Lenny Dykstra sues Ron Darling for libel

Getty Images

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.

RHP Fairbanks, Rays agree to 3-year, $12 million contract

tampa bay rays
Dave Nelson/USA TODAY Sports

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Reliever Pete Fairbanks and the Tampa Bay Rays avoided arbitration when they agreed Friday to a three-year, $12 million contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons.

The deal includes salaries of $3,666,666 this year and $3,666,667 in each of the next two seasons. The Rays have a $7 million option for 2026 with a $1 million buyout.

His 2024 and 2025 salaries could increase by $300,000 each based on games finished in the previous season: $150,000 each for 35 and 40.

Tampa Bay’s option price could increase by up to $6 million, including $4 million for appearances: $1 million each for 60 and 70 in 2025; $500,000 for 125 from 2023-25 and $1 million each for 135, 150 and 165 from 2023-25. The option price could increase by $2 million for games finished in 2025: $500,000 each for 25, 30, 35 and 40.

Fairbanks also has a $500,000 award bonus for winning the Hoffman/Rivera reliever of the year award and $200,000 for finishing second or third.

The 29-year-old right-hander is 11-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 15 saves in 111 appearances, with all but two of the outings coming out of the bullpen since being acquired by the Rays from the Texas Rangers in July 2019.

Fairbanks was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Fairbanks made his 2022 debut on July 17 and tied for the team lead with eight saves despite being sidelined more than three months. In addition, he is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 12 career postseason appearances, all with Tampa Bay.

He had asked for a raise from $714,400 to $1.9 million when proposed arbitration salaries were exchanged Jan. 13, and the Rays had offered for $1.5 million.

Fairbanks’ agreement was announced two days after left-hander Jeffrey Springs agreed to a $31 million, four-year contract with Tampa Bay that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, third baseman Yandy Diaz and outfielder Harold Ramirez.