All-Star-caliber seasons and played less than 120 games in six of the nine years of the $ 112.5 million deal he signed with the Reds in 2000.
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IT’S A MADD MADD WORLD …
– It has surely been a rude early going for Marlins manager Dan Jennings whose team, according to a Miami Herald report last Thursday, was rife with dissension and anger over a number of issues when they arrived in New York for this weekend’s series with the Mets. That’s why you can only imagine Jennings’ inner satisfaction Friday night when unheralded Justin Boer, whom he selected from the Cubs in the Triple-A phase 2013 Rule Five draft for $ 12,500, took Matt Harvey deep for a three-run homer to lift the Marlins to a 4-3 victory. Coming in, the Marlins had lost 14 of their previous 17 games. According to the Herald report, there was resentment among the Marlin players over the firing of Mike Redmond and the replacing of him with Jennings, who had never managed or coached in the majors or minors. That anger and unrest became further exacerbated by the abrupt demotion of third base coach Brett Butler, criticism of the players for blowing off a meet-and-greet charity event with fans last week, and the “no show” of that spacious, private jet team owner Jeffrey Loria promised. Jennings, a good baseball man thrust into an untenable situation, doesn’t deserve this and, I’m told, only agreed to come down on the field after former Marlin players, Jeff Conine and Mike Lowell, were approached about declined to manage because of their friendship with Redmond.
– It’s been tough year all around for Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg, who reached his boiling point last weekend when the Nationals played a variety of soft pop songs, many of them sad, depressing numbers like Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself,” when the Phillies were taking batting practice. “It was bush league,” Sandberg fumed. “What was the point? But we’ll take care of that. We’ll give them the silent treatment when they come to our place.”
SAY IT AIN’T SO
“They don’t understand the game. They don’t understand the process. There’s a plan in place and we’re sticking by that plan. We can’t do what’s best for the fan. We have to do what’s best for the organization.”
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, in a radio interview, reacting to the Phillies fans’ criticism over his failure to make a trade. He later apologized, saying he never intentionally meant to disparage the fans.
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