Sunday, June 2, 2013

Does Character Matter?

So, I read an article on HardballTalk today about the Rays and their seeming willingness to give "bad make-up" guys a chance or even a second chance.

This seems to be spawned mainly from the recent adventures of Josh Sale.

Kind of looks like he might be buddies with Brett Lawrie, doesn't he?

Anyways, Sale was recently in a little trouble over an incident at a strip club. Josh decided it would be a nice move to "make it hail" on a young lady. Josh proceeded to brag about the incident on Facebook.

Classy, Josh. 

Josh Sale was a 1st round draft pick by the Rays in 2010, number 17 overall. He just recently finished serving a 50 game suspension for failing a drug test for methamphetamine and an amphetamine. He was most likely out celebrating his return to baseball and decided it was a night for a special treat.

The Rays organization decided to suspend Josh indefinitely for his actions, calling it "conduct detrimental to the organization." 

This whole situation has got me thinking about the players that the Rays tend to get their hands on. I'm sure it's not an active thought by the organization, but this can't be just coincidence that they seem to keep bringing pricks into the organization.

Another player that jumps to mind when I think of the Rays and their bad boys: Josh Lueke. Yeah, I know. The topic of Josh Lueke has been beaten into the ground, much in the way Josh would probably treat his girlfriends.

In 2008, Lueke was arrested, while in the Rangers organization, for committing rape and non-consensual sodomy. Lueke proceeded to lie to the police about having even had any sexual contact with the victim, which was proven false by DNA testing. The DNA testing showed that there was seminal fluid in the girl's rectum and Lueke's DNA on her clothes.

The incident was controversial on the baseball side when he was traded to the Rangers in the Cliff Lee deal. The team president of the Rangers claimed he had no knowledge of the incident at the time of the deal and that he would've rejected Lueke's involvement if he had known of the pitcher's past. The Rangers's GM allegedly gave the Mariners false information on Lueke's past (which was readily available with a tool called Google) by saying the Josh was arrested after an incident with a woman and was later acquitted. Rangers GM Jon Daniels later apologized to the Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik for the misuse of the word acquittal. Lueke eventually pleaded no contest to false imprisonment with violence and would serve 40 days in prison with time served. He was out right away.

Mariner's pitching coach Rick Adair claimed the Mariners knew about Lueke at the time of the trade (in part due to Adair being the minor league pitching coordinator for the Rangers in 2008) and was fired along with Manager Don Wakamatsu and scouting director Carmen Fusco. The Lueke incident may have played into the decisions, but it was never the reason given. 

Josh Lueke was then traded from the Mariners to the Rays for catcher John Jaso in November 2011. The initial reaction to the trade tried to skim over Lueke's past on all credible sites, but the fan reaction was of the thought that they killed 2 birds with 1 stone. By getting rid of Lueke, the Mariners fixed their mistake. By acquiring Jaso, they brought in a high-OBP catcher who would end up being one of their better hitters in 2012.

The reaction on the Rays end was confusion. Why would they bring in a problem? Don't they know about his past? The fan reaction seemed to be that they trusted that the team knew what they were doing. 

The incident has been moved to the side by most, with Lueke being a quiet citizen and keeping out of trouble (that we know of). Recently, though, an article was written titled "Josh Lueke, Redemption, Rape, and Baseball" which seemingly tries to paint Lueke as a potential good redemption story. To be fair, the author doesn't sugarcoat the past, including justly ripping Lueke for his bullshit excuses in the past and of his attempts to move on. These attempts include not reading the newspaper, trying not to let the questions bother him, and of saying his mom actually has it the worst. Yeah, he actually said that. His mom, not the girl he raped in her ass, had it the worst. This is the part where you start to wish this asshole would die.

Lueke tries to pass the incident off as a mistake, which it wasn't. The article tries to paint a picture of Lueke learning from his mistake to make a redemptive come-back. There is a problem with this. We, as society, will never forget what he did. All the goodwill and charity and donations won't make what Josh did go away or change history. Sure, there is the thought that he served his time, admitted to his crime, and deserves to move on. I get that argument, but being a good pitcher (which he isn't) won't bring him redemption. 

