Lenny Dykstra, the fidgety, fiery leadoff hitter known as "Nails," retired Thursday after failing to come back from a debilitating back condition.
Dykstra, 35, asked the Philadelphia Phillies to place him on the voluntary retired list rather than become a free agent on the last day for players to file.
"It was a long shot that he'd be able to come back," Phillies spokesman Larry Shenk said. "He tried. He gave it his best shot, and at least he can go away saying he gave it a shot and it didn't work."
Dykstra was only 2-for-21 last spring after missing 1 ½ seasons with spinal stenosis, a congenital condition that narrows the opening where nerves go through the spinal canal. He put his comeback on hold when doctors warned him about the health risks, and announced in June he would never play again.
He did not want to discuss his official retirement, Shenk said.
"It came to the point where his contract was up, and he had to either file for free agency or retire," Shenk said.
By waiting until after the season, Dykstra kept his $5.5 million salary. The Phillies will recoup all but $900,000 of through an insurance policy.
"I think all the years of grinding it out and just playing the game the way it's supposed to be played has taken its toll," Dykstra said in June.
"I probably could have faked them out this year and suffered and been a part-time player, a pinch hitter," he said. "That's not how I want people to remember Lenny Dykstra."
Anyone who ever wached him play in the mid-1980s and early '90s will never forget him. A scrappy, left-handed hitting speedster with a knack for rattling pitchers, Dykstra was a key component of the Mets' 1986 World Series championship team.
He was traded to the Phillies with pitchers Roger McDowell and Tom Edens for Juan Samuel in 1989 -- a deal still lamented in New York. Dykstra led them to the Series in 1993, which they lost to Toronto on Joe Carter's unforgettable Game 6 homer off Mitch Williams.
Dykstra, instantly recognizable with his curly red hair and ever-present bulge of tobacco, was prominent later in his career in television commercials urging youngsters not to chew.
"Copy my game, not my tobacco habit," Dykstra would say.
He batted .285 in 12-plus seasons and led the National League in at-bats, runs, hits, and walks in 1993. Dykstra stole 105 bases in the minors in 1983 and stole 30 in the majors five times.
Dykstra was a .323 hitter in three NL championship series and batted .320 in the World Series.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved