Lenny Dykstra sues Ron Darling for libel

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Last week we talked about the allegations against Lenny Dykstra in Ron Darling’s new book. Specifically, the allegation that Dykstra shouted racist stuff at Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd before Boyd took the mound in a 1986 World Series game. Dykstra lashed out at Darling over it, denying it ever happened. Darling has gone the no-comment route.

Now the dispute has been ratcheted up a notch: Dykstra has sued Darling for defamation. The suit, filed in New York, names Darling and his publisher, St. Martin’s Press LLC and Macmillan Publishing Group LLC. It opens up with this before getting into the formal legal counts:

“Plaintiff has no choice but to bring this action to defend his name and reputation. Upon information and belief, merely to sell books and indulge in public self-promotion, Darling has sought to capitalize on Plaintiff’s complicated past, and intentionally, falsely and maliciously portrayed Plaintiff as a racist, an irremovable stain and permanent cloud which will forever diminish Mr. Dykstra, stalk him, and preclude him from unknowable professional and personal relationships and benefits,” the lawsuit states.

Now would be a good time to remind everyone of a couple of things about defamation suits. And about Lenny Dykstra’s standing as a plaintiff in a defamation suit in particular.

Defamation cases are hard to win. This is especially true when the plaintiff is a public figure as Dykstra is. When the plaintiff is a public figure, he has to prove that the defendant’s statements were made with “actual malice”. That means that Dykstra would have to prove that Darling either knew his comments to be false or said them with reckless disregard as to their truth.

Even if the claim (i.e. Dykstra said racist stuff) was false, proving that Darling had the requisite malice when mistake, stupidity or mere attention-seeking is so much simpler an explanation for a guy in Darling’s place is an insanely tall order, the sort of which usually requires some sort of documented knowledge on the part of the person in Darling’s position. Like, evidence that he was told or knew beforehand that Dykstra didn’t say racist stuff, said he didn’t care or told friends he was gonna really stick to Dykstra or whatever and forged on ahead anyway. You can’t win these on a he-said, he-said basis and so far that’s what this all sounds like. Darling can simply say he heard it clearly and believed in his heart of hearts that it was Dykstra saying it, Dykstra can say he never did and Darling would likely win.

A second problem, and probably bigger problem in this case for Dykstra, is that he is . . . a problematic plaintiff. Particularly for a defamation case.

A defamation suit’s damages are, at heart, reputation damages, and Dykstra, as we know, has something less than a glowing reputation. Of particular note is the fact that there have been many past claims, including in books, of Dykstra being a racist. Dykstra didn’t sue over that. It’s also pretty notable that a key part of his bad reputation has to do with dishonesty — he did time for fraud — which presents sort of a problem when it comes to making legal claims that someone is lying about you. It’s also the case that Dykstra himself has made super questionable claims about stuff he did during his playing career which, to say the least, muddy the waters about both his capacity to tell the truth and about how good and pure a guy he was when he played.

While I’m sure Darling does not want the hassle of having to hire a lawyer and defend himself, I can tell you based on personal experience that whichever lawyer he does hire is going to be as giddy as a kid on Christmas morning when it comes time to take Dykstra’s deposition. Everything is on the table. Past allegations of racism, as documented in that earlier book, all of his crimes and bad acts in the past, all of which go to his reputation, which is at issue in this case. All of his lies in the past, some of which he was literally convicted for. If I was on this case I’d block out a week for this bad boy. I’d also pre-write a motion to the court seeking the case’s dismissal on the basis that a guy with Dykstra’s reputation cannot establish that he was damaged in this case because there was no reputation left to damage. I’d get to ask the question every single lawyer on the face of the Earth dreams about asking an opponent: “Wait, I’m confused . . . are you lying now or were you lying then, because it has to be one or the other.” Oh my GOD that is a fun question to ask and it is so rare that one gets the opportunity to do so!

There is another thing with defamation cases that, in reality, isn’t that big a problem for Dykstra here. Specifically, the idea that suing for defamation gives the lie — assuming this is a lie — a bigger audience than it might’ve had if he hadn’t sued. It’s sort of a legal cousin to The Streisand Effect. Given that Dykstra has, himself, made more people aware of this than anyone otherwise would’ve been due to his tweeting about it and everything that’s probably not a concern of his, but I just like to throw that one out there for people in case they ever get it in their mind to sue someone for defamation.

Maybe Darling lied about Dykstra, maybe he didn’t. Maybe Dykstra cares about the challenges this lawsuit presents, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe Dykstra wins this case, maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he’s just hoping to file this and get a quick settlement out of it to make him go away. I have no idea.

But I do know that, as a legal proposition, this is going to be a super hard case for Dykstra to win, and he probably would’ve saved himself a lot of time and hassle by simply saying “Darling is a big fat liar and he can go to Hell” and then get back to doing whatever Lenny Dykstra does with his days, the less about which we know the better.