Joe McIlvaine remembers the first time he met Lenny Dykstra. It was 1981 in Southern California and McIlvaine was attending a summer tryout camp as the rookie scouting director for the Mets.
“This little guy walks in and he’s about 5′ 8″, 150 pounds,” said McIlvaine. “I didn’t know him. I hadn’t seen him. And Harry (Minor) asked him if he was the bat boy and the kid looked at him right in the eye and he says, ‘My name is Lenny Dykstra. And I’m the best player you’re going to see here today.'”
Dykstra took the field and outran everyone in the 60-yard dash. He followed outthrowing every other outfielder.
“I’m looking at this guy,” remembers McIlvaine, “… and I am thinking we could drift this guy in the third round.” One of the other scouts turned to McIlvaine and said, “You don’t have to draft him. Nobody’s interested the guy, you can pick them anywhere you want in the draft.”
McIlvaine keeps his eye on Dykstra during the draft. He finally pulls the trigger in the 13th round and selects Dykstra.
“We go into sign him and he says, ‘I’ll sign, but only if you send me to A ball, because I’m too good for the rookie league.”
“Lenny, every high school kid that signs begins in the rookie league,” McIlvaine told Dykstra. “It’s just a starting off point to get used to being away from home.”
“Nope,” replied Dykstra. “I’m not signing unless you send me A ball.”
McIlvaine held his ground. The two parted company without a deal.
Dykstra returned in two weeks ready to sign — but only if he was assigned to A ball.
McIlvaine said OK.
“We had a rookie team in Shelby, North Carolina and we sent him to Shelby and he did pretty good,” said McIlvaine. “The coaches and the manager were impressed with the kid.”
In 1983, Dykstra was named MVP of the Carolina League and the rest is history.
“There was a kid — when you talk about the insides of a kid were burning, this was him — his insides were just burning to be successful,” said McIlvaine. “There was nobody who was going to tell him anybody was better than him.”
McIlvaine served as scouting director the New York Mets from 1981-1985 before being elevated to assistant GM of the Mets. He left the organization in October 1990 to become GM of the San Diego Padres and returned to New York in July 1993 to take the GM post for the Mets.