Yesterday was Mookie Wilson's birthday. Today, the man who dislodged him from in centerfield and the Mets' leadoff spot turns another year older. Lenny Dykstra is 50 and he's celebrating from inside the confines of a California state prison. Perhaps that's a best case scenario, considering how recklessly the man nicknamed Nails has abused his body, alcohol, banned substances, and the trust of people in the past half century.
Given the amount of tabloid ink that's been dedicated to discussing Dykstra's flaws in recent years and given that he's currently repaying his debt to society, let's take a different tack. Let's remember the Nails who, had prospect fetishization been what it is now, would have set tongues wagging in 1983. Imagine a Billy Hamilton-style minor leaguer who was adept at getting on base as he was at stealing them. That was Lenny. As a 20-year old for Lynchburg in the Carolina League, Nails led the circuit in the following categories: batting average, on-base percentage, hits, runs, triples, walks, and stolen bases. His prowess in the latter two categories deserves special commendation. Dykstra worked Single-A pitchers for 107 free passes against just 35 strikeouts. Once on the base paths, he thieved 105 bags at an 82% success rate. When an injury to Mookie Wilson opened up a hole in the Mets outfield 18 months later, Nails got the call and, save for a rehab assignment in 1994, left the minors behind for good.
- Catcher Alberto Castillo is 43. The highlight of the Alberto's Mets career was lacing a pinch hit RBI single in the 14th inning to give the Mets a 1-0 walk-off win against the Phillies on Opening Day 1998. New York and Castillo parted ways after the '98 season, but he returned to the organization in 2011 to manage one of the Mets Dominican Summer League teams.
- Also turning 43 is the pitcher who started the Opening Day contest Castillo won in extras, Bobby J. Jones. The Mets took Jones 36th overall in the 1991 amateur draft, using a compensation pick they received from the Dodgers for signing Darryl Strawberry. A tall right hander who attended the same Fresno, California high school as Tom Seaver, Jones made his New York debut two years later by tossing six innings of one-run ball against the Phillies on August 14, 1993. He'd win a spot on the staff the following season and solidify his status as a rotation mainstay by winning a dozen games and posting a career-best 133 ERA+. For the full recap of Jones's career, from his first start to his NLDS one-hitter, you can read Jeff's piece on him from the Top 50 Mets of All-Time series.
- Sherman "Roadblock" Jones, the man who started (and lost, naturally) the second game in Mets team history, would have been 78. He got two more starts with the 1962 club and lost them, too. After his retirement from baseball, Jones set up actual roadblocks as a member of the Kansas City Police and later worked to remove them (metaphorically) as Wyandotte County's representative in the Kansas State Legislature.
Frank Cashen made his first blockbuster trade as GM of the Mets on this date in 1982, sending P Greg Harris, P Jim Kern, and C Alex Trevino to Cincinnati for former MVP George Foster. Cashen's MO for rebuilding the Mets was adding power and picking up Foster, the only man to hit more than 50 homers in a single season between the years of 1965 and 1991, fit with the plan. Unfortunately, Foster provided little value outside of the occasional long ball, which perhaps should have been expected since the Mets were acquiring him in his age-33 season.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
On February 10, 1996, Deep Blue, the chess playing IBM computer defeated reigning world champion Garry Kasparov in the second of six matches between man and machine. The news made it into David Letterman's monologue, along with the quip that, earlier in the day, the New York Mets had been defeated by a microwave.