The time to drop Dukes is near

Published June 14, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - Another day, another headline, another embarrassment. And so the question becomes, how many more nights will the Devil Rays put up with the blight that is Elijah Dukes' career?

And the answer is not many.

Oh, he may return today. And tomorrow, too. He may last through next week, and he may even survive through the end of the month.

But, to put it in terms he can appreciate, the due date is near.

They are too smart in the executive suites at Tropicana Field to have not figured this out already. They are too savvy, and too cognizant of the bottom line.

And, no matter how anyone feels about the veracity of accusations leveled at him, the Rays have to know Dukes is bad for business.

There are those who talk of his potential and, admittedly, it is immense. For instance, Dukes has the potential to humiliate an entire organization. He has the potential to infuriate an entire clubhouse. He has the potential to undo much of the goodwill amassed during the Sternberg era in Tampa Bay.

He is a time bomb about to go off, and shame on the fool who is close enough to be caught amid the collateral damage.

And so, sometime soon, the Rays will talk of his departure. The details are really not important. Maybe they will get another team to swap a weak-hitting centerfielder or a middle reliever. Maybe they will send Dukes, 22, to the minors with the hope he increases his trade value. Or maybe they just cut him loose.

No matter how the end arrives, just know that it should be coming soon.

It has to be.

For if there is anything we have learned in the brief time Dukes has resided in our consciousness, it is that he will wear out his welcome.

It is why he went through four Hillsborough County high schools in four years. It is why he was repeatedly suspended in the minors and eventually told by management at Triple-A Durham that he should never return. It is why a restraining order will keep him away from his wife for the next year.

So now, like others before them, it is time for the Rays to wash their hands of his nonsense.

Frankly, it should have been done long ago. I wrote the Rays needed to cut ties with Dukes nearly a year ago. Since then, with his major-league career supposedly hanging in the balance, he was charged with marijuana possession, threatened his wife and children, and now has been accused of having consensual sex with a 17-year-old in the foster care of a Dukes relative.

His reward?

A big-league roster spot and a $380, 000 salary.

This is, regrettably, the crux of Dukes' problems. If you are Dukes, why would you ever feel a sense of personal responsibility? Because of his talents, he has never been made to pay for his transgressions. Not in any real sense.

He keeps getting arrested, but has never spent time in jail. He argued with coaches and teachers in high school, but always found someone else willing to offer a chance. And, as his mother told a Times reporter on Tuesday, his prodigious procreation numbers are the responsibility of so many women.

In other words, it is never Elijah's fault.

Releasing Dukes will not solve this cycle of enablers because some other team will surely offer him a fresh opportunity. But the Rays will at least know they did the right thing. Both by a community's standards, and their own ambitions.

I know this will not be an easy move for the Rays. They already are feeling the sting of having Josh Hamilton slip through their fingers.

But this situation is completely different. While Hamilton brought shame only on himself, Dukes is dragging the organization into his assorted messes.

So the Rays have to write him off as a failed gamble. When every other team was scared off by his baggage, the Rays selected Dukes in the third round of the 2002 draft and offered him an oversized $500, 000 bonus.

They gave him a chance, and he threw it away. The fault then is his, and not the organization's. The Rays should treat it no differently than a prized prospect who blows out his knee. At some point, it is time to move on.

In this case, that time is growing nearer. I would imagine the decision has already been made to part ways, and the only detail is the timing.

Do they wait for Rocco Baldelli to return from the disabled list? Do they wait for further revelations? Do they wait to see if his trade value increases? I hope the latter is not the reason because any increase will be negligible.

No, I think we're approaching the right time. If we can use soon as a relative term, than we can suggest Dukes is a definite goner.

So if you've been waiting and wondering what the Rays will do about this situation, I'm hopeful the answer will be coming soon.

In the meantime, just keep your pants on.

That goes for you too, Elijah.

John Romano can be reached at (727) 893-8811.