Cubs, Russell head in right direction
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.”
Addison Russell will finish his 40-game suspension in 2019.