WHY WOULD ANYONE TRUST THE MLB MAFIA IN A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASE?
Commissioner Rob Manfred rules as he pleases, without much transparency, and after suspending 15 players since 2015, his decision to not punish Mike Clevinger suggests backroom arm-twisting in Chicago
When a commissioner reeks of suspicion in assessing cheating scandals — when we still aren’t sure how many teams illegally used tech to steal signs — why would we trust him to adjudicate domestic violence cases? Rob Manfred shouldn’t play judge and jury any more than Carrot Top should be tasked with homeland security. You don’t let an appointed servant, posing as a former labor lawyer, determine livelihoods with his toy gavel.
But Major League Baseball, like other businesses corrupted by power, thinks it can investigate responsibly when, say, a woman accuses a player of physical and emotional abuse and child abuse. Isn’t it a wee bit peculiar that Manfred, after believing 15 women who’ve made accusations since 2015 and suspending each and every player, abruptly changes course this year and doesn’t believe Mike Clevinger’s accuser? There never is much transparency to his findings, with MLB saying Sunday in a statement, “The comprehensive investigation included interviews of more than 15 individuals, in addition to Mr. Clevinger and the complainant, as well as a review of available documents, such as thousands of electronic communication records.”
And we’re just supposed to believe him, at face value, and shout “Play Ball” on the South Side of Chicago? Whatever Manfred says, goes — case by case, without any requirement to explain how he arrived at each decision, unlike an actual judge in a court of law. How do we know Manfred didn’t succumb to the influential arm-twisting of Clevinger’s new employer, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who is 87 and knows the right-handed starter might help him reach the American League postseason before he fades away? Like other accusers whose allegations led to games missed, anywhere from the 194 of star pitcher Trevor Bauer to the 15 of journeymen Steven Wright and Jeurys Familia, Olivia Finestead provided photos of alleged injuries caused by Clevinger, her former partner and the father of her child. She posted one injury on Instagram that, she said, came “from when he threw an iPad at me pregnant” before, she said, she “finally left when he strangled me.” Her allegations included a claim that he threw a wad of tobacco chew at their infant daughter.
In the post that included the photo, she wrote, "Mike Clevinger, you really deserve hell. I've kept quiet now for almost a year and you continue to covertly abuse your infant.”
So, Finestead isn’t telling the truth, according to Manfred. And the other 15 accusers WERE telling the truth, according to Manfred. It all seems so random, so selective, so political, so shallow, so unfair — so open to behind-the-scenes subterfuge. But then, this is MLB, with a stained history of “consensus building” based on which owners yell loudest and have the most backroom sway. This is MLB, the league that integrity forgot.
When Manfred threw the book at Bauer and suspended the others, he largely based his decision on photos and interviews. He should know better — photos are routinely doctored, a practice encouraged by some attorneys. Interviews? The commissioner decides who he wants to interview, leaving the process open to a one-sided verdict. If he truly loathed Bauer, a harsh critic of the sport’s powers-that-be, what stopped Manfred from a hellbent mission to run him off while saving his ownership comrades at the Los Angeles Dodgers a portion of their $102 million investment? It didn’t matter that Bauer was investigated by the L.A. District Attorney’s Office and never charged with a crime; a judge even admonished his accuser for wanting rough sex on two occasions, via text, then crying rape when a session went awry. Manfred didn’t care about the American judicial system. Whatever Judge Rob ruled was going to stick, period, with no accountability attached to his ruling, like the dictator of a Communist state.
The commissioner’s office has complete power to settle personal scores, do dirty work for ownership cronies, whatever it pleases. And all Manfred has to do, when asked about specifics in a case, is cite a privacy structure within the domestic violence policy written with the Players Association in 2015. If media and fans have had no reason to trust Manfred throughout his eight-year reign atop the sport, why trust him in complicated legal cases — he said, she said — in which no one generally knows what happened except those at the scene?
He and the owners had accrued no animosity toward Clevinger, a talented but erratic pitcher with immaturity and partying issues and no record of railing on Manfred. It was convenient to give him a break, as the White Sox owe him just $12 million for this one season. And it begs the pressing question: How does he not suspend Clevinger at all yet sit, among others, Julio Urias for 20 games, Aroldis Chapman for 30 games, Addison Russell for 40 games, Jose Reyes for 51 games, Sam Dyson for 162 games and Bauer for 324 games (before the ban was reduced)? Why the wild discrepancies in suspension spans? Is this his way of concluding Finestead isn’t a credible witness? Who is Manfred to decide who’s telling the truth and who isn’t? What qualifies him to play God? He claims MLB interviewed “more than 15 individuals,’’ along with Clevinger and Finestead. Is that enough to reach an honest conclusion? Why not specify the number of people he interviewed? When Manfred says “more than 15,” it reflects his recklessness.
