HAS A SPORTS TEAM EVER BEEN SLEAZIER THAN THE CHICAGO WHITE SOX?
Months after the mother of Mike Clevinger's daughter told MLB that he physically and emotionally abused his three children — and their two mothers — a scandalous franchise again faces questions
All it would have required was some simple research, a cursory browse of the Internet. But then, the Chicago White Sox always have been a reckless and sleazy organization, never as interested in family values as owner Jerry Reinsdorf claims. What they’re good at is intimidating local media — what’s left of the newspapers and sports stations — and leading them to downplay two recent disturbing lawsuits against the team.
One was filed by a longtime major-league trainer who said he was fired because he’s gay. The other was filed by an autistic batboy who won a confidential settlement last June after accusing their fast-tracking minor-league manager, Omar Vizquel, of hideous sexual harassment acts in the clubhouse of the Birmingham Barons.
This time, the White Sox won’t be able to hide.
The dirt on pitcher Mike Clevinger, who is under investigation by Major League Baseball for violations of its domestic violence policy, is smeared on documents from 17 months ago in Los Angeles Superior Court. All the team bosses had to do before signing him last month — Reinsdorf and his trusty henchmen, executive vice president Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn — was read accounts from the second day of a civil hearing in August 2021. The San Diego woman accusing Trevor Bauer of sexual assault wanted a restraining order to remain intact against the star pitcher, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Her effort failed in part because the judge, Dianna Gould-Saltman, allowed a question from Bauer’s attorney to be heard.
In text messages provided to Bauer’s legal team by a male friend of the woman, she had made references to two members of the San Diego Padres: emerging sensation Fernando Tatis Jr. and Clevinger. “He is referring to a sexual relationship you had with Fernando Tatis, is that right?” attorney Shawn Holley asked her.
“Yes,” the woman said, before confirming their hookups had cost her a job with a Padres’ ambassador program.
Holley then mentioned the woman’s texting reference to “Clev” — “Trevor is a wackadoodle like Clev,” she wrote. At first, the woman was reluctant to address Clevinger, then said, “He doesn’t need to be brought into this.” They had a sexual relationship in October 2020, she said, when she was beginning sobriety after years of alcohol problems.
Clevinger’s history with Bauer’s accuser becomes centrally relevant amid published allegations made by Olivia Finestead, the mother of his 10-month-old daughter, who is accusing the major-league veteran of physical and emotional abuse toward his three children and their two mothers — herself included. She first went public in a series of Instagram posts Tuesday, then agreed to be identified by The Athletic, accusing Clevinger of “several acts of domestic violence and child abuse” in which, she says, he strangled her and slapped her and threw “chew spit on a screaming infant child.” Finestead, 24, said she has been communicating with MLB officials — specifically, its Department of Investigations — since last summer.
So why would the White Sox, who have won only one World Series and done zilch in six other postseason appearances in Reinsdorf’s 42 years as owner, continue to pursue Clevinger? Are they that desperate? Privileged information isn’t kept well in the baseball world. If the commissioner’s office knew about the allegations, whispers surely leaked into the front offices of 30 franchises. The 32-year-old right-hander was not in high demand when the White Sox, looking to bolster their starting rotation in a division with the emerging Cleveland Guardians and worthy Minnesota Twins, signed him to a one-year deal with a $12 million guarantee. Reinsdorf, Williams and Hahn easily could have gone in another roster direction.
What did they know on Dec. 4? They will claim nothing. “The White Sox were not aware of the allegations or the investigations at the time of his signing,” the team said as part of a typical, we-don’t-condone-domestic-violence, investigation-is-ongoing statement.
But this also is the organization that knew about Jose Canseco’s steroids use — according to Canseco himself, as he told me in Chicago while selling a breakthrough book that exposed rampant PED use in the sport — and signed him anyway. Williams responded by getting in my face, at a rooftop bar in the Loop, as I was entertaining friends late one night. The White Sox always have reminded me of a mob, playing dirty because they can, except when I was in town for 17 years to blow the whistle on them. Their idea of retaliation came when Ozzie Guillen, their loony-bin manager back in the day, referred to me as “a f—ing fag.” I’m still waiting for an apology, years later, while the White Sox have achieved little on the field in that period.
The difference now is that Bauer, who never was arrested or charged with a crime, might sue MLB if no team signs him. The Dodgers released him two weeks ago and most franchises have made it publicly known they have no interest, despite his Cy Young Award season in 2020 and a rested right arm. If Bauer and his lawyers go to court, details about Bauer’s accuser and her sexual dalliances with Clevinger and Tatis — and who knows what else? — will come out in ugly torrents. This is not what the sport needs. This is not what the White Sox need.
And it could have been avoided by simply doing the same homework I’ve done. Would they have signed Clevinger if they knew he slept with Bauer’s accuser and was involved in that drama? Or did they know and signed him anyway? This is where the media fail miserably in Chicago. By refusing to hold truth to power in the Reinsdorf kingdom — he’s going on 87 and still owns the White Sox and Bulls — they allow him to publicly tip-toe away from lawsuits involving a gay trainer and an abusive minor-league manager. Let’s see what they do with the Clevinger story. I’m guessing nothing because they, too, are in bed with people — the White Sox. The Tribune, the Sun-Times, radio, TV … everyone is Jerry-rigged and fearful of his legal influences.
I had to smile when Reinsdorf, mostly reclusive, made sure he was at baseball’s Winter Meetings — in San Diego, of all places — with team staffers to accept an award for “philanthropic excellence.” Sure, like all teams in a $11-billion-a-year-industry, the Sox do a fine job of providing opportunities for inner-city kids. One such program, Amateur City Elite, has helped “more than 250 participants (earn) college scholarships, and more than 85 have earned a college degree,” according to the team.
“It’s the old story about you give the man a fish, you can feed him for a day,’’ said Reinsdorf, in a rare media appearance. “You teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. We’ve put these people out in the world with college degrees that they wouldn’t have otherwise had and then they can go out and have families and raise people who can be productive.”
But when it’s time to face questions about Mike Clevinger — and the firing of the gay trainer, and the sexual assault accusations of the autistic batboy — Reinsdorf and his underlings are AWOL. Did the White Sox know about Olivia Finestead? Did they know about Bauer’s accuser in an L.A. courtroom? If they didn’t, shame on them for being clueless.
If they did know, even a little bit, Reinsdorf should get on with selling a team he is unfit to own.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.