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5/29/2007 07:49:00 AM

AL East: What to do with Dukes?

By Alex Belth

Six years ago, a prominent baseball columnist wrote a column about Toe Nash, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays prospect from Louisiana, "The Babe from the land of Sonny Boy Williamson." But Nash wasn't the second-coming of Babe Ruth or Satchel Paige; he was a thug. He played alongside future big leaguers, Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton in an instructional league but he never made it close to the majors. Instead, he ended up in jail.

It was hard not to recall Nash as the Devil Rays now have another talented -- and even more accomplished -- but deeply troubled young player to deal with in Elijah Dukes. In April, Dukes, who has five children from four different mothers, threatened his wife NiShea Gilbert. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Dukes left her the following voice message:

"Hey, dawg. It's on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain't even bulls-------. Your kids too, dawg. It don't even matter to me who is in the car with you. N-----, all I know is, n-----, when I see your m-----f------- a-- riding, dawg, it's on. As a matter of fact, I'm coming to your m-----f------ house."

The following day, New York Sun baseball writer Tim Marchman wrote:

If the Devil Rays truly want to disavow this, they have to release Dukes and forfeit the benefit of his immense talent; to do much of anything else would be to say that his ability to hit a baseball outweighs his monstrous behavior.

They almost certainly won't, and I don't blame them; if they release him tomorrow, he'll sign on with a competing team by the end of next week. There's nothing to gain in becoming moralistic about a ballplayer's private behavior. And that is the dilemma baseball faces: While it's in the game's interest to be rid of Dukes — an exceptionally rare player who may a menace, and who would at this point surprise no one by actually killing someone -- it isn't in any team's interest to not have him.

He'll play in the majors unless he's convicted of a felony.

Since everyone knows this, the best thing for the Devil Rays to do is absolutely nothing at all. The whole story is repulsive enough on its own. Can we at least be spared the spectacle of a team being outraged by a player's threats to murder his own children, but not quite outraged enough to take them more seriously than a power stroke at the plate?

Here is more about Dukes' volatile relationship with Gilbert, and here is Joey Johnson's lengthy profile of Dukes in Sunday's Tampa Tribune. Stuart Steinbreg, the Devil Rays' principal owner said that he wanted Dukes released when he first heard the news. According to MLB.com:

"My immediate reaction [would have been] unprintable," Sternberg said. "Dukes' punishment wouldn't be called a suspension. It would be called, you know, 'You're fired.'"

... There's no positive spin to be put on it. Nothing good can be said or written about it."

Dukes was benched by D-Ray manager Joe Maddon last Wednesday and Thursday; he returned on Friday night and hit a home run in a Tampa loss. Then, last night, Dukes had the game-winning hit against the Tigers. Gary Sheffield has some words of advice for Dukes, who isn't going anywhere just yet. The Rays did, however, demote Jonny Gomes to make room for Akinori Iwamura.

  • The Devil Rays have company in the cellar. After taking two-of-three from Boston last week, the Yankees have lost four straight while the Red Sox have won four-in-a-row, putting New York in a tie with the Rays for last place. The Yankees held a team meeting before last night's game in Toronto but it didn't seem to help matters on the field. They now trail the Red Sox by 13 1/2 games. It is getting late early in the Bronx, and things are all good in Boston.

  • Roger Clemens had a good outing in the minor leagues on Monday. Does this mean he'll return to the big leagues this weekend as the Yankees visit Fenway Park? Hard to imagine him backing down from the challenge.

  • Former YES analyst Jim Kaat wonders how much we can expect from Clemens:

    What I'm really eager to see is how his older body will react from staying away from the game for a longer period of time. I know he has done this the last two seasons, but again he is one year older and will be facing better hitters… I'm not saying that this was a bad signing for the Yankees; I am saying that there may be room for concern. Clemens may come back and prove once again that he can be dominant, but I would just like to give it time before he is anointed the savior of the season.

  • Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera called out Yankee fans over the weekend in an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Certainly, when the Yankees are losing, it's bad for business in the Bronx. The New York Daily News reports:

    "Everyone is disgusted and they don't want to spend money," said Abdul Traore, surrounded by discounted Yankees gear at his Jeans Plus store on E. 161st St. by the Stadium. "When the Yankees win, people show up. When they lose, everybody is just mad."

  • Good news for the Jays. Their ace, Roy Halladay, will be back this week. He'll face the White Sox on Thursday.

  • Manny Ramirez has started out slowly this year but is playing hard according to Nick Cafardo.

  • Baltimore's offense is starting to click. Steve Trachsel went the distance on Monday in the Orioles 9-1 win over Kansas City.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments |  


    Actually, it looks like Roger had a choice about opening up against the Red Sox, and bagged out of it. Actually, not too surprising.
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