tampabay.com

Rays: No guts or glory

Spineless Rays should put aside greed, boot Dukes for good.

By JOHN ROMANO
Published June 23, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - In the end, it was solved by a trade.

The Devil Rays dealt pride, accountability and a conscience to be discovered later in exchange for Elijah Dukes.

I hope it was worth it.

Because from here, it seems like the Rays gave up too much. In order to keep Dukes in their organization, the Rays sacrificed lots of important ideals.

For instance, they've given the community the impression that they condone threats of physical violence. They've given their players the impression that continual misdeeds will be excused if you have enough talent. They've given the rest of the league the impression their standards are not terribly high.

All for a player who has yet to show any outward sign of regret or remorse. For a player who has never shown any indication he will learn from his mistakes.

Team officials, of course, do not see it that way. They believe they have done right by Dukes by giving him another final, absolute, definitive, are-you-listening-to-me-young-man chance. They believe they are being loyal and compassionate.

"What was important to us was to feel like we've exhausted everything and every option, " executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We feel like this is one of the last options we have at our disposal."

I can think of at least one other option:

The Rays could have completely cut ties with Dukes.

Maybe that sounds harsh to you. Maybe you think the events of the past month do not warrant a young man losing his job.

But you must remember we're not just talking about the past month. Dukes, 22, has been a handful from the time he joined the organization.

He was such a disruption in Triple-A Durham the Rays had to send him home last season, too. He has been suspended numerous times. Arrested multiple times. Warned countless times.

We're not talking about a kid who made a few mistakes. We're talking about a pattern of wanton disregard for rules, laws, feelings and morals.

And, let's face it, cutting Dukes would not be the end of his career. If the Rays put him on waivers today, there would be plenty of teams willing to take a flyer on him.

So why do the Rays continue to stick up for him?

"This goes beyond baseball, " Friedman said. "This about an employee that is having difficulties in his life that we're standing behind."

That sounds admirable but I would point out that when the new ownership group took over, it had no problem firing front office executives and other employees it did not feel measured up to job performance standards.

And that makes today's rationalizations sound a lot like a double standard. In other words, it's easier to have compassion for an employee who has the potential to hit .300 and drive in 100 runs.

It's almost comical how the Rays made this sound as if it were a painful decision. As if this was a valued member of their extended family who would leave a gaping hole in their clubhouse.

The reality is practically no one wanted Dukes here.

Not the players, not the coaches, not the support staff. Beyond the distractions of his off-the-field issues, he was a loud, combative, annoying presence. He was neither well-liked nor well-respected.

And the front office knew all of that before he arrived. Management was told by players and staff before the season Dukes would be a problem.

Which means none of the past month's revelations were a surprise. In reality, the Rays should have expected it, considering they rewarded his poor behavior last season with a promotion to the major leagues.

I'm not saying it was a mistake to give Dukes a chance this season. Americans love to forgive and they particularly love to forgive athletes. So the Rays should feel no shame for opening their arms to an at-risk athlete.

My concern is that they are trying to reap something out of a situation that has clearly gone sour. That they are putting economics ahead of ethics.

So how does this all end?

My guess is Dukes will never again play for the Devil Rays. And management already knows that.

I think the Rays are hoping a month or two in counseling will allow them to claim Dukes is on the road to enlightenment. And that will increase his trade value because it puts some distance between Dukes and the negative headlines.

Maybe that's the smart thing to do. Maybe a team nine games under .500 cannot casually toss aside commodities, even one as tainted as Dukes.

As for me, I'm not sure it's worth the cost. And I'm not talking about the cost of this season's salary or next year's at-bats.

I'm not sure it's worth the cost of a franchise's integrity.

Or perhaps I've misjudged what that's worth.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com or 727 893-8811.