Brien Taylor, Elijah Dukes and Lenny Dykstra: Modern Day MLB Thugs
Saturday March 3rd, 2012
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: I am going to start off this article by making one point very clear. I am in no way trying to glorify or sensationalize the notions of breaking the law and acting in an indecent manner. Far from it. Today’s feature is from the point of view of taking a look at the state of athletes and the image they can present of themselves and their sport to the public. The manner in which many current and former players are making the news is inexcusable. The thuggery has to stop. But in truth, with the kind of money and opportunities these people have to go outside what is morally reasonable- it is likely going to get worse before it gets better.
When the words “thug” and “sports” are spoken, the usual suspects that come to mind are the NFL and NBA. There are far too many websites devoted to the misdeeds of athletes, but one site that caught our eye is “jocksbehindbars.com”. Yes- it is a real site and it has far too many featured athletes shown. Walking down memory lane, we sadly remember some of the most notable offenders in sports.
Knowshon Johnson (yes that is his first name) was pulled over last month driving his Bentley with his personalized plates reading “sauced”. Folks, we can’t make this up. Sam Hurd for cocaine distribution. Larry Johnson battery. Cedric Benson assault. PacMan Jones (where do I begin). Plaxico Burress (weapons). Albert Haynesworth. But the NFL is second to the NBA, which has become thugs sports central. Darius Miles and Ben Wallace for carrying weapons. Nate Robinson (public urination). Gilbert Arenas (again, weapons). Isaiah Rider (remember him?) Allen Iverson (laundry list, including weapons and assault), Kobe (we know the story), Jason Kidd (domestic assault- never interrupt him when he eats french fries), Ruben Patterson (sex offender), Jayson Williams (aggravated assault), Antoine Walker (fraud)…and the list goes on…and on. When we consider sports and thugs, the NBA and NFL are unmatched.
Reading the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “thug” is defined as: “A brutal ruffian or assassin- gangster, tough”. From society’s perspective, we see most “thugs” as tough guys or wanna-be tough guys, who fit within our image of “gangsters” who get into trouble with the law. For those of us that follow and love baseball, I have some sad news to deliver. Our wonderful sport. “America’s Pastime” is far from immune. Baseball has seen its fair share of thugs over the years. Recent candidates though, have really gone over the top in well-publicized infractions. Today we look at three of the biggest recent MLB Thugs:
From 1st overall draft pick in 1991 by the Yankees to prison. Taylor’s career never got on track and things got from bad to worse. The story goes that Taylor in 1993 was involved in an altercation. Supposedly, he swung and miss at another individual, resulting in a dislocation of his pitching shoulder and torn labrum. His arm never recovered and neither did his career. Having the distinction of being one of only two 1st overall picks to never make the majors, Taylor really messed up recently. Selling large quantities of cocaine and crack cocaine to undercover officers over a period of several months is never the right way to go. Sure it may give him a “gangster” image, but it is also going to send Taylor to prison likely for many…many years. A sad day for baseball in general and the Yankees organization.
I think that it is literally impossible to say the name Elijah Dukes without eliciting laughs and snickers. But it wasn’t always this way. When I hear Eljah’s name, I get sad. I remember the good days. The days of promise. I remember the 3rd round pick from 2002. That was on the Rays opening day roster in 2007. That got traded to Washington and shined in 2008. Elijah Dukes was a 5-tool player. Could hit for power and average, speed and defense. Elijah could play all three outfield positions and was a player that I once labeled the “African-American Josh Hamilton”. Not for his legal troubles- but rather his baseball potential. For as many chances as Hamilton received in baseball, Dukes had his share as well. The main difference between the two is that Hamilton actually fulfilled his potential and for the most part, learned to keep his nose clean. Dukes on the other hand never got his career on track, while his legal troubles ballooned out of control.
