Is it a shock that the Nationals released Elijah Dukes?
Yes . . . and no.
Yes, because the Nationals had been saying that Dukes would be their starting right fielder. I spent three days with the Nationals last week, and no one was suggesting then that Dukes was fighting for a job.
But here's what everyone with the Nationals was talking about, and why the release of Dukes shouldn't be a complete shock: In just the last year, the Nationals have become more professional, from the front office to the clubhouse. Dukes was a typical Jim Bowden acquisition, a skillful player with a troubled past. He's not a typical Nationals player now, not in the way general manager Mike Rizzo sees the Nationals.
"Character means something here," Rizzo said last week, when I asked about the new professionalism. "It's very calculated. We believe that in a short time, we've begun to change the culture of the franchise and the organization."
Sure enough, that culture changed again today, a change for the better.
At one previous low point in Dukes' career, when he was with Tampa Bay, I asked scouts and executives how the Rays could keep him, and why any other team would want him. I kept getting assured that someone would take him. Sure enough, someone did take him, and the Dukes-less Rays, a much more pleasant and professional team, went straight to the World Series.
I won't predict that the Dukes-less Nationals will now be playing in October, but I'll ask again why anyone would want him.
Especially now that Jim Bowden is no longer running a team.