Former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra’s own reputation led a New York judge to toss out his lawsuit alleging former pitcher and teammate Ron Darling and his publishers defamed him in a book.
Dykstra has garnered such a negative public reputation that Darling’s narrating of another unfavorable incident couldn’t damage his reputation any further, Judge Robert D. Kalish of the New York Supreme Court, New York County, said in agreeing with Darling’s attorneys that Dykstra was a “classic libel-proof plaintiff.”
The libel-proof plaintiff doctrine bars relief in defamation actions if a plaintiff has a reputation that is so badly tarnished that he or she can’t be further injured by allegedly false statements. The court found that Darling put forth enough evidence to invoke the libel-proof plaintiff doctrine, citing a litany of stories concerning Dykstra’s “poor and mean-spirited behavior particularly toward various groups including racial minorities, women, and the LGBTQ community.”
Dykstra filed a complaint in April 2019 alleging that Darling, ghostwriter Daniel Paisner, St. Martin’s Press LLC, and Macmillan Publishing Group LLC, defamed him in the book 108 Stitches: Loose Threads, Ripping Yarns, and the Darndest Characters from My Time in the Game.
Darling wrote that Dykstra taunted Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, who was the 1986 World Series game 3 pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, prior to one of his plate appearances.
“Lenny was in the on-deck circle shouting every imaginable and unimaginable insult and expletive in his direction – foul, racist, hateful, hurtful stuff,” Darling wrote in the book.
He then described Boyd as looking “rattled” and the insults had the “desired effect” because Dykstra managed to hit a homerun against Boyd during the at bat.
Dykstra alleged that other Mets players made public comments denying Dykstra made racist comments. Boyd also stated publicly he is unaware of the racial slurs that were allegedly leveled against him.
Darling’s reference to the incident in his book tarnished the Mets’ reputation as world champions of baseball and sullied his reputation, branding him as a racist, Dykstra alleged. The incident was “maliciously stated to attack him and his abilities as a professional athlete, person, and his ability to earn a living going forward.”
Darling’s attorneys argued in asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit that there were already examples in the public realm detailing Dykstra’s destructive behavior, and that those incidents, taken together, had already cemented his reputation to the public.
“Dykstra’s reputation for unsportsmanlike conduct and bigotry is already so tarnished that it cannot be further injured” by references in Darling’s book, the court said. “Dykstra must have had a reputation capable of further injury when the reference was published. This Court finds that Dykstra lacked such a reputation at the time of publication,” the court added.
“St. Martin’s Publishing Group is obviously very pleased with the judge’s decision,” a spokesperson from SPMG wrote in an email.
Dykstra was represented by Levine & Blit PLLC, Beys Liston Mobargha & Berland, and Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht.
Darling was represented by Law Offices of Michael G. Berger.
St. Martin’s Press and MacMillan Publishing were represented by Davis Wright Tremaine.
The case is Dykstra v. St. Martin’s Press LLC, N.Y. Sup. Ct., No. 153676/2019, 5/29/20.