On Saturday in Fort Myers, new Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo was asked about “an incident, when you were in the minor leagues, in Arizona.” It sparked nearly seven minutes of question and answer with the Boston media, the 23-year-old appearing to be left searching for the right words, and frequently coming back to some of the same ones.
“My name being mentioned in the allegations … it hurts. It really does hurt,” he said. “I was cleared of any wrongdoing. Of anything. And with that being said, it was a terrible thing that happened, but, I’m really just, it was in my past. It’s something that, I’ve grown from it, I’ve learned from it.”
“I was cleared of anything wrongdoing. Obviously, that still doesn’t … this is just tough to talk about because it’s such, it’s hard for me and it’s, just, I don’t want this to kind of keep going. I want to start my time in Boston.”
“I don’t think there’s much further to comment on it. There was an investigation. There [were] a lot of things that [were] done with it, and like I said, I was cleared of anything wrongdoing, and if I was around for anything that had happened, I would have put a stop to it. I would have helped out. I would have done something.”
Asked finally about who had cleared him of wrongdoing, Verdugo cited a “police investigation” and “a team thing, too,” before turning the discussion to his upbringing, and looking ahead.
“Obviously, there’s mixed views on everything. It is what it is. People will spin however they want to spin it,” Verdugo said. “But like I said, I know who I am as a person. I’m very confident with that. I have five sisters, two brothers. I have a very big family, so I was raised the right way. I was growing up very close to my sisters, and like I said, I treat women with the utmost respect. That’s why I say, having allegations like this hurts. Having my name mentioned in it hurts. It puts emotional stress on you. I takes a lot out of you, but with that being said, that’s in the past. I would really like to focus on baseball. Focus on my next opportunity here in the Boston Red Sox, and I’m looking forward to getting started here and really letting my play, my passion for the game show people who I really am.”
He arrives the biggest piece of the return for Mookie Betts and David Price, each world champions, and the former one of the best players the franchise has ever produced. Verdugo arrives broken, to boot, shelved since Aug. 5 with a stress fracture in his lower back that will almost certainly delay his debut beyond Opening Day. The list of players not in Astros uniforms with more focus on them this season will be a short one.
And then there’s this “incident.” What reportedly happened at the Hampton Inn in Glendale, Ariz., in the early morning of Feb. 24, 2015, is known to some degree thanks to a police report and subsequent investigation.
But nowhere near completely.
“On the macro level, I think the story is more about the aftermath and the handling of it,” said Nick Francona, the Dodgers assistant director of player development at the time, on The Kirk Minihane Show earlier this month. “I think part of that is because we don’t really have a good idea what happened at the time because there was an effort not to know what happened.”
The story did not become public until last February, nearly four years after it happened. But it begins with that police report.
“Alex” is the first investigative lead in the report, obtained by the Globe, not listed as a suspect in either the sexual abuse or intentional assault offenses outlined. It was written following the shoplifting arrest of a 17-year-old, reported as a runaway three years prior and who was in the custody of Arizona’s Department of Child Safety at the time. The teen told a DCS employee that she “had been partying with two Dodgers baseball players and two other females” the prior week, that “she was provided alcohol and became sick,” and that “she was filmed getting beat up by the two females and the video was posted on Snapchat.”
This led to a police interview, and a darker story. The two women were friends from Facebook she had only personally met a few times, and the Dodgers she didn’t know at all. The five — all but her between 18-21, and who “did not know that she was only 17,” partially out of fear she’d be turned in as a runaway — drove to the Hampton Inn to party. Pressured, she “quickly drank half a bottle of Ciroc vodka.”
The 17-year-old soon began feeling sick, and lied down on the other minor leaguer’s bed while the two women and “Alex” were in the bathroom. At which point said player, laying down with her, “[took] advantage,” fondling her inside both her bra and the front of her pants.
“After a couple minutes of being touched,” the report relays, “the rest of the group exited the bathroom and [player] got off the bed. She said [player] was probably frustrated and gave up when the others entered the room.”
Still feeling sick and “going in and out of consciousness,” the 17-year-old moved to another bed, on which she promptly threw up. One of the women “began yelling at her, pushing her head into the bed, and throwing water on her,” then threw the victim to the ground to try to get her out of the room. The two women then “began punching and kicking her repeatedly in the face and body until she exited the hotel room.”
Despite police seeing a “faint bruise” on the victim’s left arm and “minor swelling” around her face and eye, and a case manager at DCS wanting charges filed, none were. The 17-year-old ran away from her foster home soon after the police interview, and when police finally reestablished contact in May via another arrest, the teen declined to be interviewed.
“It wouldn’t help with her situation now,” an officer relayed the 17-year-old telling her, “and was so long ago that she didn’t want to deal with it.”
“Alex” is not mentioned beyond being described as dating one of the women.
When the Washington Post first reported on the night last February, it was in connection to “oversight of the Dodgers’ minor league and scouting operations” as part of a federal probe into Major League Baseball’s Latin operations. “Told of girl’s assault at spring training hotel, Gabe Kapler, Dodgers didn’t alert police,” the headline blared.
