Two major league teams sit on edge over righthanded pitcher Mike Clevinger. One is the White Sox, who signed him as a free agent over the offseason. The other is the Padres, who let him walk into the free agency pool.
The edge is a baseball government investigation into accusations that Clevinger slapped the mother of his ten-month-old daughter around, threw an iPad at her while she was pregnant, tried to strangle her, and threw a load of tobacco juice at the little girl herself.
Olivia Finestead told reporters Clevinger did both last June, while the Padres were in Los Angeles for a set against the Dodgers. She provided photographic evidence to support the accusation. She said she gave Clevinger “leeway” for a considerable period while trying to mediate to retrieve some of her possessions and establish parameters for supervised visitation between Clevinger and their daughter.
Clevinger himself faced the press on day one at the White Sox’s spring training compound in Glendale, Arizona. One moment, he said he wanted to address “the elephant in the room.” The next, he tried steering the presser back to baseball.
“I’m not going to hide away from it,” the righthander said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. It’s really embarrassing. It’s not who I am. Now I’ve got to sit here on my first day and answer questions about it like I am one of those people. It is devastating but I’m here to answer to the bell and I’m excited to see when the facts come out.”
That’s an intriguing way to put it. He’s “excited” to see when the facts come out? You can think of far less cavalier adjectives to apply to the net result of an MLB investigation training on whether you slapped a woman who gave birth to one of your three children and then threw what some might consider toxic waste at the little girl to whom she gave birth.
But no. Clevinger says wait until there’s “actual evidence . . . Just wait for there to be actual evidence before you start making judgments and stuff. This is about my children that I care about even more than this game.” (Clevinger has two older daughters with a different woman.)
Eyes fall upon the Padres, as San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Bryce Miller observed when the accusations were revealed last month, “because “[w]hat might concern fans and others trying to sift and sort what the Padres knew and could do about it sprung up when Finestead relayed that she had been talking to MLB’s Department of Investigations since the summer.”
Translation: What did the Padres really know, and how soon did they really know? Concurrently, what could they have done under MLB’s domestic violence protocol, which bars a club from disciplining an accused player without MLB permission. (Both MLB and the Dodgers put Trevor Bauer on ice in the first place, remember.)
“Were the allegations,” Miller asked, “part of the stew of reasoning for allowing Clevinger to wade into free agency, along with coughing up five runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Dodgers in the NLDS and failing to record an out against the Phillies in the NLCS? Were there character questions behind the scenes?”
Those questions turn into due diligence questions for the White Sox, who made Clevinger their first free agency addition this past offseason. Now, as the Chicago Tribune‘s Paul Sullivan wryly notes, he’s their number one albatross. “How much the Sox vetted Clevinger is another issue they need to examine but probably won’t,” Sullivan writes. “While they might not have known of the allegations when they signed Clevinger, as they said in a statement, the Sox obviously liked his character and believed he would be a good fit in the clubhouse.”
Put domestic violence to one side for one moment. The White Sox might have forgotten when Clevinger, then a Guardian (they were still known as the Indians at the time), violated COVID protocols in 2020. He and fellow pitcher Zack Plesac went out for a restaurant dinner and a card game with friends in Chicago without getting the team’s approval to go.
The team sent Plesac back to Cleveland in a private car but had no idea Clevinger was involved until he flew back to Cleveland with the team—including cancer-fighting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (a Met since 2021), who’d been immuno-compromised from his cancer treatments. Plesac decided it was all the media’s fault for reporting it, not his or Clevinger’s fault for doing it.
Then, Clevinger was merely immature and irresponsible. Now, he may have graduated from those to dangerous.
When White Sox general manager Rick Hahn was asked how the club could avoid walking eyes wide shut again into a situation involving a player under domestic violence investigation, the only thing missing from his word salad was dressing and croutons.
“We had several conversations at that time about what are we getting from a makeup standpoint,” Hahn told reporters. “There certainly were some positives in terms of work ethic and focus and desire to win and compete and understanding of his own mechanics and efforts to improve, which are positives. But there were maturity questions. He’d admit that probably by his own volition. That’s what I was referring to in terms of we’ve had similar guys who have had reputational questions.”
Most recently, it was Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, whom the White Sox brought back to the dugout despite a second DUI. Once a shrewd, forward-thinking skipper, La Russa’s in-game managing now drew him under fire enough despite a division title his first comeback season that, when his pacemaker barked, he retired after his second.
“That wasn’t a case of bad vetting but of Reinsdorf wanting La Russa to manage his team no matter what anyone else thought,” Sullivan writes. “La Russa could’ve bowed out once the news became public but didn’t feel the need . . . [He] never was going to get the benefit of the doubt from a large and vocal segment of Sox fans. Neither will Clevinger if he’s allowed to pitch in 2023. But unlike La Russa, Reinsdorf has no personal relationship with Clevinger, so there’s no need to pretend fans eventually will grow to like Clevinger.”
We should note in fairness that Finestead herself doesn’t look askance at the White Sox. “I was told the @whitesox didn’t have a clue of [Clevinger’s] investigation,” she posted online. “Can’t blame an organisation for something they don’t know.”
But there are still too many fans, baseball and other sports, who are too willing to overlook or forgive such grotesquery as domestic violence so long as those accused and exposed can get it done in the game. He beat/attacked his wife/child/girlfriend/one-night stand? The guy’s going to help pitch us to a World Series or quarterback us to the playoffs, so run along, old man, you bother us.
It should bother the Padres and their fans that they may have had little choice but to bite the bullet and wait until Clevinger left as a free agent.
It should bother the White Sox and their fans that they either got caught with their proverbial pants down signing him or that those in the front office responsible for vetting him fell short of full due diligence.
It should also bother Met fans that—after an offseason of bravery and boldness; wading into the free agency pool and coming up Justin Verlander, while turning away from Jacob deGrom and Carlos Correa over health concerns; re-upping keys Brandon Nimmo (outfield), Jeff McNeil (infield/outfield), and Edwin Diaz (relief pitching)—the Mets invited outfielder Kahlil Lee to spring training despite his own domestic violence issue. His former girlfriend, Keriwyn Hill, charges that he choked her and pulled her hair violently during an argument last May, while Lee played for the Mets’ Syracuse AAA team. (MLB is also investigating the Lee case.)
It should bother any decent human being. Just as it should bother us that there are still too many men who think touching a woman for any reason other than to express love is acceptable.