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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Dukes sounds off at critics
The outfielder lets loose on a radio call-in. The distraction irks Rays officials.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 20, 2007
PHOENIX - Elijah Dukes had apparently heard enough. So at 7 a.m., from 1,800 miles away, the troubled Devil Rays outfielder decided to speak up.
And frustrated team officials may be ready to say goodbye.
Speaking angrily and loudly, Dukes called Tampa radio station WDAE-AM 620 early Tuesday and spent 13 minutes addressing - for the first time - some of the allegations leveled against him recently.
Speaking to hosts Ian Beckles and Ron Diaz, Dukes blasted estranged wife NiShea Gilbert for "stealing" his money and said if he hadn't left her "he'd be in prison because she provoked me." Dukes, who is the father of at least five children by four women, acknowledged sexual relations with a then-17-year-old foster child but denied he is the father of her unborn child. He passionately defended his mother against claims of drug use.
And he defiantly said that no matter how many "hyenas" try, "Nobody's going to bring me down with all these accusations they're making about me."
Team officials were not pleased that Dukes created another distraction and seem poised to accelerate efforts to trade or release the 22-year-old rookie.
And the desire for Dukes to depart may be mutual. His mother said in a later radio interview Tuesday that "all he wants to do is move on."
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said frustration over the situation extends to all levels of the organization, presumably including principal owner Stuart Sternberg. A number of players and coaches have made their feelings known in private conversations with management.
"There's disappointment and frustration," Friedman said. "I think it's been a difficult thing because it's shifted the focus. There's a lot of very positive things going on that are not getting their due notice because of this, so as a result of that I'm sure that a lot of people are very frustrated. And that extends all the way throughout the organization."
Friedman, who met privately with Dukes on Tuesday, said the Rays want to "minimize the distraction" and are "eager for the focus to shift back."
Dukes, who was playing cards in the clubhouse before Tuesday's game, declined to explain his reasons for going public when approached by a St. Petersburg Times reporter, saying: "F--- you, you know I'm not talking to you."
It was not clear exactly why Dukes called the radio station, especially at a time when most major-leaguers are about halfway through their sleep cycle after a night game. But he somehow became aware that an earlier caller said Dukes had told him during an anger management session that Dukes' mother had smoked crack cocaine. He may also have heard that the station said it wanted to hear from Dukes.
When Dukes first called, he was loud, angry and cursing. Justin Pawlowski, the show's executive producer, spent four minutes calming him down so they could put him on the air: "He was saying, 'You guys have got it all wrong. You don't know the whole story,'" Pawlowski said. "It took a while to calm him down."
Though Dukes made several points, he also raised more concern, and not just from Devil Rays officials.
"If he was trying to help his case, I don't think he did," said Diaz, one of the show's hosts. "I feel bad for him. He has to be under an immense amount of pressure right now, and I'm not talking about baseball."
Talk radio has been something of a Dukes family affair this week, with at least five relatives and associates airing their views. His mother, Phyllis, called the station after Dukes spoke, defending her son from accusations of fathering more children by pointing out: "I can say I'm pregnant from Carl Crawford, okay? And you know that's hearsay."
Among other things, Dukes said:
- He has "made strides" in controlling his anger problem, but admitted that if he hadn't left Gilbert it might have gotten the best of him. "I know if I stayed with her I'd physically be in prison because she provoked me by hitting me, " Dukes said. "She done hit me across the head with a picture frame and everything. I hate that because I told my kids I would never go back to jail for no domestic violence."
- He said he could use guidance and "somebody to talk to" but insisted he did not need professional help. "How many times have I ever shot someone?" Dukes said. "How many times have I ever stabbed someone? How many times have I gone to jail for brutally beating someone? Never. I went to jail for breaking a remote control (in a previous domestic case)."
- He "did something one time" with the then-17-year-old foster child in his step-grandmother's house but knew "for a fact" that, based on the timing, he was not the father.
- He did not address previous accusations of death threats against Gilbert and their two children because "I'm not one of those people who have to get even. Just like the Bible says, if you know it's not true, you don't have to say anything and I haven't been saying anything."
- He promised once his own father went to jail that he would be a good father and do everything he could for his own kids, and that he has.
Though Dukes blamed many of his domestic disputes on money, Gilbert, who filed for divorce last week after receiving a one-year restraining order against Dukes, said that was not the case. Gilbert, a teacher who said she has no summer income, said she had to file for public assistance, and has a hearing about temporary child support and alimony on July 13.
"If he's done so much for his kids, then why do I have to worry about where their next meal is coming from?" she said. "If he does so much for his kids, then why are some of the other mothers struggling too?"
As for Dukes' claim that Gilbert provoked him: "I guess everybody provokes him because a lot of people make him angry."
Times staff writers Eduardo A. Encina and Abbie VanSickle contributed to this report.