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Dykstra was too smart to bet on games

The Lenny Dykstra I covered in Philadelphia was a man with no speed limits. Literally.

All his accelerator pedals hit the floor. That's the way he played. That's the way he drove. That's the way he lived.

He was his own little amusement-park attraction -- Mr. Dude's Wild Ride. There was as much dirt about his lifestyle as there was on his uniform.

So I realized long ago that almost anything you might hear about this man fell within the realm of the believable.

Whether it falls within the realm of the proveable is a whole other story.

There can be no dispute that Dykstra showed up for spring training in 1993 looking as if he'd spent the winter eating a blimp. He was 15 to 25 pounds bigger, depending on whom you believed. And even he didn't deny he'd had some, well, "help."

He told all of us in the Philadelphia press corps that he'd used "some real good vitamins." And when he said it, I heard laughter, not outrage.

He has always denied using steroids. But he couldn't have been more public about his "vitamins." So it never felt like an issue worth holding a congressional hearing over.

Back then, there was plenty of stuff a guy could buy down at the vitamin store that wasn't illegal -- not in baseball, not in America. And I always figured a player who was that open about his vitamin supply didn't fit the profile of a man doing something he was trying to hide from the proper authorities.

Nowadays, we view all stories like this with a very different eye. But just because no one made a big deal of it then doesn't mean we were involved in some massive, conspiratorial cover-up to protect a popular big-name player.

We just didn't know then what we know now.

Twelve years later, I wish I'd known everything about steroids then that I know today. I should have done more to raise those issues. We all should. None of us in the media should be proud of the fact that we let this story go uncovered for so long.

It's fair for anyone out there to ask why we didn't. But what isn't fair is to expect us to ride some time machine back to 1993, or even 1998, and have the same mindset about this issue that we all have now.

We didn't know enough then. And frankly, the public didn't care enough then.

Dykstra was a 5-foot-10 leadoff hitter. He wasn't trying to break Roger Maris' record. Twelve years ago, nobody was really interested, let alone offended, by what he did or didn't do.

He was one of the most beloved players I ever covered, in a city where almost no player ever finds himself described as beloved. But Mother Teresa, he wasn't.

You didn't need to call out the CIA to know Dykstra loved to gamble. But after Fay Vincent yanked him out of spring training in 1991 to lecture him about the high-stakes poker characters he was hanging out with, we also knew baseball was watching his every move and phone call.

So he threw around a lot of bucks on the golf course. And he sure knew how to locate the Atlantic City Expressway. But if he'd been betting on baseball, it would have been big news within 12 minutes, not 12 years.

Bud Selig's investigators would be in an impossible spot trying to chase down that angle, even if they wanted to. How would they prove this? Why would they even believe it all?

Let's get this straight. Dykstra was telling a guy when to bet on the Phillies, and he was right 11 times in a row?

If he could really do that, he was in the wrong business. He should have been onstage in Vegas, not playing craps in Vegas.

So this is one of those stories that seems 100 percent believable on one level but barely credible at others. We're talking about a guy who was capable of almost any behavior, on and off the field. But we're also talking about a man savvy enough to turn himself into the Donald Trump of the car-wash business.

In other words, if you're looking for the best bet of the day, bet on Dykstra to survive this hurricane. The proof is always in the details. And at Dykstra's car wash, the details cost you $74.95. Plus tax.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.