If there was one word to describe Elijah Dukes' life up until now in one word, it would have to be "train-wreck." Once heralded as a top prospect with the Tampa Bay Rays, Dukes' off the field issues managed to get the best of a very bright future. Here is a list of his problems written on his Wikipedia page:
- In 1996, Dukes' father was convicted of second-degree murder. One year later, Dukes was arrested for the first time. Dukes has been arrested at least three times for battery, and once for assault. According to court records, he fathered at least five children with four women between 2003 and 2006.
- On May 23, 2007, Dukes's wife, NiShea Gilbert, sought a restraining order against him after he threatened her life and the lives of their children. On May 2, Dukes had sent a photo of a gun to her cell phone and left her the following voicemail: "Hey, dawg. It's on, dawg. You dead, dawg. I ain't even bulls****ing. 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 motherf***ing ass riding, dawg, it's on. As a matter of fact, I'm coming to your motherf***ing house."
- On June 12, a 17-year-old foster child who was living in the care of a relative of Dukes accused him of impregnating her. Police said the sex was apparently consensual. When the girl confronted Dukes to inform him about the pregnancy, he allegedly got angry and threw a bottle of Gatorade at her.
Dukes has received anger-management training. When Dukes was traded to the Nationals, the team also hired an ex-police officer in the role of "Special Assistant: Player Concerns." This person accompanies Dukes everywhere to ensure that he keeps himself free of trouble.
Dukes was arrested in November 2010 for contempt due to failure to pay child support.
The latest chapter of the Dukes saga happened Friday when he admitted to smoking marijuana before Nationals games. Dukes claims that not only has he seen many other players use marijuana and cocaine—and even smuggle the substances onto team planes—but that he has been blackballed from the MLB for threatening to blow the whistle on such activity.
"Most of the guys carried [their weed] in their little man purses. You know I never did. Most of the guys carried their little man purses. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, you know," he added.
He has also decided to focus on a rap career where he performs under the name Fly Eli. Since I can't get the video upload to work, here's a link to his first track titled "Say No To Drugs."
I was both fascinated and saddened by these revelations. Here's a five-tool talent who just couldn't figure out how to lead a normal off-the-field life. It reminded me a lot of Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton was also a top talent whose career and life went down the tube due to his addiction to drugs. Hamilton did heroin and other hard drugs. As far as we know, Dukes has only smoked marijuana, which is not nearly as bad for your health. Hamilton, also a top prospect, made his much anticipated major league debut at the age of 26 after becoming a Born-Again Christian to rid him of his drug problems. Hamilton is now one of the best players in the game today.
Dukes, 26, had a somewhat similar path to the majors. He's been struggling with personal issues since his days as a teenager. During his time with the Rays, he was part of the core of minor league talent alongside B.J. Upton. His first at bat as a major leaguer was a home run against the Yankees. His second game in the majors he homered again against the Yankees. The Rays, however, knew of his issues and traded him to the Washington Nationals for Glenn Gibson, who has yet to pitch above single-A. This trade was made just prior to the Rays' 2008 World Series run.
His 2008 season with the Nationals is where a comparison to Josh Hamilton is warranted. That was the first year he was given a chance to play everyday in the outfield. In just 81 games, he hit 13 home runs, stole 13 bases and posted a .264/.386/.478 line. This was good enough for a .382 wOBA. He played solid defense at the corners and posted a 2.9 WAR in 334 plate appearances. This performance put him on pace with Joe Mauer and Evan Longoria. Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending injury.
Josh Hamilton's first major league season with the Reds was remarkably similar. In 90 games, he hit 19 home runs, stole three bases, and posted a .292/.368/.554 line which was good for a .387 wOBA. He was worth 2.5 WAR in 337 plate appearances.
The difference between their two careers is how they've performed since their debut seasons. Hamilton is the reigning American League MVP. Dukes played for the independent league Newark Bears after being cut in Nationals Spring Training camp. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how he did in his time in the independent league, which is comparable to AA or AAA. In 28 games, he hit five home runs, stole two bases and posted a .366/.422/.584 line.
Is Elijah Dukes going to be the next Josh Hamilton? Probably not. At the age of 26, he still has enough talent to play in the major leagues. He can hold off on his rap career until the offseason. A team in need of a fourth outfielder should probably take a chance on him and assign him the best personal trainers and psychologists money can buy. He would likely sign for the league minimum and has the upside to be a nice impact player. Given the Philadelphia Phillies' need for a right-handed outfield bat, I think they are the perfect candidate to sign Dukes.