Dmitri Young doesn't wear a big "S" across his chest and he's not trying to save mankind. He just wants to give something back in the hopes that he can save someone, much like someone saved him.
He'll be a mentor to the troubled Elijah Dukes, the former Tampa Bay outfielder who was dealt to Washington during the winter meetings. Nationals general manager Jim Bowden came to Young before consummating the deal to ask whether he could lend a hand. Young, who rebounded from drug and alcohol addiction and a near-death experience with diabetes to hit .320 last season, was very agreeable.
"I love being in this role," said Young, a 12-year veteran and .290 career hitter. "This is what makes my life meaningful. If I can get to Elijah and make him realize that he can get his life straight, be a role model for every young, underprivileged black kid in the city who has no hope, then I've given back.
"So far he's been very receptive. Once spring training comes along, I'll have eight months with him. I'll be around him all the time. He'll see my face every day. I'll go to dinner with him, we'll spend time at the ballpark together. Maybe he'll get sick of me, but I'm going to be there."
Dukes, 23, has a long rap sheet.
His ex-wife obtained a pair of restraining orders against him. He's had domestic abuse charges filed against him. There's a recording of Dukes threatening to kill her and their children. The Rays, who felt they had tried everything with Dukes, were thrilled when they got the Nationals to take him off their hands. Playing in Tampa, where he grew up, was the worst thing for him.
Bowden took the chance because he had Young and special assistant Barry Larkin, who had mentored Young with the Reds years ago. If Young succeeds, Dukes has a chance to be an impressive ballplayer, one whom some believe has 30-30 or even 40-40 ability.
"When you're divorced and you can't see your kids, there's nothing worse than that," said Young. "Your kids are the greatest thing that comes from you. They are a part of you. When you can't be a part of their lives, it makes you crazy.
"He needs to manage his life better, maybe take some advice from someone who has been there and did a lot of wrong things but got himself straight. Sometimes they listen to someone like me. I've been at rock bottom and I picked myself back up. If he can see that I did it, then maybe it will give him the strength to do it, too.
"I'd be cheating baseball if I didn't try to give something back and try to teach the kids that come up the things that I learned the hard way."
Young thinks it's a productive first step to have Dukes with Larkin. It's all positive reinforcement for a young man who saw his father convicted of murder when he was 11 and had a mother with a drug problem.
"The fact that Barry is down there with him is very comforting because I know the kind of man Barry is and what he will say to Elijah," Young said. "Elijah needs to be around strong, upstanding people who can teach him the right way from the wrong way.
"When you've grown up like he has - absolutely the worst upbringing you can imagine - you have no bearings in your life. All the things you should have learned about right and wrong when you were a kid that you didn't learn or didn't have someone there to teach you, you have to go through that again."
Young mentions his brother, American League Rookie of the Year runner-up Delmon Young, who was traded by the Rays to the Twins.
"In Tampa, they just didn't have the veteran leadership that young guys could turn to," he said. "The guy who's been there the longest is Carl Crawford, who is a great player and a great guy, but he's 25 or 26 years old. Delmon didn't have that guidance on a daily basis, either."
Young said the guy who "got me back on my feet" was former Reds and Orioles outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, but he also credits Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., Ray Lankford, and Royce Clayton, among others, with at least being there for him. He looks at Dukes and sees someone who can be saved.
"I don't think it has to be tough love or anything like that," Young said. "I can be his big brother. I can show how much I care about him and how much other people care about him. I can teach him how to react. I can keep him focused on his job and his children and forget about all the rest of the stuff that's gone on in his past."
He has no idea how it will end up, and he has no miracle cure. He can't save mankind all at once, but he'll start with Elijah Dukes.
The Great Debate
A matter of substance
Do you believe Roger Clemens when he says he was injected with lidocaine and Vitamin B-12, and not steroids? We asked Hall of Famer Wade Boggs, who is a friend of Brian McNamee, another former Clemens teammate, Mike Boddicker, plus Keith Law, senior baseball analyst for ESPN Scouts Inc.
