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Mike Clevinger, Chicago White Sox discuss domestic assault allegation; they should have just shut up

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Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

As if the Chicago White Sox haven’t mucked up enough of their on-field plans since reaching the brink of pennant contention a few years ago, now they muff what should have been the easiest call of the new year regarding a much more serious issue.

Mike Clevinger and Sox management should have just shut up about MLB’s ongoing investigation into domestic abuse allegations made by the mother of his baby daughter until the case ran its course.

At the very least, if general manager Rick Hahn felt the responsibility to address the issue when spring training opened — as he did — then he should have been better prepared to address not only the gravity of the non-baseball part of what they got for their $12 million free agent signing but also the apparent lack of due diligence in making that commitment to a player willing to sign a one-year deal so early in the free agency period.

“It’s a very fair question, the question about the level of due diligence that we do,” Hahn told reporters in Glendale, Arizona, during the spring-opening scrum on the subject. He vowed to reevaluate those processes.

Chicago White Sox pitcher Mike Clevinger speaks

Mostly, Clevinger did nobody involved any good when he and the team trotted him out to speak to the media — well, nobody but the media. Which is fine with us. And certainly fine for the fans who want to hear as much info as they can from the parties.

But it was a bad look all the way around for the team and Mike Clevinger, who strongly denied the allegations, expressed love for his kids and sympathy for teammates over the distraction, and talked about how “devastating [it is] to me and my family.”

And his comments to reporters that day, in turn, were part of what his accuser said made her choose to go on a Chicago radio show to rebut in even greater detail than already reported much of what Clevinger said, which in turn led to him subsequently telling the Chicago Sun-Times he considered that interview “trashy” and “lowlife material,” and absurdly insinuated he might take legal action against the station for “defamation.”

To be abundantly clear and fair, MLB’s investigation remains open, and few, if anyone, outside of Clevinger and his accuser know whether he’s telling the truth, whether she is or whether the truth lies somewhere in between.

MLB/Union taking domestic abuse allegations against Mike Clevinger seriously

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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

But this is one of the most serious and sobering problems sports leagues ever have tried to address in their industry, however inconsistent, even ham-handed, it might look at times. And if history of these investigations under baseball’s 8-year-old league/union joint policy is any indication, there’s a realistic possibility Clevinger gets suspended, regardless of what might happen within the legal system.

The league takes this subject that seriously.

The problem for the White Sox in this case is that it’s too easy to view their actions so far as not quite as serious.

Hahn said it’s up to the league, not the team, to put a player under investigation on administrative leave, as was the case with Clevinger’s friend and former teammate Trevor Bauer and the Dodgers.

And short of that action, Clevinger has the right to do his job, with the team, as due process plays out.

But the team and Clevinger also have the right to exercise better judgment. Which in this case would have meant staying quiet while that due process played out. He could have simply declined interview requests until resolution of the case (as he finally appears to be doing, a little too late), or maybe stayed out of the clubhouse during media availability or even rescheduled workouts if that made it easier.

Consider that this same team has made closer Liam Hendriks off limits to media during his time in camp this spring between treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — and Hendriks is a well-spoken team leader, who might have an inspiring story to share.

Clevinger’s story, whether true or false, whether he’s innocent or guilty, is anything but.

It’s hard to imagine the White Sox and Clevinger handling the story any worse as camp opened.

But at least two positives may have come out of it: 

First, the longer news cycle for this story put the real-life ugliness and damage of domestic abuse in general in the national spotlight again for several days, potentially raising public awareness of the overall issue.

And second, for what it’s worth to the White Sox, it makes that bone-headed hiring of Tony La Russa out of retirement for the last two years look intellectually inspired by comparison.

Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.

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