If Finestead wasn’t telling the truth, as Manfred believes, how many other women weren’t telling the truth? Lies are part of any domestic violence case. Suddenly, now, in 2023, the commissioner thinks women lie, too? He should go back and study the other 15 cases, to clear his conscience if nothing else. Nah. He has a golf swing to practice. These are just human lives, that’s all.
I can tell you who Manfred didn’t interview: Bauer. If the commissioner really wanted answers about Clevinger’s case, he would have investigated the sex triangle between the two pitchers and the woman who accused Bauer of sexual assault. She was sleeping with Clevinger in October 2020 — the same general time period she was with Bauer — as she testified in Los Angeles Superior Court in August 2021.
“Trevor is a wackadoodle like Clev,” she had written in a text message to a friend, a reference that came out in a Bauer-related court proceeding. When Bauer’s attorney pressed for information, the woman said, “He doesn’t need to be brought into this,” before acknowledging hookups with Clevinger when she was beginning sobriety after years of alcohol problems.
Manfred should have summoned Bauer and his accuser. That might have shed light on Clevinger’s relationship with Finestead, who became pregnant with their daughter months after Clevinger’s sexual relationship with Bauer’s accuser. If a commissioner insists on determining who’s guilty and not guilty — impacting lives and pennant races and billions of dollars — he’d better turn over every stone. Manfred did not. Hey, the regular season is nearing, and a team and its owner needed clarity on whether Clevinger would be the fifth arm in the starting rotation.
Which is why the decision stinks of funny business and interference from the White Sox. When Finestead appeared on Chicago radio station WSCR last month and made more accusations against Clevinger, Sox insiders made it known they weren’t pleased about the interview, which happened on the flagship station of the rival Cubs. It was no coincidence when Clevinger used the Chicago Sun-Times, an organ that has bowed down to Reinsdorf and never criticizes him more than lightly, to threaten legal action against WSCR. The pitcher warned, ‘‘My lawyers are paying attention. My lawyers are getting in contact with them, and they probably already sent a cease-and-desist for defamation. So (WSCR) just got themselves involved in this, too, so good for them.’’
I’ve seen these shenanigans before. Oh, Clevinger suddenly decided to pick a Reinsdorf-friendly newspaper out of the sky and threaten a suit against the Cubs station? Or, more likely, was it part of a larger White Sox strategy? This is how Reinsdorf operates. He once demanded multiple retractions for contract numbers published in my Sun-Times column — numbers that also appeared in our news story, as provided by the agent of then-Bulls coach Scott Skiles — that may or may not have been slightly off. Point being, Reinsdorf is a legal manipulator who intimidates Chicago media and curries the favor of national baseball media who protect him. The Athletic broke the original story that MLB had been investigating Clevinger for months. If the site’s baseball bigfoot (and Fox Sports reporter) Ken Rosenthal wants to maintain ties with Reinsdorf, he won’t touch the Clevinger story moving forward, even if the pitcher’s relationship with his teammates remains a story in another highly pressurized White Sox season.
You will see no follow-up on the Clevinger case beyond what you see here. A line was drawn Sunday. Any columnist or reporter who crosses the line too far is blacklisted by MLB and the White Sox; I’ve been a proud member of both clubs since the 1990s. Think any media people in Chicago will call Finestead for her reaction? Certainly not WSCR, which must make amends if operations boss Mitch Rosen — whose career skids were partly greased by Reinsdorf — wants to remain in his management position. The Sun-Times and Tribune can’t stay in business without staying in solid standing with the White Sox, so, yep, they’ll be backing off as well — real journalism and the serving of Chicago readers be damned. The Washington Post assigned investigative reporters to probe Bauer for months. The Post had no interest in probing Clevinger or wondering why he wasn’t suspended.
If it seems like one big baseball Mafia, you aren’t far from wrong. How will that Mafia respond if Bauer — who remains unsigned — sues the sport and subpoenas Clevinger, Bauer’s accuser, Manfred and who knows who else?
Finestead returned to Instagram after the Sunday announcement and posted messages — text and direct — from other women accusing Clevinger of wrongdoing. She mentioned the absurd incongruity that Clevinger, though set free and not penalized, still must submit to MLB-mandated evaluations involving domestic violence and drugs of abuse. So, is he innocent or not?
She wrote: “Even with 2 other police reports prior to me & multiple women saying the same thing I have physical verbal & emotional & child abuse he did unfortunately there’s not a video of any of it but Mike putting himself in drug, domestic & family violence therapy has been my goal since the beginning and he refused to go when I tried to be there for him so I’m glad he’s going now.”
Wouldn’t the commissioner want to talk with those women, too? Didn’t MLB, in its statement, say it would consider “the receipt of any new information or evidence” and reopen the case?
Don’t hold your breath, world. Judge Rob has ruled. “I appreciate everyone who had faith in me, including the White Sox organization and my teammates,” Clevinger said in a statement. “I am looking forward to the 2023 season and helping the White Sox win a championship this year.”
As Jerry Reinsdorf smiles.
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.