Cubs, Rus­sell head in right di­rec­tion

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - GOLF - Gabe Lac­ques

Ad­di­son Rus­sell is go­ing to play short­stop for the Cubs in 2019, a devel­op­ment that’s not al­to­gether sur­pris­ing and one that many still will find re­volt­ing.

Faced with ac­cu­sa­tions from his for­mer wife, Melisa Reidy, and ini­tially, one of her friends, that he was a phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally abu­sive spouse, Rus­sell dug in his heels. He is­sued a stri­dent de­nial out of the well-worn play­book of the ac­cused and then dis­ap­peared, a 40-game sus­pen­sion delet­ing him from Chicago’s post­sea­son plans, de­lay­ing the start of his 2019 cam­paign and cast­ing his fu­ture with the club in sig­nif­i­cant doubt.

Team and player re-emerged Fri­day with their union in­tact, two pre­pared state­ments in­di­cat­ing Rus­sell will re­main a Cub.

In the­ory, the canned com­ments could be viewed as the stan­dard pablum when a team deter­mines the risk of car­ry­ing a toxic as­set is out­weighed by that per­son’s per­for­mance on the field. Yet within the words of club pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein and Rus­sell him­self, there ap­peared some­thing re­sem­bling progress in sport’s in­el­e­gant grap­pling with do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

First, a mo­ment of cyn­i­cism: Fri­day marked the dead­line for ma­jor league teams to ten­der con­tracts to ar­bi­tra­tion-el­i­gi­ble play­ers. It’s easy to sur­mise the Cubs pon­dered dump­ing Rus­sell, looked at the land­scape of avail­able short­stops, scoffed at low­ball trade of­fers and de­cided to keep him.

Eas­ier, still, to imag­ine Rus­sell backed into a cor­ner by the Cubs, faced with los­ing a pay­day es­ti­mated at about $4 mil­lion and sud­denly find­ing a path to re­demp­tion.

Rus­sell, how­ever, sounded a note of gen­eral con­tri­tion in his re­marks, which in­cluded so many ba­sic phrases that ac­cused, or even ad­mit­ted, abusers fail to find.

“I of­fer my heart­felt apol­ogy to my fam­ily and my for­mer wife Melisa for my be­hav­ior.”

“I am re­spon­si­ble for my ac­tions.” “I took the ex­tra ini­tia­tive of ob­tain­ing my own ther­a­pist … at­tempt­ing to im­prove my­self by learn­ing new out­looks and un­der­stand­ing dif­fer­ent emo­tions.”

“I am just in the early stages of this process.”

As he noted, it’s a start. It’s also a sig­nif­i­cant de­par­ture from Aroldis Chap­man’s state­ment, is­sued in March 2016 when the Yan­kees’ re­liever be­came the first player sus­pended un­der MLB’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence pol­icy: “I want to be clear, I did not in any way harm my girl­friend that evening,” he said of a night when he fired sev­eral shots from a hand­gun in a garage af­ter a dis­pute with the mother of his child. “How­ever, I should have ex­er­cised bet­ter judg­ment with re­spect to my ac­tions, and for that I am sorry.”

Chap­man went on to note he ac­cepted the ban to “min­i­mize dis­trac­tions” for team­mates and fam­ily mem­bers; there was no con­tri­tion to­ward his girl­friend other than to say that in his eyes he did her no harm.

Many Cubs fans were un­der­stand­ably un­set­tled when their team traded for Chap­man five months later, dis­ap­pointed their team chose a World Se­ries at any cost over a sense of pro­pri­ety.

Ep­stein made that deal, faced the blow­back and then saw Rus­sell, ac­quired by him in a 2014 trade, face sim­i­lar ac­cu­sa­tions.

While Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don stum­bled badly an­swer­ing the most ba­sic of ques­tions re­gard­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions, Ep­stein found the right tone from the be­gin­ning. He noted Fri­day that the fran­chise has main­tained “reg­u­lar di­a­logue” with Reidy, “to sup­port her and to lis­ten.”

SPORTS BENNY SIEU/USA TO­DAY

Ad­di­son Rus­sell will fin­ish his 40-game sus­pen­sion in 2019.

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