Published April 7, 2019
The late, great Howard Cosell was no fan of the so-called “jock” in the broadcast booth. Cosell felt that the ex-players’ greatest contribution to broadcasting was in taking away jobs from “real” announcers.
Never mind that Cosell himself was an attorney by trade, and thereby not a “real” television sports journalist, if you’re going to pick nits.
Cosell was based out of New York, the media mecca of the world. Rarely is the Big Apple out of the headlines, in any given subject.
Right now, NYC is again central to a media firestorm, and it’s an ex-jock-turned-broadcaster who’s in the eye of it.
Ronnie Darling is a well-educated, well-spoken, respected baseball analyst who is part of perhaps the best regional broadcasting team in all of sports. The New York Mets’ trio of Darling, Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen reminds viewers, every day, what a real, honest local sports broadcast should be about–meaning, it comes with odors, if that’s what the team they’re covering is exuding.
Yet I’ve lost some respect for Darling the past week.
For whatever reason, Darling, a key member of the starting rotation for the world champion 1986 Mets, has penned a memoir of his years in baseball that chooses to bury, not to praise, his teammates.
Darling’s new book, 108 Stitches, is baseball’s version of a Hollywood tell-all, if that tell-all was told by a bitter actor hellbent on vengeance. “Guess what, those who screwed me? I’m taking you down with me!”
But Darling has nothing to be bitter about. He’s made a lot of money from baseball, both as a player and as an ex-jock in the booth. He won a World Series. He moved almost seamlessly from the dugout to behind a microphone. He has one of the best and most coveted broadcast gigs in the game. Ask anyone in the business.
Some 30 years after his prime as a pitcher, Darling has chosen now to look back at his career on the mound. And in doing so, he’s taking no prisoners. Darling has even made Lenny Dykstra a somewhat sympathetic figure. I didn’t think that was possible. I mean, even Darryl Strawberry has rushed to Dykstra’s defense.
Dykstra is threatening Darling with court and with his fists. At least that’s not surprising.
Why? Because Darling, according to his recollection of events that no one has corroborated, maintains that Dykstra, who is about as popular among his brethren as Jussie Smollett is with civil rights leaders, spewed racist vile at Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd prior to Game 3 of the 1986 World Series, in Boston. To wit in this excerpt:
Oil Can was on the receiving end of the ugliest piece of vitriol I’ve ever heard — in a bar, on a baseball diamond … anywhere. It was right up there with one of the worst, most shameful moments I ever experienced in the game, and one of the great shames of the exchange was that I sat there with my teammates and didn’t do a damn thing about it. In fact, it resulted in a momentum shift that probably turned the Series around for us, and like most of the other guys on the bench, I stood and cheered at the positive outcome.
This paints a stunning picture, to say the least. Darling asserts that as leadoff hitter Dykstra was in the on-deck circle waiting for Boyd to finish his warmup tosses, the man they called “Nails” went after the Red Sox pitcher with a verbal, racist assault.
Yet no one has come out to concur with Darling. Not Boyd, not Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman and certainly not Dykstra, who is already planning a lawsuit against Darling and the book’s publisher.
Not so fast
Not only that, but Strawberry, who has overcome personal issues of his youth to turn into a straight shooter later in life, went on the Michael Kay show last week.
“You don’t do that. … You don’t make up things about a person that other players didn’t hear or other players didn’t know about,” Strawberry said. “Of course, I would’ve never … I would’ve jumped on [Dykstra] about it if he ever said something like that … I never heard Lenny say anything racist. Never, ever. He’s not. I know this guy. I’ve seen this guy. I came through the minor leagues with him, I’ve had him in my home. This is not true, and it’s not fair.”
But don’t expect a retraction from Darling. The Dykstra-Boyd thing happened, dammit–according to Darling, who doubled down on the assertion after Dykstra and Strawberry weighed in.
As for Boyd, the alleged target of Dysktra’s rant, he says that his uneven performance in Game 3, which included surrendering a home run to Dykstra shortly after the game began, had to do with no one but Oil Can Boyd.
On WFAN radio, Boyd said, “Honestly, I don’t know anything about it…I’m warming up for a ballgame, and I’m preparing to go out and try to get the New York Mets out one at a time, and that’s all that’s on my mind, and to see any kind of gestures toward me coming from the opposing dugout, I didn’t see anything like that, nor was I looking for anything like that.”
Yet despite his non-confirmation of the incident, Boyd says he believes Darling. Go figure.
Darling, in the book, also goes after the dead Gary Carter and even players as insignificant to the Mets’ success as infielder Kevin Elster, with various unsavory anecdotes.
For all the questions that others may have for Darling, I have just one.
Why drag out skeletons? Why taint the ’86 Mets, which was one of the best baseball teams I’ve ever seen, and is beloved by fans in Queens? Why violate the game’s code–hell, life’s code–that takes Las Vegas’s cue?
Then again, why would Darling make the Dykstra story up?
It’s a he said, he said thing. And if you’re going to try to frame someone as being slimy, you couldn’t do any better than to choose Dysktra, who is about as flawed a character as anyone who’s ever slipped on a big league jersey.
But in this case, Lenny has his supporters. And, like I said earlier, if this is bullpucky, he also has his sympathizers. As he should.
I don’t know where Darling’s head is at here. This isn’t a Jim Bouton moment. Bouton, in his classic Ball Four,made no bones with his teammates and managers that he was working on a book during the 1969 season. Sure, Bouton told some tales out of school. But they were mostly harmless stories that didn’t assassinate anyone’s character.
Darling has chosen to go to the jugular, dredging up more race nonsense at a time when that’s about the last thing we need in society.
If you’re going to go there, make sure you’re right. Get your ducks in order. Have at least one person who will stand by your story.
And you know what? Even if it did happen, even if you do have eyewitnesses, even if you feel that it rattled Boyd as a result of its occurrence, keep it to yourself. Some sleeping dogs should indeed be left to lie.
Darling tried to use the incident as a self-indictment, because he failed to call Dykstra out about his behavior.
But Darling’s mea culpa has hardly had the desired effect. Instead, it’s driven a wedge between members of the greatest team in Mets history, and left fans disillusioned.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the most important question isn’t whether the Dykstra/Boyd thing happened. It’s, should Darling have written about it in his book, 33 years later?
Darling didn’t have to go there. And he shouldn’t have. But even intelligent people make poor choices.
Enjoy your defense attorney fees, Ronnie.