Known un­knowns be­devil Cubs’ role in as­sess­ing Rus­sell

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGO SPORTS - David Haugh David Haugh is a spe­cial con­trib­u­tor to the Chicago Tri­bune.

Some­times say­ing noth­ing says ev­ery­thing.

Cubs Pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein sat in a con­fer­ence room Fri­day at Guar­an­teed Rate Field — oddly at the same ball­park his team ad­dressed its last do­mes­tic-abuse cri­sis two years ago after ac­quir­ing closer Aroldis Chap­man — and care­fully con­sid­ered a ques­tion about Ad­di­son Rus­sell.

Ma­jor League Base­ball placed Rus­sell on paid ad­min­is­tra­tive leave after his for­mer wife ac­cused him of do­mes­tic abuse in a post linked to her In­sta­gram ac­count and Ep­stein was asked what he would say about the Cubs short­stop as a char­ac­ter wit­ness.

“I would say I know him in the base­ball con­text,” Ep­stein said. “One thing that we’ve learned as a so­ci­ety as we col­lec­tively try to wres­tle with bal­anc­ing how to ap­pro­pri­ately han­dle ac­cu­sa­tions like this is it’s im­por­tant to step back and re­al­ize you know some­one in one con­text and you don’t re­ally know them fully.”

Con­sciously or not, the Cubs re­al­ized the need to step back and dis­tance them­selves from Rus­sell, who per­haps played his last game for the team this sea­son — and pos­si­bly ever.

The league-im­posed ad­min­is­tra­tive leave, an in­ter­me­di­ate step, can last up to seven days, after which MLB can re­quest an ex­ten­sion for an­other seven days. With the reg­u­lar sea­son over one week from Sun­day, the Cubs sim­ply could make their own state­ment at that point and leave the trou­bled 24-year-old off the play­off ros­ter. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pos­si­ble dis­ci­pline stem­ming from it is in the hands of Ma­jor League Base­ball.

Un­til a res­o­lu­tion, the league pol­icy puts Rus­sell in pro­fes­sional limbo, where Ep­stein sounded con­tent to let him ex­ist. If you were look­ing for an im­pas­sioned de­fense of Rus­sell, keep look­ing. Ep­stein’s mea­sured tone sug­gested he re­al­ized that no mat­ter how good Rus­sell is with his glove, the Cubs can’t risk MLB’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­clud­ing a player rep­re­sent­ing the fran­chise laid hands on a woman.

As­sess­ing the mo­ti­va­tion of Rus­sell’s ac­cuser to come for­ward pub­licly one week be­fore the play­offs, while com­pelling, is moot. Wor­ry­ing about the im­pact Rus­sell’s po­ten­tial ab­sence will have on the Cubs’ abil­ity to play deep into Oc­to­ber, while un­der­stand­able, is in­sen­si­tive. This is about al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic abuse, not de­fen­sive re­place­ments.

“The tim­ing is not ideal but that doesn’t mat­ter,” said Ep­stein, who ap­peared at the im­promptu news con­fer­ence next to Cubs Chair­man Tom Rick­etts. “What mat­ters is get­ting to a just and fair res­o­lu­tion.”

The dis­turb­ing na­ture of the al­le­ga­tions de­manded the Cubs take them se­ri­ously and re­spond not only swiftly but re­spon­si­bly. The base­ball world was watch­ing and the Cubs were lis­ten­ing to their con­science, which called late Thurs­day night.

That’s when Ep­stein saw the post­ing on­line and im­me­di­ately called an MLB in­ves­ti­ga­tor to ver­ify the ac­cuser. In a pow­er­ful, per­sonal 2,800-word es­say, Melisa Reidy-Rus­sell had de­scribed her for­mer hus­band as an emo­tion­ally and phys­i­cally abu­sive part­ner.

“The first time I was phys­i­cally mis­treated by my spouse, I was in shock,” Reidy-Rus­sell wrote. “I couldn’t wrap my head around what just hap­pened. … Why did he get so an­gry? What did I do for him to want to put his hands on me?”

In re­lat­ing a visit to Chicago from Florida last sum­mer so Rus­sell could see the cou­ple’s young son, Reidy-Rus­sell im­plied an ugly al­ter­ca­tion oc­curred in front of the boy.

“I swore to my­self it would be the last time he’d lay his hands on me and it would be the last time I’d let my son be a wit­ness to it,” she said.

By the time Ep­stein con­tacted Rus­sell on Fri­day morn­ing to have a dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tion — the player “reaf­firmed his stance” that he never abused his wife, Ep­stein said — the Cubs un­der­stood the awk­ward spot they sud­denly oc­cu­pied. More than ever in sports and so­ci­ety, do­mes­tic abusers have be­gun be­ing held ac­count­able, as they should be, yet the Cubs still had to watch how quickly they rushed to judge Rus­sell based on an ac­cu­sa­tion with­out ev­i­dence or a po­lice re­port.

This wasn’t like the Chap­man case or other MLB do­mes­tic-abuse cases in­volv­ing Roberto Osuna and Jose Reyes that in­cluded law en­force­ment and a pa­per trail. This was about ac­cu­sa­tions po­lice never in­ves­ti­gated, at least to the knowl­edge of the Cubs. This was dif­fer­ent.

For rea­sons only Reidy-Rus­sell knows, she has re­fused to co­op­er­ate with MLB in­ves­ti­ga­tors since a friend of the fam­ily made the first ac­cu­sa­tion against Rus­sell in June 2017. Maybe that changes now, maybe not.

What­ever the case, the league has kept the in­ves­ti­ga­tion open since Reidy-Rus­sell’s re­fusal last sum­mer — some­thing Ep­stein said he knew from in­fre­quent up­dates but Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don claimed he didn’t. Their dif­fer­ing ver­sions on the state of MLB’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion came as a sur­prise given that Ep­stein and Rick­etts met with play­ers in the vis­it­ing club­house be­fore Fri­day’s game to ad­dress the sit­u­a­tion.

In­ex­pli­ca­bly, Mad­don had yet to read the blog re­spon­si­ble for Rus­sell’s ab­sence by the time he met the me­dia a lit­tle later; a play­ers man­ager seem­ingly dis­as­so­ci­at­ing him­self with a player in Rus­sell to whom he rec­om­mended books and TV shows.

“Have you read it?” a re­porter asked Mad­don about the blog.

“Should I?” Mad­don an­swered, but no­body should have laughed.

In this in­stance, Mad­don be­ing un­in­formed was un­funny, not to men­tion in­ex­cus­able. Mad­don was fine to ask for more time be­fore draw­ing a con­clu­sion about Rus­sell but seem­ing to be in no hurry to digest the al­le­ga­tions was a bad look.

“As a base­ball player, I know him,” Mad­don said. Be­yond that, the Cubs made one thing clear about the con­tro­versy no­body saw com­ing: They knew what they didn’t know about Rus­sell the per­son, not the player.

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