Washington Nationals: remembering the Elijah Dukes years

Outfielder Elijah Dukes #34 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Space Coast Stadium on February 28, 2010 in Viera, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Outfielder Elijah Dukes #34 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Space Coast Stadium on February 28, 2010 in Viera, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals were hoping a change of scenery would help the embattled Elijah Dukes find some rhythm in his game.

On the field he was a beast of a man. Off the field he struggled to stay out of trouble with the law. In late 2007 the Washington Nationals decided to gamble on a player who offered a lot of upside, though came with a lot of baggage. Elijah Dukes had the talent, but lacked in other areas.

Coming out of high school, Elijah Dukes was offered a football scholarship to North Carolina State University. He was also selected in the 3rd round of the 2002 MLB draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Dukes worked his way through the minor league system, getting suspended at least once in each of his first six professional seasons.

Even though he had a combination of power and speed, he had developed the reputation of being a “hot head”.

Having played just 52 games at the major league level the Rays were looking to move on from Dukes, and the Nationals obliged. They traded a Single-A pitcher by the name of Glenn Gibson to the Rays in exchange for the services of this troubled outfielder.

If Dukes could keep his nose clean he could provide the Nationals with a needed bat in the heart of the lineup.

Upon arrival in Washington, Dukes hit .264 with an OPS of .864, in 81 games. His OPS led the team, which included outfielders Willie Harris, Austin Kearns, and Lastings Milledge. His performance as a reserve outfielder allowed him to take over the starting job in 2009.

In more at-bats, he produced less and proved inept at base stealing. He swiped three bags while being caught ten times. His power numbers were down, some off-the-field stuff perked up, and the Nationals were no longer able to look the other way.

Early in the year in 2008 Dukes got into a shouting match with manager Manny Acta following a Milledge home run. Early in the year in 2009 Acta benched and fined Dukes for being five minutes late to practice, even though the reason he was late was for a team sponsored function.

The relationship between the player and coach was not good. Acta would be fired mid-season 2009. Dukes would be released during spring training of 2010.

Elijah Dukes would never appear in the major leagues again, at 25 years of age he was out of the game.

Nationals production from their designated hitters. dark. Next

The memories of good play do not abound, only the negative headlines and dugout interaction with Acta. We are still left to wonder what could have been for Elijah Dukes as a part of the Washington Nationals outfield.

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