Why Dukes’ talent will override decency

Among the most frustrating things in the news of late are the allegations against Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Elijah Dukes.

What do you do in a situation like this? The acts he’s purported to have done, threatening his estranged wife, are heinous in the extreme. They inspire a visceral reaction in decent people. Still, Dukes’ actions and the emotions they inspire do not diminish one iota the wisdom of due process and innocent-until-proven-guilty.

Having said that, the feeling of helplessness of those who want to see justice—and yes, possibly a bit of vengeance, too—is exacerbated in the knowledge that the systems in baseball and the judicial system are designed to keep Dukes in uniform drawing a hefty (in the real world) salary of $380,000 (he also received a signing bonus of $500,000). They allow him to continue on his course into becoming a very wealthy man.

Meanwhile, he’s free to continue his acts of terror against his victim knowing full well that more people with influence are trying to keep him in a baseball uniform than are trying to fit him with an orange jumpsuit.

Folks are saying that the Devil Rays should just fire him, or, as it is called in baseball parlance, give him his unconditional release.

Sadly, the people who feel that way don’t seem to realize that all that would accomplish is to accelerate his drive to millionaire status. If he’s released, 29 teams are eligible to bid for his services. A young player with his kind of physical gifts and potential will command a nice increase in pay. As of this writing, he leads AL rookies in home runs with nine and has an OPS+ of 111 despite batting just .225 (his minor league batting line: .284/.370/.454). He has speed, power and a good batting eye and is only 23.

Those of you who think that all 29 teams should “just say no” have to bear in mind that if that scenario transpired, Don Fehr and Gene Orza would have a charge of collusion levied against MLB so fast it would make your head spin. In that instance, damages would be assessed, then tripled, and Dukes would be paid a king’s ransom on top of that.

Nice, eh? You’ve got to love a system that rewards sociopathic behavior.

The Devil Rays could suspend or bench him. However, the team and the commissioner know that the MLBPA will file a grievance, since being charged with a crime is a different animal than being convicted of one.

Arbitrators are pretty consistent in their rulings that being charged with a crime isn’t grounds for suspension. If the player is convicted (in his home country if not U.S. born), sometimes even that isn’t enough to suspend a player.

Sadly, I’m forced to wonder if there’s anything in the MLBPA’s constitution regarding player comportment. Other than crossing a picket line, is there anything that will draw censure from the players’ union? If Jeffrey Dahmer played third base for the Twins, would they demand he be treated for an eating disorder? If Osama bin Laden played center field for the Yankees, would they insist he be sent for sensitivity training? If Andrew Kehoe were the catcher for the Cardinals, would they demand he be given anger management training? If Wesley Allan Dodd played first base for the Giants, would the union insist he be put on the DL for treatment of emotional issues?

Hyperbolic to be sure, but it seems as long as you pay union dues and aren’t a replacement player, there’s nothing you cannot do, no law you cannot break, no sense of decency you cannot violate without the union backing you with extreme prejudice when somebody wishes to make it known that an employee’s conduct is out of line. Nothing that might draw a suspension? A fine? A nasty glare from Don Fehr? A harsh memo from Gene Orza?

Are they so obsessed with pushing up the salary bar that they’ve lost all sense of conscience? Of decency? Is there nothing in place to let sociopathic thugs know that their behavior is not tolerated by the union executive?

What about a five-year suspension from the union with a chance of appeal after three for good behavior? The player loses all licensing money, has to pay for his own defense at arbitration hearings and loses all service time toward his pension benefits while under suspension.

Might that get some players attention?

Who knows? But this much we do know: The union’s unconditional support of any player engaging in antisocial/illegal acts has enabled players to do what they wish and until they’re put behind bars they can continue to become fabulously wealthy. Anabolic steroids are as illegal as heroin. Go to your workplace and try to sell a controlled substance and see how long you keep your job and liberty. When you couple the MLBPA’s absolute backing with the judicial system’s leniency toward celebrities and you have a recipe that produces the sort of behavior we’ve witnessed with Mr. Dukes.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Remember when it was easy to support the MLBPA?

I understand the importance of union and union principles, but such strict adherence strikes me as walking awfully close to the “Nuremberg Defense” (does this count as invoking Godwin’s Law?): “I was just following orders/policy.” At some point, conscience and human dignity have to be given their day. It would serve everybody well if some of these ignoramuses were simply booted out of the union.

The fact that the victim, NiShea Gilbert, has refused to press charges means that there won’t even be a conviction on which to base a suspension. Sadly, Gilbert realizes that restraining orders (Dukes has two against him) are only good as their enforcement (which usually isn’t much), and Dukes’ complete disregard for the law and human decency as evidenced by his rap sheet gives strong support to the notion that a piece of paper isn’t likely to deter him.

If Dukes hasn’t had this epiphany yet, he will most assuredly have it soon: As long as he not incarcerated, he’s got a lot of people with a lot of clout in baseball who will fight to keep him in uniform with extreme prejudice. Dukes is not a replacement player (the MLBPA’s unforgivable sin: It’s sad that they prefer to have Elijah Dukes among their membership rather than Kevin Millar) so he’ll have the full force of that body at his back. Commendably, D-Rays owner Stuart Sternberg wanted to release Dukes, but the D-Rays would prefer to give Dukes “treatment” and keep him than lose a player of his ability for zero compensation and see him star for another major league team.

Marvin Miller opined in his autobiography “A Whole Different Ballgame” that:

“…courts are often fuzzy about civil rights, but seldom about property rights. On second thought, make that never about property.”

