Early Thursday morning, Elijah Dukes was arrested again. This time, he was pulled over for a traffic violation with a bad driver's license, and upon apprehension, he attempted to eat a bag of pot while neglecting to remove the blunt that was tucked behind his ear. For our moral outrage to actually mean something, let's take a moment to separate what's morally outrageous about his track record from what isn't. Smoking pot isn't (perhaps you disagree). Driving with pot in your system probably isn't. Driving with a suspended license, from a certain perspective, is. Bailing on one's children and failing to pay child support, despite having plenty of money in your bank account to do so, is. Threatening to kill a woman and her children is. Hitting a woman is.
"Look, honey, a sportswriter is issuing moral judgment! Wake the children!" I'll stop for a bit, and instead reflect on the sad history he's probably making.
Dukes' career in Major League Baseball is probably in the books. If it is, the last position player to match the "final season" criteria set by his final season (25 years of age or younger, at least 107 games played, an OPS+ of at least 93) is Tony Horton, who wrapped up his career in 1970. One has to flip all the way back to World War II era (Benny McCoy) to find the next-most recent example.
If we remove the OPS+ requirement, the most recent example is that of Mike Darr, and for a reason I was fearful of coming across. Darr died in a car accident in 2002.
We aren't even five years removed from Dukes' first Major League at-bat, which resulted in a solo home run. At that instant, his slugging percentage was just as easily expressed through letters: "four." The classic "homer in first at-bat" joke is that the player may as well just retire, that it's all downhill from here. Some of these players end up having long, rewarding careers. Some do not. Not one -- at least in recent history -- has seen his career fall off a cliff like Dukes' has.
Don't sleep on how good Dukes really was. He played half a season as a 24-year-old and scratched together a 127 OPS+. If we run through the list of other 24-year-olds in recent history to have done that, we find almost nothing but marquee names: Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, et cetera.
It could have been a lot of fun. We could have seen him on either the Rays, a perennially competitive and interesting team, or the Nationals, a team that figures to be one of the more intriguing of the 2010s. Maybe Dukes could have become a Nick Markakis-caliber fielder.
As I write this, it's afternoon on the East Coast. He's been locked up for around 12 hours. I wonder whether someone has sprung Elijah Dukes yet, or if the judge has decided to keep him. I wonder whether he's thinking about of these things. One can only count the ceiling tiles for so long. There aren't very many to count.
Maybe you consider it a fool's errand to try to get inside the head of a shitty guy -- and, yes, it's tough for me to deny that he's a shitty guy -- but remember that our actions are functions of ourselves, which in turn are, in part, functions of our histories. Elijah Dukes' history is one of abject poverty, one in which his father was jailed for murder, and one in which he ascended the ranks to become a talented, famous person with a lot of money.
That would disorient the Hell out of me. It might make me a shitty guy, too. I'm rooting for Elijah Dukes, in spite of all the rotten things he's done and all the stupid and disappointing things he continues to do and not do. His story and Josh Hamilton's aren't entirely appropriate comparisons, for several reasons, but I want him to make the comeback Josh Hamilton made.
Failing that, I hope he figures himself out, because if life is indeed "for" anything, it isn't for oscillating between prison and the troubles outside it.