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Tampa Bay Rays raise some disturbing questions with acquisition of Josh Lueke

Josh Lueke, acquired Sunday from the Mariners, pleaded down from a charge of raping an unconscious woman in 2008.

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Josh Lueke, acquired Sunday from the Mariners, pleaded down from a charge of raping an unconscious woman in 2008.

ST. PETERSBURG — The case of the accused ballplayer begins with a lot of suppositions, and very few absolutes.

There was the charge of rape, and the explanation of consensual sex. There was an alleged victim who was passed out drunk, and a defendant who lied to police. There was the negotiated plea bargain, and the non-specific apology in court.

And now, more than 3,000 miles and three years later, perhaps there is a question of values to be pondered by fans of Tampa Bay's big-league baseball team:

Are you disappointed the Rays acquired Josh Lueke?

Just to clarify, there is no trial, referendum or hearing on this matter. Lueke fulfilled his obligations some time ago, and the Rays are comfortable with their background check.

This is more of an individual issue for those who care about the fortunes of a baseball team and a community. This is, largely, a matter of personal beliefs and expectations.

In essence, it is a question of whether you expect your ballplayers to be held to higher standards.

• • •

Josh Lueke was a 23-year-old Class A pitcher in the Rangers organization when he went bar-hopping with some teammates and a young lady in Bakersfield, Calif., in May 2008.

According to news reports, the alcohol flowed freely before Lueke returned to his apartment with his roommates and the woman.

Those would seem to be the only undisputed facts in the case.

The woman acknowledged she passed out and woke up the next morning partially nude and with the sense she had been violated. Authorities questioned Lueke, who said there was no physical contact between them.

Semen samples taken from an anal swab and the woman's clothes were determined months later to match Lueke's DNA, according to court records cited by KBFX Eyewitness News in Bakersfield. Lueke then told authorities that he had consensual sex with the woman that night, and had denied it previously out of fear.

He was arrested in May 2009 and charged with raping an unconscious victim. According to a 2010 story in the Seattle Times, a deputy district attorney in Kern County believed a conviction was going to be difficult to obtain because of the involvement of alcohol, the woman's unconscious state and Lueke's claim of consensual sex.

With the woman's blessing, prosecutors agreed to accept Lueke's no contest plea of false imprisonment with violence.

He was sentenced to three years of probation, and 62 days in jail. Having already spent 42 days in jail, the remainder of his sentence was waived for good behavior.

The woman did have one other request, according to the Seattle Times:

She wanted an apology in court.

"I understand that my actions hurt you and made you feel violated," Lueke read. "I'm sorry for that."

• • •

By most accounts, Lueke has worked hard to put his problems behind him. There have been no whispers of legal issues before or since.

Even so, when he was traded by Texas to the Mariners in 2010 it caused an uproar because Seattle president Chuck Armstrong had been unaware of the alleged rape. Armstrong told general manager Jack Zduriencik to send Lueke back to Texas and to get a player to be named later. The Rangers and Mariners dispute whether a follow-up deal was pursued, and Lueke remained in Seattle's minor-league system.

That is, until the Rays acquired him Sunday night for catcher John Jaso.

In one sense, Lueke is a perfect fit for Tampa Bay. The Rays have had success finding players with high upsides who were undervalued for one reason or another. Lueke, with a 95 mph fastball and impressive minor-league numbers, would seem to fit that mold.

The issue is that in the past, these marginal players pursued by the Rays have had more benign issues. Some were coming off injuries or poor seasons. Others may have had personality problems or were guilty of minor transgressions.

But an accusation of rape? A no contest plea of false imprisonment with violence? By setting the bar lower in this case, has something been lost in Tampa Bay?

It is a difficult question to answer and, in the end, is largely personal.

You can say Lueke has already paid his debt, and everyone is entitled to a second chance. Or you can say the circumstances surrounding Lueke's case are too disturbing to ignore.

If nothing else, Lueke's involvement in the case has earned the presumption of doubt.

The Rays, obviously, are willing to give him the benefit of that doubt.

Are you?

Tampa Bay Rays raise some disturbing questions with acquisition of Josh Lueke 11/28/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 29, 2011 7:57am]
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