In other words: despite nice words to the contrary, society has proven time and again that human life is comparatively cheap. To use one example: Back in the 1980s the FDA, informed Bayer that the company didn’t have to destroy HIV-tainted product, but permitted it to sell it outside the USA to protect Bayer’s profits. Sure, the product might kill thousands of unsuspecting people, but hey, they were sick anyway and you just can’t ask a company to take a financial loss to protect human lives. Even if that business is based on alleviating human suffering.

Gilbert doubtlessly realizes that being an African-American single mother puts her at the bottom of society’s food chain (as Ronald Reagan once affirmed with his “welfare-queen” remark). So take a very talented major league player with all the protections that affords. Add a woman who is pretty much without any sanctuary and generally considered expendable by society. Toss in the knowledge that the victim will be afforded minimal protection while powerful interests are protecting your abuser and you realize that you do whatever you can to protect your family.

But I digress.

What can anybody do in this situation? Well, inside the existing framework, not much. However, since Dukes insists on behaving like a fugitive from the human race, a more creative solution needs to be implemented.

First, get the whole suspension/grievance/arbitration hearing/suspension-overturned process out of the way. Then you get creative.

Most players can opt for music to be played before their AB. Dukes forfeits this choice. Instead, whenever he comes to bat—regardless of where the game is played—play his phone message (with appropriate bleeps) to Gilbert over the PA; “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.” And follow that up with a riff from Kim Stockwood’s song “Jerk”

“You jerk (you jerk), You are such a jerk, There are other words but they just don’t work (jerk).”

Along with his stats, include his rap sheet (including restraining orders and any unpaid child support violations) in all its gruesome details and keep them up there throughout his at bat.

Encourage the audience to fill his ears with derisive jeers. Make MLB his own personal prison. Make sure every person, in every city knows what kind of person he is and how decent people feel about his kind of thuggish, bullying behavior. The same goes for anybody who behaves in this manner, scrub and superstar alike.

In time, one hopes, he either becomes a pariah or gets his act together. He won’t change his behavior unless he gets compelling reason to do so. The structure in both society and MLB gives very little incentive for him to change. A little “sensitivity training” might be helpful. Allowing him to feel a small sample of the helplessness he has inflicted on his victims may teach him a little empathy. Subjecting him to this kind of indignation, ridicule, and scorn and being helpless to stop him might do the trick. At the very least it’ll give Dukes the knowledge that he cannot completely avoid the consequences of his actions despite the fact he plays in the major leagues.

The Whine Cellar

Every so often, I get one right (or close enough that I’ll take it). Two weeks ago we discussed the following:

I’m actually a bit optimistic, despite all the bad luck. The Jays have some terrific young arms but let’s face it: John Gibbons hasn’t a clue some days. He probably couldn’t tell you how to use a pitching wedge properly, yet alone a pitching staff. Injuries have forced the Blue Jays to give regular starts to guys like Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Casey Janssen … Now that these guys know they’re going to be in the rotation awhile, they’ll have a chance to settle in … As a result, I think the Jays will be a pleasant surprise over the next while. I’m not saying they’ll go 25-5 over their next 30 games, but they’ll do a lot better than folks think. (17-13 maybe?) Jeremy Accardo, I think, will be fine as the closer and the more confidence these guys get in their stuff, the better.

Since their nine-game losing streak, the Jays are 11-6. Marcum and McGowan have been given regular work and they just keep getting better—walking fewer, going deeper into games, etc. A.J. Burnett has pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his last eight starts and has a 3.32 ERA over that span. Marcum, after tossing six no-hit innings against the D-Rays, has followed that up with three starts in which he has pitched 19 innings, walked six, whiffed 14 and posted an ERA of 2.84.

Roy Halladay is back early, and off Thursday night’s performance, on his game. A starting four of Halladay, Burnett, Marcum and McGowan will serve the Jays quite well. Their current bullpen configuration has an ERA of 2.27 thus far. Accardo has established himself as closer and has blown only a single save in the role.

This is with Gustavo Chacin, Brandon League, Davis Romero (done for 2007), B.J. Ryan (done for 2007), John Thomson and Victor Zambrano on the D.L. and Josh Towers unavailable. The Jays may be 12 back, but there are four months and 111 games still left to play and Boston hasn’t had the rough patch almost all teams go through at some point in the season.

Right now, the concern is the offense, currently tied for last in runs scored with Tampa Bay in the AL East. It is only .003 points out of last in OBP (again Tampa Bay). The obvious culprits are Vernon Wells (.263/.329/.426; 98 OPS+), Frank Thomas (.225/.356/.391; 95 OPS+), and a bottom of the lineup (when Troy Glaus rests) made up of any combination of five players (Royce Clayton, John McDonald, Jason Smith, Sal Fasano and Jason Phillips) with an aggregate line of .235/.278/.329. That bunch has the dubious distinction of having 13 more strikeouts than hits (88 to 101) and has made 305 outs in 408 PA.

Ryan Roberts didn’t help (.077/.250/.077 in 13 AB).

They ditched Smith (to Arizona) and demoted Roberts, which leaves them four more guys they need to do something about. What makes things frightening is that Wells’ OPS+ since 2002 have been 100, 131, 103, 104, 126 and 98 this year. It could be that he’s closer to his normal output and that 2003 and 2006 were outliers. Plus, Thomas is pushing 40 and might simply be finished.

Thank God that Matt Stairs is picking up some of the slack of Adam Lind’s struggles. What looked on paper like an offensive juggernaut might turn out to be a jugger-NOT!!

I don’t know how much “Moneyball” philosophy is still rattling around in general manager J.P. Ricciardi’s cranium, but just in case, I’d like to offer a bit of advice. The reason there are a lot of out-making players available isn’t due to “market-inefficiency”—it’s because they suck.

The Jays have enough pitching to get them back into the hunt, but if J.P. thinks he has the horses in the lineup to get it done…well, then the Jays are done.

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