Kapler, hired the prior November as Dodgers director of player development, was also referenced in the police report, which the Post relayed in depth. He was contacted by email by both the 17-year-old and her grandmother, the teen noting “your player . . . videotaped it all” and neither conveying more than the physical assault. Subsequent reporting on the incident in the Arizona Republic and Sports Illustrated — the latter part of a larger piece about Francona’s distrust of Kapler, and the Marine captain’s eventual blackballing from the sport — didn’t further investigate the recording angle, nor did either story name the players, since neither were charged.
Longtime minor-league reporter Jessica Quiroli, however, did. Last Feb. 14, she self-published “Dodgers After Dark: The Sexual Assaults MLB Never Investigated, A Team’s Culture Unexamined,” which focused heavily on the February 2015 incident. The piece, which in her own words relies on “details in the official police report, emails provided to me [and] emails that were made public prior to my story,” reports Verdugo as the “Alex” and walks through the police account.
Both players, Quiroli wrote, “did nothing to stop the [physical] assault and were apparently so entertained by the violence happening to this defenseless girl, that either … or both of them posted the video to social media.”
Asked by Minihane earlier this month about Verdugo’s involvement, Francona relayed some of his meeting with him, then 19.
“There’s kind of the story that Alex gave Gabe Kapler and myself at the time, was that he was passed out while the alleged assault was going on. The version that eventually came out in the police report was that Alex and a couple other girls that were with them that night were in … the bathroom of the hotel room. So that’s, there’s a lot of discrepancies going on,” Francona said. “I never heard a version that Alex was involved in a sexual assault.
“I think it was probably an episode of poor judgment on his part. My take on it at the time with, and I spent a lot of time with Alex, he was drafted right out of high school [at 18 in 2014] and was on the younger side for that, even. And had a bit of a reputation coming in as well. I ended up spending a lot of time with him in the aftermath of this, trying to mentor him and help him out a little bit and get him on the right path. And one of the things that was a pretty clear takeaway for me was that the other individual involved, and there’d been a couple other data points that had led to this conclusion as well, was that he was just hanging out with kind of some of the wrong older players that were influencing him.”
Asked pointedly by Minihane whether it was Verdugo who posted the assault on Snapchat, Francona said “that was my understanding,” then later clarified he had not seen the video himself.
“To repeat what I said earlier on is my recollection from the discussions, I believe Kapler might’ve seen it,” he said. “I’m not positive, but I know that that had come up, and that was … my recollection was that it was Alex, but I’m not 100 percent sure of that.”
Kapler, in a statement on his personal blog following the Post report, outlined the incident as he understood it following conversations with the 17-year-old’s grandmother and the two Dodgers players. It includes that “one player [was] passed out on the bed” and “the other player shared a video clip of the incident on Snapchat.” He also makes clear he did not learn of the alleged sexual assault until asked about it by the Post.
The police report never references any conversations with Verdugo, their investigation largely stifled before it started. Kapler — passed over for the Dodgers managerial job in November 2015, but subsequently hired by the Phillies and, this November, the Giants — at first attempted to organize a dinner meeting between the players and the 17-year-old; “we believe we can teach valuable lessons to all involved through this method of follow up,” he wrote in an email to the grandmother. (The 17-year-old refused, believing she was “being set up for something bad.”)
Kapler didn’t go to police or MLB, either. In Sports Illustrated’s words, he “required [the players] to undergo training for ‘being a good teammate.’ Specifically, the players were assigned to write essays about Dodgers history, take nature walks, practice yoga and meditation, clean the team’s weight room, and watch motivational videos.” The incident was kept in house, as similar incidents were even after baseball’s August 2015 joint domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy mandated they be reported.
As for Verdugo, the story was scarcely covered last season in Los Angeles, during which he impressed teammates with his “youthful enthusiasm.” Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, in announcing the trade, said the Red Sox did “extensive due diligence” and would not have moved forward had they been uncomfortable.
Quiroli scoffed at that, noting “even MLB didn’t.”
“The point, as I’ve said so many times,” Quiroli tweeted on Saturday night, “is unanswered questions. And lack of accountability.”
Alex Verdugo could have directly addressed what happened, and made some sort of amends. That would've been hugely meaningful.
Instead he talked about how hurt he was & insinuated that the report I wrote, with a ton of police report details, is a lie. @RedSox
— Jessica Quiroli (@heelsonthefield) February 15, 2020
Those questions will likely remain unanswered, given Verdugo’s words, barring a change of heart from the runaway at the center of the incident. The Post sought to contact her before its story a year ago, but was unsuccessful, noting she “still lives in the Glendale area, according to court records, which listed her as ‘transient’ in an unrelated case in December .”
It’s an ending that serves no one well.
“The other guy was a couple years older and that can happen, especially in professional sports, when you’ve got guys coming in and the wrong person takes you under their wing,” Francona told Minihane, “and I think Alex exercised some pretty poor judgement in that regard, and he needed to grow up based on a lot of different things.
“I don’t think he was the biggest villain in all this in any stretch. I don’t think it reflects well on him, either.”