Boggs: "Brian was a good friend when I played with the Yankees. I have never known him to be anything but trustworthy. He's never lied to me and I never associated him with steroids or anything like that. It's an absolute shame that work ethic would come into question. The one thing I'll say through all of this is, as far as I can tell, only one significant big-name player has actually tested positive for steroids and that's Rafael Palmeiro. You can't hang somebody on speculation. Until they have a vial of blood and he's 100 percent guilty, then it's all speculation."
Boddicker: "I tell you right now, I've seen Roger Clemens get injected with a B-12 vitamin shot. I was in the trainer's room back in Boston when the trainer injected him. Unless B-12 is illegal, I'm believing Roger. If it's this guy's word against Roger, I'll go with Roger every time. I had a locker right next to him in Boston and I can tell you this was the most dedicated athlete I've ever been around. The reason he had to take the B-12 was because he overworked himself. People say he's still performing past 40 and he must be doing something. Well, Nolan Ryan did it."
Law: "I think the burden of proof now is squarely on Clemens. [Andy] Pettitte's admission, such as it was, gives a large boost to McNamee's credibility. It's almost impossible to prove a negative, but if Clemens can prove that McNamee lied about anything he said to Mitchell, it would do just as much or more to undermine McNamee's credibility and shift the burden back to the trainer."
Gossage gives us the score on hits and eras
A few questions for Goose Gossage, who stands a very good chance of being elected to the Hall of Fame Tuesday:
Is Jim Rice a Hall of Famer?
GG: "Absolutely. Are you kidding me? There weren't many hitters that I feared when I came into the game, but when Jimmy stepped to the plate, he was as close as I came to being scared. And for a power hitter, he could really hit. That's very rare. I can't think of too many people I respected more in the game. If I could go into Cooperstown with Jimmy, even though we were rivals and he was a Red Sox and I was a Yankee, I couldn't be more proud of that."
Why do you think he hasn't gotten in?
GG: "I wish I knew. I mean, look at Kirby Puckett, God rest his soul. If Jimmy had played at the Metrodome, they'd have had to rebuild that place because he would have torn it down. It's a lot easier to hit now than it was then. People talk about Manny Ramírez. If Jimmy played in this era, his numbers would be through the roof. The reason I say it's easier to hit is because the hitter is protected so much. A pitcher can't scare a hitter anymore or he'll get thrown out of the game. The strike zone is the size of a postage stamp. Hitters are wearing all that armor, the ball is livelier, the ballparks are smaller. I don't have the respect for Manny as I did for Jimmy. If Manny did that stuff when we were playing, he'd get dusted every time up. He could never get away with that."
Who resembles Goose Gossage the most of today's closers?
GG: "Don't forget, it's so much different now than it was when I pitched. I was the middle man, setup, and closer all rolled into one. If I pitched one inning, I felt guilty. But in terms of style, I'd say [Jonathan] Papelbon. He's got that high riding fastball that can dominate a hitter. That's the way I was taught. The only thing I don't like about Papelbon is that fist-pumping he does at the end. We were taught to never show up the hitter, and I never did."
You hear that Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer ever. What do you think?
GG: "You need to say he's the greatest modern-day closer. Right now, it's like comparing apples to oranges when you compare Mariano and Eck to the way we were used as closers. When I came up, they'd throw all the guys who couldn't start into the bullpen, like we were the scrap heap or something."
Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Great fit: Matt Clement resuming his career with Dave Duncan in St. Louis; 2. Chad Cordero, Shawn Hill, John Patterson, Jon Rauch, and Nick Johnson are the last Montreal Expos still with the Washington Nationals; 3. A Wade Boggs hunting show is in the works; 4. Mariners manager John McLaren just bought an optical business for his wife in Arizona. Umpires get a discount; 5. "Watch his body language when he answers tough questions," one baseball sage remarked about tonight's Roger Clemens interview on "60 Minutes."
