More Sad Than Anything

Josh Lueke, who’s been the subject of rape accusations, was acquired by the Tampa Bay Rays in November. | Babbaloie/ photobucket.com

On November 27, 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired minor league pitcher Josh Lueke from the Seattle Mariners, in exchange for 28-year-old catcher John Jaso. The trade didn’t make much of a splash; it was essentially the swapping of someone with higher upside and less experience for a veteran catcher.

This column was going to be about a few players. Luke Scott and Taylor Guerrieri. It was going to look back at Josh Hamilton and Elijah Dukes and even Delmon Young. But the Internet is a crazy thing. I was going to write about quite a few players who have made me question the commitment to character this organization holds itself to. But after Googling Josh Lueke, I decided he deserves a column all to himself.

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Rape is a sensitive thing. It’s sometimes hard to determine and almost always hard to prosecute. When it comes to Lueke’s case, there are a few facts; According to the Tampa Bay Times, in 2008, while pitching for a minor league affiliate of the Texas Rangers, Lueke went out drinking with some teammates and a woman whom he later brought back to his apartment.

The rest of the story, as reported by Bakersfield Now, a news source affiliated with Fox and CBS:

“The woman told police she remembered vomiting into the toilet at the apartment. While doing so, the woman told police someone she could not identify was standing at her side masturbating on her. She said she passed out, and when she awoke at around 8:45 a.m., she told police she was lying on a couch with her pants down and other parts of her clothing were missing.

She told police she felt violated and that she never agreed to have sex with anyone. Investigators later obtained DNA samples from semen found on the woman’s jeans and white tank top and from an anal swab.
A report from the Kern County Crime Lab states, “Josh Lueke matches this DNA” from the anal swab, tank top strap and hair of the alleged victim.”

Due to the role alcohol played in the scene as well as the woman’s unconscious state, prosecution was going to be difficult. Rather than press on, a no contest plea was accepted on a charge of false imprisonment with violence, and Lueke was sentenced to three years of probation as well as 62 days in jail. After 42 days, the final 20 were waived for good behavior.

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I could write all day about the legal system and how sad it is that rape goes unpunished and unnoticed so often in this country. But this is a sports column. And as a sports columnist, I’m left to wonder this; the Tampa Bay Rays traded for Josh Lueke.

In 2010, when the Mariners acquired Lueke from the Rangers, they denied knowledge of his history with the law. The Rays seem accepting. They’ve bought into the idea that they’re willing to take on high-risk players to potentially reap the high rewards. They’re willing to sign a player coming off major surgery (Luke Scott) or a former star trying to regain some momentum (Fernando Rodney).

Lueke has a high-90s fastball and boasted an earned run average under two in the minors in 2010. They acquired his talent for almost nothing, and guess what? As a baseball fan, a Rays fan and a human being, I do not care. Call me soft, but I don’t care that it was three years ago. I don’t care that he hasn’t been in trouble with the law since. I care that a woman dropped rape charges and all she requested was a public apology.

“I understand that my actions hurt you and made you feel violated,” Lueke read in the courtroom. “I’m sorry for that.”

This is someone who the Rays didn’t have to deal with. They saw a bargain and jumped on it, and they’re hoping their fan base is too stupid to read a newspaper or scan the Internet. When you Google “Tampa Bay Rays Rape”, nine out of ten results deal with a player on their payroll. I’m fairly certain that they’re among the only ball clubs with that distinction.

There is a story here unlike anything we’ve seen from good guys Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman. I’m a lot of things, but mostly disheartened.

For so long this has been a club built on lovable underdogs. It just has so little moral upside. So what if he becomes our closer? Maybe he wins 20 games. No matter the success, you will never be able to make him a true superstar. He gave that away. I don’t care if he wins the Cy Young – you can never let a kid wear his jersey.

Some people will forget, but some of us won’t.

I don’t think that woman in Texas ever will.

This article was originally published in The Minaret.

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