The stories are out there. From emailing his pregnant girlfriend a picture of a handgun and threatening her. He has been arrested multiple times for assault. Dukes is known to have fathered several children between different women. Call him the baseball version of Shawn Kemp meets Allen Iverson. I always thought that Dukes would put it together. With all the baseball talent in the world, this one time two-sport athlete in high school would breakout and become the star that he was meant to be. But while predecessors Milton Bradley and Carl Everett enjoyed some major league success, this troublemaker never did get on track. Now Dukes is out of baseball and continuing to find trouble…or trouble keeps finding him. The latest Elijah Dukes story had him recently arrested with marijuana found in his car. Dukes went as far as apparently trying to eat the bag of marijuana. Not the tastiest treat, but definitely a funny yet sad story all the same. The Elijah Dukes baseball story is done. Hopefully he straightens himself out before it is too late.
When you think of the word “thug”, the name Lenny Dykstra may or may not come to mind. It really depends on your definition of the word, plus your image of the man known as “Nails”. The above video represents the image that I had of Dykstra for the longest time. The man who retired from the game and was well on his way to becoming the Donald Trump of baseball. Or so many people thought. From private jets, fancy homes and cars, a string of business ventures and stock market investments had Dykstra on the business world map. He even started up his own magazine venture. But then it all came crashing down around him. Debt, foreclosures and money troubles followed Dykstra like the plague. But then things got even worse. The arrests. The charges. Bankruptcy fraud. Car theft. Mortgage fraud. Sexual harassment. Sexual assault. Dykstra’s nickname went from “Nails” to “Mud” seemingly overnight.
Looking at definition of “Thug”, I notice the word gangster. To me, that is the current reputation of Dykstra. Almost a modern-day Al Capone that disintegrated. The baseball image of Dykstra is the tough, hard-nosed player that helped lead the Mets to the 1986 World Series and almost did the same thing for the Phillies in the 90′s. But when it comes down to it, Dykstra is not much different from Taylor and Dukes. While he was the only one of the three to fulfill his potential on the field, his actions off the field have been considered nothing short of disgraceful.
When I reflect on thuggery in sports, I really think of the kids. The ones that look up to their sporting heroes and consider them role models. But we live in a society where “bad” is often considered cool. Where getting arrested and using drugs could be considered as having “street cred” and “bad a**”. But that is not the image that we want our children to follow and adopt. I can’t speak for the other sports, but clearly the NFL and NBA both have to seriously take a look at the actions of their current and former players. Baseball is no different and while it may not have the same percentage of offenders, there have been enough cases to raise red flags. Let’s teach the athletes early on. Let’s have a system to safeguard how they conduct themselves off the field. Stricter penalties and guidelines are needed. We are seeing far too many kids without college educations going straight to professional leagues. They have too much money and not enough education and life wisdom to conduct themselves properly.
Dykstra may be the exception, as there are not as many cases of star athletes at his level rising so high and falling so low. He is not the sole example, far from it. But for every Dykstra story, there are hundreds…if not thousands of Taylors and Dukes. I am not fully blaming the system, as these are young men that control their own actions. But sometimes we have to save people from themselves. I love the game of baseball. I love it with all my heart. Nothing makes me sadder than hearing about a Brien Taylor or Elijah Dukes type arrest. Sure, I have some fun with it as many fans do. But I definitely try not to minimize the effect in any way. These baseball players have gone from prospects/stars to jokes. But the joke is not funny. It is a serious black-eye for a game that is trying to keep itself pure and wholesome. While many analysts focus on cleaning up the game from PEDs, I think that cleaning up the sport off the field is just as important. I don’t know if Taylor, Dukes or Dykstra can be saved at this point. They all have gone so far down the road that they may not be able to return. But let’s avoid the creation of the next breed of MLB Thugs. Let’s nip this at the bud so that these events occur far less often. There is no honor or glory in being a thug. Remember that the next time you think of a Brien Taylor, who has traded in Yankees pinstripes for an orange jail jumpsuit.
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on March 3, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged allen iverson, baseball, ben wallace, brien taylor, darius miles, elijah dukes, jayson wililams, lenny dykstra, mlb, new york yankees, philadelphia philies, plaxico burress, ruben patterson, shawn kemp, thug, washington nationals. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.