Why would the Rays want the headache of Josh Lueke? There are hundreds of young, hard throwing pitchers in the minor leagues that could interest them. They chose (and yes, they chose him) to have Josh Lueke and his past rape follow them from city to city, where apposing teams' fans can hate this man.

This has become a ramble, so I'll move on.

Going back a bit in the Rays history, one of their top draft picks was a man named Josh Hamilton. His story is well known, but I'll gloss over it anyway. Drafted number 1 overall in 2009, Hamilton was considered a blue-chip prospect and a star in the making. In 2001, his drug use started to derail his career. He started using heavily and the Rays sent him to the Betty Ford Center for rehab. He failed his first drug test in 2003, and was showing up late for practice. He would fail 2 more Rays tests and serve a 30-day suspension. MLB would then suspend Josh in 2004 for the entire season after failing at least 2 more tests. These failed tests are from a drug more severe than pot. Josh would be out of baseball for 3 years. Hamilton would return to baseball in 2006 after earning his way back. He was then selected by the Reds in the Rule V draft after being left off the Rays 40-man roster.

Now, before I continue, please understand I don't blame the Rays organization. I blame Josh Hamilton. He alone made these decisions that led to his suspensions. To be fair, Josh hardly comes close to fitting in with the above names. Hamilton is, by all accounts, a nice guy who is trying desperately to avoid falling back into his old habits.

Moving on to a favourite target among Jays fans, Yunel Escobar. Escobar was a 2005 2nd round draft pick for the Braves and would make the Majors in June 2007. Escobar developed a reputation in Atlanta being lazy, not hustling, and not caring. All things that I thought then and now are bullshit. When my favourite team, the Blue Jays, acquired him for SS Alex Gonzalez and prospects Tim Collins (a reliever for the Royals now) and Tyler Pastornicky (a SS who profiles as a utility guy) I was happy. When Escobar came to Toronto he played hard, smart, and well. I saw some of the things the Braves fans didn't like, but nothing alarming. Just minor things. Until September 15, 2012.

That was the day that I realized this guy wasn't all there and he may be a problem. He took the field that day wearing his usual eye-black. He had a slight variation on the day, with the phrase "Tu Ere Maricon" written on his face. The phrase translates to "you are a faggot" and immediately cries came out for severe punishment. Escobar was suspended for 3 games and had his salary donated to charity. That the saying was a common thing for Latin ballplayers to say to each other doesn't forgive this stupid display. 

Even Escobar's teammates wouldn't defend him. J.P. Arencibia said "what he did, it's not a joking matter. He needs to be educated on what he can say and can't say." Escobar was traded to the Marlins, then the Rays. It seemed teams just didn't want him. Except the Rays, it seems. 

Escobar made a bit of a wave a few weeks back when he hit a HR off the Jays and did a "safe" taunt across home plate. It was something I thought was funny, but others took it as disrespect and another in the long list of Escobar mistakes. I call bullshit on this, but Escobar is clearly someone who has trouble figuring out what is acceptable.

Next up is Elijah Dukes. 

Dukes has been arrested numerous times for battery and once for assault from 1997 onward. According to records, he fathered at least 5 children with 4 women from 2003 to 2006. In May 2007, Duke's wife (yeah, some woman actually married this prick) filed a restraining order after he threatened the life of her and her children. He sent a picture of a gun to her phone and left her a nice voicemail: 

"Hey, dawg. It's on, dawg. You dead dawg. I ain't even bullshittin. Your kids too, dawg. It don't even matter who's in the car with you. Nigga, all I know is, nigga, when I see your mothafuckin ass riding, dawg, it's on. As a matter of fact, I'm coming to your motherfuckin house." 

In June, Dukes was accused of impregnating a 17-year-old foster child in the care of a relative. When she informed him of the pregnancy, Dukes allegedly threw a bottle of Gatorade at her. 

In December of 2007, Dukes was traded to the Nationals and they hired an ex-police officer to be in the role of "Special Assistant: Player Concerns." 

After his MLB career was over in November 2010, Dukes was arrested for failure to pay child support and in March 2011 for assaulting an ex-girlfriend who was pregnant.

The Rays kept Dukes through all of that. For what? An 88 OPS+ and average defense? They made the right move in trading him, but held on too long to a guy who had trouble written all over him.

