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  • Dean Smith

The Disturbing Specter of the Private Investigator

The private investigation industry has an image problem, and there’s a single word at the heart of the issue: fear. Nobody likes the idea of someone following them, documenting their activities, or digging into their affairs, but it goes further than that. Industry professionals rarely break laws, but that isn’t the public perception of investigators, is it? The public at large see private investigators as people who work outside the law, the dark and the shady, the Jessica Jones and the Philip Marlowe. In other words, few people realize successful investigators have a strong sense of ethics. Those who don’t rarely survive.

To show how pervasive this image, we’re going to use a sports story. Don’t worry, there won’t be any mind-numbing stats. Just the story of a scumbag who used the specter of private investigators to generate a wild, unsubstantiated controversy.

Professional sports have a long history of discovering athletes whose talent is often overshadowed by their behavior off the field. Many become “larger than life,” with personalities so effusive they seemingly pull everyone along with them. Some live up to the standards of their image. Lou Gehrig and Willie Mays, for example, were amazing athletes whose public personas reflected their private lives. They were fundamentally decent people who earned their place as role models.

Sadly, the list of those who fall short of the public’s expectations is a long one, and baseball, the oldest professional American sport, is no stranger to athletes who are less than savory. Daryl Strawberry, Denny McLain, and Chad Curtis, to name a few, all fell from grace as quickly as they rose. Despite all the scandals, however, there’s a few who stand out, the ones who obviously traded their moral compass for incredible talents, and Lenny Dykstra is often pointed to as one of baseball’s greatest embarrassments – not surprising since his list of crimes and criminal charges is rather lengthy.

Dykstra’s fall from grace followed his baseballs years – he’s been charged with numerous offenses, including drug possession, grand theft auto, sexual harassment, identity theft, indecent exposure, writing a bad check to an escort (seriously? Who does that?), and served time in prison for filing false financial statements – but his unsubstantiated statements that he used private investigators to blackmail umpires during his career isn’t going to be forgotten, or forgiven, any time soon.

In 2015, Dykstra appeared on Colin Cowherd’s show on Fox Sports where he stated that he spent “half a million bucks” on private investigators to dig up dirt on umpires. According to Dykstra, “I said ‘I need these umpires,’ so what do I do? I just pulled a half-million bucks out and hired a private investigation team. Their blood is just as red as ours. Some of them like women, some of them like men, some of them gamble. Some of them do whatever … It wasn’t a coincidence do you think that I led the league in walks the next two years, was it? Fear does a lot to a man.” He went on to describe how he’d ask umpires, who he claimed to have a habit of gambling, if he’d “covered the spread last night” after having a strike called. Dykstra claims that his strike zone had a habit of shrinking to his advantage after that.

His story sent a shockwave through baseball back in 2015, particularly when Dykstra announced his forthcoming book would include the details when it came out in 2016. That’s not surprising when one considers that gambling and game-rigging is any sports’ fear, baseball more so than most. The Blacksox scandal of 1919 is so famous, baseball is still trying to live it down a century later. The last thing in the world the sport needed was a fresh scandal, particularly on the heels of the reports showing how widespread steroid and growth hormone abuse was.

Turns out, all of the worry was for nothing. When Dykstra’s book came out, he provided zero corroborating evidence. This, conveniently, allowed him to dodge disturbing questions about “blackmail” and “extortion.” He’d made a wild claim and it helped sell a bunch of books. Now, he’s promoting a new podcast, and Dykstra’s beating the same drum. He’s gonna’ dish gory details. Yep.

A lot of journalists wrote about Dykstra’s claims back in 2015, and when you look back through those articles, there’s a disturbing trend. The author’s wrote about the integrity of the game and questioned whether it was blackmail or extortion, but if there’s a single journalist who ever asked where he found a “team” of licensed private investigators who were “the best in the business” AND had no problem with the ethics, we haven’t found it. Sure, $500,000 sounds like a lot of money, but split that among a team of professionals, and it’s likely nowhere near an amount that a private investigator would risk his license over.

Dykstra seized on this fear to sell books. He didn’t have to substantiate anything then, and he won’t on his podcast now, because the private investigations industry suffers from an image problem that the public, and large-scale organizations, are all too ready to believe.

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