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Remembering Elijah Dukes

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Glenn Gibson was released yesterday. It's hasty to say that erases any connection Elijah Dukes may still hold with the Rays. Dukes nor Gibson will be in the organization come the two-year anniversary of the trade, but Dukes is still a part of the culture of this team - for better or worse.

People would always say "If he keeps it together ... watch out," about the linebacker playing baseball. Dukes always had issues. He was drafted as a teenager - which guaranteed some personal issues1 - out of a local high school. The root of all evil for Dukes was anger. Athleticism and intensity seeps from his pours and always has. Dukes had a football scholarship to North Carolina State on the table when the Rays drafted him in the third round.

 

He had problems with authority and controlling himself. He had problems with organization and constraint. He had problems with umpires and breaking balls. He had problems with home plate although nobody knows why. In reality Elijah Dukes knows very little about home and so much about anger. When Dukes was 12-years-old his father murdered a man who sold his mother fake cocaine2. Few are qualified to evaluate the role that played in Dukes' future.

Dukes took over center field in 2007 when Rocco Baldelli was injured and hit a home run off Carl Pavano. For someone who grew up in the shadows of Legends Field, working out with some of the Yankees of generation past and even bonding with a few higher-ups in the organization, this has to maintain as one of the shining moments of his professional career.

On the baseball field Dukes exhaled potential while off it he inhaled something else3. There's nothing illegal about having unprotected sex with a consenting adult. Immoral perhaps, illegal not quite, but that's never stopped criticism of Dukes' promiscuity. The court of public opinion has no appellate sector.

It's easy to get caught up in Dukes baseball talent. Watching Dukes bat during his oh-so-brief Rays stay was enchanting. He would hulk over the plate, waiting to uncoil and unleash the seething intensity within on some inanimate object that asks for little in life other than to be mudded and displayed on a mantle after its course has reached its end. He was never the most fleet-footed and he was practically misplaced in center. In the minors his slugging percentage rarely slipped below .450 and his on-base percentage was nearly .100 points higher than his batting average.

Dukes found himself in more legal trouble and before long was on his way out of town. The Rays were able to salvage his value by acquiring a young lefty named Glenn Gibson. Ranked as the seventh best Nats prospect by Baseball America, Gibson was a University of Central Florida commit and son of former big leaguer Paul Gibson. He threw a fastball in the upper-80s with projection and a good curveball. He had a good change-up too but things haven't worked out.

Gibson was a decent return in context. Few knew whether Dukes would be in the majors, the pen, or the ground 24 months ago. Numerous anger management courses and warnings hadn't straightened his course. Throwing around phrases about how a player is in need of a change of scenery has become too commonplace. In Dukes' case, the change may have saved his life.

Still, some tend to remember Dukes as a villain4.  Anyone in attendance during the Nationals trip to St. Pete likely ran across some detractors. Boos, stifled chants proclaiming Dukes a wife-beater, and sentiments that border the line between moralistic and racist outcry filled the dome in which Elijah once called home. Clearly some very dumb things were done, however he has managed to keep a clean nose in Washington and for that he should be applauded. His baseball performances have lacked though and it doesn't appear Disney will ever purchase the rights to his movie or that authors will submit proposals to be ghostwriters on his tell-all expose.

Dukes still had his fair share of supporters. Those who met with him described him as soft-spoken. He would joke about a camera-holding fan having a picture of the notorious one. Dukes was a member of the organization that many held close with optimism. Throughout the new regime's attempt to reconstruct the dream, Dukes figured to be the bulldozer while Delmon Young was the wrecking ball. Naturally neither was on the roster when things became good.

Teammates like James Shields, Shawn Riggans, and B.J. Upton always said Dukes was not the thug some portrayed him as. It looks like they're right. Gibson flamed out, but who knows how Dukes goes down if he sticks around.  It might be the worst decision Andrew Friedman will ever make as a baseball general manager, but one of his best as a human being.  

1Your nephew has issues. Don't lie.

2This is almost too ridiculous for a Law & Order episode.

3A source with knowledge of the testing results has sworn that Dukes did not test positive for marijuana during his time with the Rays.

4 Aqib Talib's agent should've absolutely had him read old newspaper site comments about Dukes before he even stepped foot in the town. Even if it's no different from any other professional sports team-bearing towns, it would give him perspective to not go do silly things ... like punching cabbies in the back of the head.