A man who is not well known is Greg "Toe" Nash. Toe was abandoned by his mother when he was 12, and was kicked out of 2 schools for fighting. He dropped out of high school in 8th grade. He struck out 17 batters and hit 2 HR in a little league game and Ray's scout Benny Latino took notice. Since he didn't play high school baseball, Latino spent 7 years trying to find Nash.

When Nash was 18, he was playing in an Indy League when Latino found him. The Rays brought him to their minor league camp where he threw 90 MPH and hit towering HR. After he went un-drafted, the Rays gave him $30,000 to sign and went on to play in the same OF as Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford. 

Despite some legal troubles in 2001, Nash reported to camp and was eventually assigned to Rookie League. In 2002 , Nash was charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl. The Rays released him the day he was released from jail. 

The Reds would give him a 2nd chance, but he was quickly released for legal reasons (allegedly a fight, which Nash was arrested for) and was again arrested in 2005 for violating parole.

In this instance, the Rays quickly got rid of the problem, but there were so many warning signs with this kid that the Rays involvement in his story didn't need to there. 

My last interest is Matt Bush. 

Matt Bush was a high draft pick (see a trend here?) for the San Diego Padres. His troubles started right after being drafted in 2004, when he was arrested on suspicion of felon assault, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and underage drinking after he fought with security trying to remove him from a bar. 

In 2009, Bush was involved in a drunken assault at a San Diego high school, which was caught on camera. A drunk Matt Bush beat up a high school lacrosse player with a golf club. The kicker was that Matt Bush decided to put on a show. He screamed "I'm Matt Fucking Bush" which was recorded on video and would make him a douche-bag legend.

Bush was drafted as a SS, but would transition to the mound in 2007. In 2009, Bush was removed from the roster and traded to the Blue Jays. Before he was traded, however, Bush was involved in an incident in a high school parking lot. 

The Blue Jays instituted a zero-tolerance policy for Bush and when he was threw a baseball at a woman's head and banged her into a car window after accusing her of drawing on his face on a party, Bush was released the next day. He spent the 2009 out of baseball. He appeared to be done.

How do the Rays fit in? Well, they decided Matt Bush deserved a 3rd chance. He spent 2010 and 2011 in the bullpen for the affiliates for the Rays, trying to earn his way to the Major Leagues. He stayed out of trouble for 2 seasons, it appeared. Prior to the 2012 season, Bush was released for running over a 72-year old man with his teammate's car. He was drunk.

He was charged with 2 counts of DUI with property damage, 1 count of DUI with serious bodily harm, 1 count of leaving the scene with an injury, 1 count of driving with a suspended license, and 2 counts of leaving the scene with property damage. The incident happened after Bush was kicked out of strip club (remind you of anyone?) for trying to climb on the stage. Bush ran over the victims head as he fled the scene and had the victim not been wearing a helmet, he skull would've been crushed.

The alcohol level in his blood was .18, almost 3 times the legal limit, when he was tested. Bush was also a suspect in 2 other hit-and-runs earlier that day. It was after this that Andrew Friedman, the Rays VP, announced that Bush would never play for the organization again. Bold statement. Bush eventually pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and will serve 51 months in prison and since he has 3 DUI convictions, he will be unable to drive for 10 years. 

I'm a fan of second chance in sports. It may seem backwards, then, to know that I would never want to be one to take that chance. Sure, You may miss out on a season like the one that Josh Hamilton is capable of. The upside, to me, isn't worth the downside. The downside, of course, is terrible press.

Public opinion can deem people guilty without trial and it may not be fair, but it is what it is. The Rays have been very generous in looking past so many red flags that they are starting to develop a reputation of their own as an organization. Their stance on Matt Bush was admirable, but their stance on Josh Sale is a step backwards. 

As a sports fan, I would rather the teams I root for lose with decent human beings than win with criminal assholes who hit women and treat women like shit. There are other players across the league who have toed the line and some who have crossed it, but it seems that a good portion of them pass through the Rays organization.

I hope it stops.


  1. Now I understand where Texas Rangers pitcher Matt Bush's tats come from, 51 months in prison.