A fan's observations on the Washington Nationals, from across the virtual divide.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Filed under: Fan Experience,Players — Tags: , — Wigi @ 3:51 pm March 17, 2010

Damn you, Jim Bowden.

Back in 2007, when Bowden traded for Elijah Dukes, the fans of the [Devil] Rays couldn’t have been happier to get anything in trade (in this case, Glenn Gibson) for Dukes. Tampa Bay fans, and the Rays organization had given up on him. Nationals fans, while wary, were willing to give Dukes a chance. The team made efforts to give Dukes a support system. Over time, Elijah grew on many Nationals fans.

Today, as we digest the news that Dukes has been unconditionally released from the team (here and here and here), most fans are expressing shock and sadness. In the three seasons Dukes played for the Nationals, we saw numerous flashes of brilliance, struggles at the plate and on the field, a demotion, a call-up. We saw Dukes make halting steps forward as a person. I think most Nationals fans were rooting for Dukes as a player and as a person. We were ready for another Dmitri Young story – a disturbed and troubled man finding his way, finding redemption in his God-given talents. Coming into spring training, we all wanted to believe that we were a few weeks away from seeing the complete transformation of Elijah Dukes.

And we (he)  may well have been that close.

Damn you, Jim Bowden.

The problem is, Nationals fans should never have been put in the position of having to mortgage their hopes on (one of a series of) Cinderella stories. It doesn’t matter what metaphor you want to use for Elijah Dukes – the kid deserving a second chance, the low-cost, high-upside gamble, the misunderstood and unpolished superstar (oh wait, that was Lastings Milledge). Because of Bowden’s need to weave together getting something for nothing and a morality play, success for Elijah Dukes has always been defined as something more than just becoming a successful baseball player. That is unfair to Dukes (though he has some control over how his morality play turns out) and it is unfair to the fans.

All of that additional drama, heightened expectation, and now hand-wringing is courtesy of Jim Bowden. Bowden couldn’t acquire a player (or make any kind of a public move) without inviting controversy. Pick your player/story: Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez, Chad Cordero, Aaron Crow, Wily Mo Pena, Paul LoDuca – I could go on (and on… and on) – they all seem to have some BowdenDrama back story that makes them more about Jim and less about the player.

Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love Elijah Dukes, and nobody wants him to be successful more than I do… and nobody is more crestfallen about his release. But it is easy as a Nationals fan to accept that the development of a player was not only good for the team but good theatre… because that is the bill of good that Bowden sold us, over and over. That isn’t the way it has to be.

If you look at Elijah Dukes’ career thus far, but forget that it is Elijah Dukes, there really isn’t anything all that surprising about his release at this point. The Nats are flush with outfielders, many as young and promising as Dukes, but with a lot more potential and organizational flexibility. Dukes had to come into spring training and own right field. He didn’t. He’s gone. We’re only in a dither about it because he’s Elijah Dukes.

As I read the news this morning, I couldn’t help but think that if Jim Bowden had spent as much time evaluating talent and charting a course for the team as he did weaving the BowdenDramas he wove, the Nationals might be in a much better place today than they are. Most of us might never have learned the full Elijah Dukes story, and at one level that would be sad, but that story wasn’t about baseball.

Over the years I gave Bowden the benefit of the doubt – as a rule, I don’t think I have much grounds to comment on what a GM does, because I don’t have those skills or tools. I think now I was wrong not to be more critical.

I am really going to miss Elijah Dukes. But I think that his release was both the right decision and a gutsy one on the part of the Nats.

Damn you, Jim Bowden.

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

*