tampabay.com

Discipline still an option

Stuart Sternberg says the Rays will work with Elijah Dukes for now, but the doors are open.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 28, 2007


CHICAGO - Principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the Devil Rays still could discipline or release troubled outfielder Elijah Dukes as they continue to explore and evaluate the situation resulting from allegations of threats against his wife and children.

"No doors are closed at this point, " Sternberg said Sunday in his first public comments on the matter. "But when we make whatever decision we will make, we are going to do it with the confidence that we're feeling it's in the best interests of the parties involved, and we will move on.

"We will move on with Elijah as a member of the Devil Rays organization that we will give as much assistance to as we possibly can and somebody to help him through whatever issues he has, or we will move on and he won't be part of the Devil Rays organization and we will do really fine and everything will be great."

He said that "without any new facts turning up" he didn't anticipate the Rays would - or could, due to players union rules - take action, but he also said they were still "attempting every way" to evaluate the situation, and there was no timetable for a decision.

Dukes, 22, could play in front of Tropicana Field fans tonight for the first time since the Times' report Wednesday of allegations by his estranged wife, NiShea Gilbert, that he threatened to kill her and their two young children, and the fan reaction could be an interesting element in their decision.

During a 15-plus minute discussion Sunday, Sternberg stressed they were more concerned with doing what was best for Dukes and his family than what was best for the organization, with the implication being that simply dumping Dukes, and leaving him without support, could make the situation worse.

"Ultimately, we can choose to just cut ties with him, say goodbye. It wouldn't be called a suspension. It would be called, 'You're fired.' And that would be a choice we make, " Sternberg said.

"If that happened, there are pluses and minuses for our organization. But what are the pluses and minuses for Elijah and his family at that point? And that's where I'm trying to approach this."

But if the Rays are truly concerned about the family, Gilbert said, they should show it by contacting her.

"The organization has kind of hurt me. They know all of us because we were at games all the time, " said Gilbert, who married Dukes in February 2006. "I would have thought they would have contacted me when it all happened."

Sternberg, in Chicago on a previously scheduled trip, planned to talk with Dukes and convey more than his own feelings.

"There's certainly disappointment, but I really would hope he's disappointed in himself, " Sternberg said. "I hope he cares more about what he thinks of when he looks in the mirror than what I might think about him or Joe Maddon or Andrew (Friedman) might think about him.

"The only way with something like this you're able to go forward with and live with this, is you're able to look in the mirror and feel comfortable with what you see."

Sternberg said in "a perfect world" the Rays could "be part of helping him overcome and deal with the issues he's got and make him a good, productive citizen and father and husband and whatever it is he would like to do." He indicated the Rays are seeking the advice of counselors and officials experienced in similar situations.

But he also made it clear that at some point - and seemingly if there are future transgressions - the Rays would say enough is enough and dump him.

"It's something that's certainly on the table for us, no question about it, " he said. "This isn't about what value Elijah Dukes has to this organization, it's about what is in his family's best interests and in his best interests and what we can do to help that as opposed to pose a greater problem."

Gilbert doesn't think releasing Dukes would benefit anyone.

"He would be a total mess, miserable, " she said. "Taking baseball away would send him off the deep end, but he needs to realize there are consequences for his actions.

"I think they're doing what they should do so far. Just because he's a heck of a ballplayer, he has other issues that need to be resolved. They need to get him the help he needs so he can be a normal functioning member of society."

Sternberg considered the allegations "deplorable" and said his initial inclination was to release Dukes - "My immediate reaction was unprintable, " he said - but he is "glad" the organization didn't rush to judgment.

"This is a life decision that we're going to help make for Elijah. How it affects his life, the life of his kids, society. I don't take that sort of stuff lightly, " Sternberg said. "And I like to be pretty certain about it. If we were being selfish about the organization, I might've taken a different course right away. But this isn't just about our organization at all."

Sternberg said they are monitoring fan and media reaction and acknowledged it "certainly doesn't help" the team's effort to improve its community image.

But he also said he thought "depending how we handle this, it will be viewed in the fullness of time that we did the right thing and that we're taking a thoughtful approach to it."

Gilbert said Dukes, who has declined comment, needs to make a public apology. "The fans just aren't going to accept him if he doesn't do that, " she said.