Swishing on a star
One intangible factor in Nick Swisher being acquired by the White Sox is how Swisher's fun-loving personality fits well with manager Ozzie Guillen. Other things will be more measurable, such as how he'll improve the White Sox' on-base percentage (he'll probably bat second behind Orlando Cabrera) and add a patient bat to the lineup, as well as the 26 homers and 82 RBIs he's averaged. He should be a major benefit. But one scout told me, "He's not really a center fielder. He can play there [57 games last year], but he's not going to track the ball down like a really good center fielder." US Cellular Field has one of the smallest outfields in baseball, which should help. It was also a pretty good move by Oakland to acquire lefthander Gio Gonzalez and righthander Fautino De Los Santos, Chicago's top two prospects, in the deal. With the proposed
One of the most rewarding offseason events is Dennis Gilbert's "In the Spirit of the Game" dinner in Los Angeles, now in its fifth year. Proceeds from the Jan. 19 event go to scouts who have fallen on hard times. Gilbert, founder of the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, was a longtime player agent whose client list included Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, George Brett, and Curt Schilling. He was also Tony Conigliaro's roommate in the minor leagues with the Red Sox and today he is special assistant to White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Gilbert will honor Eddie Bockman and Ralph Avila with the George Genovese Lifetime Achievement Award in scouting. Also being honored are Joe Lewis, Al LaMacchia, Tom Giordano, Joe DiCarlo, Stan Benjamin, Bill Bartholomay, Tony Gwynn, the Buddy Bell family (receiving the Ray Boone Family Award), Bobby Cox, and Tito Fuentes.
The Dodgers' minor league system has become a Who's Who of former Red Sox: Mike Easler (Las Vegas, Triple A) and John Valentin (Inland Empire, Single A) are hitting coaches. Mike Brumley (Ogden, Single A) and Juan Bustabad (Great Lakes, Single A) are managing. And the pitching coach at Great Lakes is Danny Darwin, old Double-D.
Plan is to rebound
Mariners manager John McLaren is hoping to get Richie Sexson back to what he was before the horrible 2007 season, when he batted just .205 with a .295 on-base percentage. "I've talked a little bit to him this winter, and by the time spring training rolls around, we're going to work out some kind of a plan," said McLaren. "If he needs at-bats, we'll find a way to get him a bunch of at-bats between major league and minor league games if we have to. If he can come back, it would take a lot of pressure off Adam Jones, our young outfielder who is basically going to be taking Jose Guillen's spot. Richie is a real key to our offense moving forward."
Mariners have sprung some leaks
The Mariners are still in desperate need of another front-line starter, even after the Carlos Silva signing. Setup man Brandon Morrow, who could be major trade bait, has been stretched out to 90 pitches in Venezuela and could be in the rotation if he's not dealt. Another trade bait possibility is catching prospect Jeff Clement, who is still working on his receiving but can really hit. With Kenji Johjima and Jamie Burke, the Mariners are already pretty solid behind the plate.
Here's another reason why the Red Sox should be hesitant to make a Johan Santana deal. Baseball America revealed in an online chat that the Sox will be ranked second behind Tampa Bay in its 2008 evaluation of all 30 farm systems. The Sox rankings over the years: 2002: 28; 2003: 27; 2004: 23; 2005: 21; 2006: 8; 2007: 9.
A few quick things: Babe Dahlgren broke in with the Sox in 1935 and was the man who replaced Lou Gehrig at first base for the Yankees in 1939. In a new book about his grandfather's life, "Rumor in Town," Matt Dahlgren explains how his grandfather was the first major leaguer to ever take a drug test, volunteering after rumors came out that he smoked marijuana. The random tests all came back negative, but Matt writes how the rumors "affected the last half of Babe's career but more importantly agonized him the last half of his life." . . . Former Red Sox executive Peter Woodfork, currently assistant GM for the Diamondbacks, was married Friday in Maui. Sox executives Craig Shipley and Ben Cherington attended the ceremony . . . A prince of a man, Dick Berardino, will be honored with the Judge Emil Fuchs Award for long and meritorious service to baseball at the Jan. 17 Boston Baseball Writers dinner . . . Happy 30th birthday, Casey Fossum.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org