Where there once was “Sunshine” for the Padres, recollections of tie-dyed, free-wheeling pitcher Mike Clevinger and a delivery resembling a rugby scrum gave way to ominous clouds.
The mother of Clevinger’s 10-month-old daughter leveled allegations of domestic violence and child abuse on her Instagram story Tuesday morning. Olivia Finestead accused the former Padres starter of physically assaulting her and throwing chewing tobacco spit at their child. A Major League Baseball investigation into the accusations involving Clevinger, who signed a one-year deal this offseason with the White Sox, has begun.
Until a complete set of facts surface — though they too rarely do in a comprehensive and unflinching way inside the insulated world of pro sports investigations — it’s critical not to over-amplify every allegation tossed into the wind. It’s just as crucial that something so serious not be ignored.
There’s the appearance of a timeline issue for the Padres at first blush, though — at least from a public-relations perspective.
Finestead spoke to The Athletic, saying that Clevinger choked her in June and slapped her in a hotel room while the Padres were on a road trip against the Dodgers two weeks later. She included photos purportedly showing injuries related to violent run-ins on Instagram.
What 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.
In short: The Padres had to be aware of the existence of the allegations and MLB’s involvement before Clevinger pitched on mostly regular rest through the summer and fall.
It’s miles more complicated and complex, of course.
There’s the tangle of protocols and processes woven through baseball’s collective bargaining agreement and commissioner’s office. In the document “Terms of Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy,” for example, a bullet point outlines that “A Club may not discipline a player for a violation of the Policy unless the Commissioner defers his disciplinary authority to the Club.”
So no, the Padres were not allowed to act unilaterally. In the case of former Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, for instance, the Dodgers and MLB jointly placed the player accused of sexual assault and domestic violence on administrative leave. There also was an active criminal investigation underway by the Pasadena Police Department.
These situations can evolve. Evidence and information-gathering follow uneven timetables. Victims can change their minds about whether to participate and the level of details provided over time. Allegations remain allegations until they become something actionably more.
It’s unclear where the disturbing situation with Clevinger will lead, though the level of smoke related to someone willing to share their name publicly sprouts fair questions about real fire.
The Padres want to fall on the right side of history with this, in terms of what they heard, when they heard it and how they reacted. There’s an obligation to share any information that comes to light to MLB. They might have handled everything by the book. They might have found out from the league before learning about it themselves.
It’s impossible to know with certainty, however, since the team, when contacted by the Union-Tribune, declined comment beyond a statement that acknowledged the investigation and added “we cannot comment any further at this time.”
Were the allegations 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?
For now, we don’t know.
Even though Clevinger has become the White Sox’s to sort out in a baseball-related sense, the Padres must cringe at the concerning details centered on a player under their clubhouse roof at the time.
The Padres, riding competitive tail winds, wanted the storylines heading into 2023 to revolve around the club shelling out boatloads of money to prove they plan to contend at any cost. They hope questions in the spring can revolve around an avalanche of offense triggered by Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts.
Clevinger is left to answer for his own actions. As he should.
The Padres, for their part, remain hamstrung about what they can say or what they could have done in the moment without MLB’s direct and confident involvement. It’s difficult to believe baseball would be anything other than careful and comprehensive after the Bauer mess, though.
So, we — and the Padres — wait.