Former NY Mets Catcher Barry Lyons Roars Back From Depression

Mex and Kid. Straw and Doc K. Lenny and Wally. Those are some of the names from the New York Mets teams of the late 1980s, teams almost as famous for their hard-partying ways as for their 1986 World Series title and 1988 division championship.

Barry Lyons was a catcher on those teams, backing up future Hall of Famer Gary Carter.

Unknown then to all but "his closest circle of friends," Lyons said in a Jan. 27 phone interview from his hometown of Biloxi, Miss., was the fact that he was severely depressed. Lyons was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1990, when he began taking Prozac and entered into therapy with a psychologist, details that he has never revealed publicly before.

Although he cited his back injury that season as the catalyst for his diagnosis, Lyons mentioned that depression runs in his family. His late mother suffered from it; and his brother Pat also endured bouts of major depression that, combined with other factors, including a bad marriage and loss of a job as an agent for the Mississippi Gaming Commission, contributed to his committing suicide.

Barry Lyons told me that in 1990, at the time of his back injury, "doubts and fear crept" into his psyche about his future as a ballplayer. He said that the Mets did not provide "much follow-up" to his diagnosis of depression. "There was not much public information about it," he added. "Years later, I learned about other players having it." But back in 1990, it was a "close-to-the-vest, kept secret."

One of Lyons' closest friends from his days with the Mets was pitcher David Cone, who joined the squad in 1987 and led the staff with a 20-3 record in 1988 when he finished third in the voting for the Cy Young Award.

Cone and Lyons were "lockered next to each other on the first day," said Lyons. "We hit it off."

Cone and another friend, Andrew Levy, who, as owner of New York-based Wish You Were Here Productions, a sports marketing company, has represented Lyons, became concerned about the former catcher after Hurricane Katrina hit the South in 2005. While most of the media attention was focused on the damage done to New Orleans, Mississippi also was battered by the storm, which destroyed Lyons' home.

Barry Lyons with David Cone and Andrew Levy. Photo credit: Andrew Levy

Cone and Levy made phone calls to Baseball Assistance Team (BAT), a charity that provides assistance to players who have fallen on hard times.

Lyons said that BAT not only helped him with funds after his home was deluged with flood waters; it also helped him recover from his "downward spiral," his depression and addiction to alcohol, painkillers and marijuana.

For Lyons, the downward spiral continued in the wake of Katrina when his brother Pat took his life. Not long after that, Lyons' parents passed away. And Lyons' own first marriage disintegrated.

Two years ago, on Christmas, he knew he desperately needed help.

With the support of Cone, Levy and BAT, Lyons enrolled in a 90-day addiction recovery program at the Home of Grace, a Christian rehabilitation facility in Mississippi, not far from Biloxi.

Lyons, a born-again Christian, credits God with his recovery from depression and substance abuse problems. He said over the phone that he "no longer needs Prozac" and that he is "no longer depressed," not since he "surrendered to Christ." At the same time, he recognizes that "secular" methods such as medication and therapy work for many people.

As religious a man as he is, Barry Lyons still speaks with the measured tones of someone who knows the foreboding power of depression, a crippling illness that is being discussed much more openly now than it was in 1990 when Lyons was with the New York Mets. Later, in the 1990s, Pete Harnisch, a Mets pitcher, expressed frustration with the way he was treated by management after he revealed that he had mental health issues.

Things have changed in recent times. One need only think of the robust reception accorded pitcher Zack Greinke when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years ago and discussed social anxiety disorder, a mental illness with which he has been diagnosed.

Having tamed his depression, Barry Lyons is now living another dream. Since 1993 or 1994, he said, he has been on a mission to bring minor league baseball to Biloxi, which he pronounces Biluxi in the Southern style.

Roughly twenty years ago, he broached the idea of a minor league team to the mayor of the town. Never one to give up, Lyons kept at it for two decades, through Katrina and his other personal challenges.

Last week, he realized his dream with the groundbreaking of a new field for a double A team in his hometown. Lyons said, "The glory goes to God. I'm just proud to have planted the seed, watered it and nurtured it. A lot of people questioned it and doubted it," but Lyons kept advocating on behalf of a minor league ballclub.

In April 2015, Biloxi's new minor league team will begin play in the Southern League.

Barry Lyons with his wife Julie. Photo credit: Barry Lyons

While Lyons is serving this upcoming season as the hitting instructor at Biloxi High School, where his daughter Danielle is a student, next year he will very likely be involved in some capacity with the new minor league team. In the meantime, he is working on a book about his life, and he is newly married to the former Julie Pinson, his wife since 2012. Lyons said that she was "instrumental" in encouraging him to seek treatment for his depression and addiction.

Like former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who has been a spokesman for Paxil, an anti-depressant, Barry Lyons is a tough guy, tough enough to know when he needed help, tough enough to reach out to his friends, David Cone and Andrew Levy, and tough enough to talk openly about depression.