It’s Time for Cubs to Act Rather than Continue Due Diligence with Addison Russell

I’ve taken a lot of flights, but one in particular stands out. We’d been in the air much longer than was required following the notice of our approach into Charlotte and the pilot eventually clued us in as to why. Weather on the ground had jammed things up, he said, so we were circling the airport until a runway opened. But then he decided it would be a good idea to inform the passengers that we didn’t have enough fuel to last much longer, so they had asked air traffic control to elevate our priority.

Remind you at all of a certain baseball team?

Or how about this analogy: A football team has a fourth and four around midfield and they keep the offense out, ostensibly to try a hard count to draw the defense off and get a first down. The quarterback is barking out fake signals and changing the cadence of his voice in the hopes that something, anything will get a defender to jump. Then, as the play clock ticks down, the offense calls a timeout and swaps in the punt team.

Neither of those analogies can accurately describe the position into which the Cubs have inextricably wedged themselves, though I do think it helps for folks like me who need crutches to limp around bigger topics. The Cubs tried to give it a go with Addison Russell, they’ve talked about being part of the solution and doing their due diligence in helping him cooperate with MLB’s mandated counseling as part of his 40-game domestic violence suspension.

But it feels like they’re telling us they’re still content to circle the airport (subscription) while awaiting additional information. And at this point it feels at if there’s just one second left and Theo Epstein needs to go ahead and punt before this whole thing crashes to the ground and creates an even bigger fiery explosion than it already is.

This isn’t just about Mallory Engstrom, the mother of Russell’s first child, sharing details of him paying her child support with rolls of quarters. It’s not just about the vivid details shared by Melisa Reidy, Russell’s ex-wife, over the course of an extensive interview with Expanded Roster‘s Kelly Wallace. It’s that there’s seemingly no right way for the Cubs to handle the situation, yet choosing to move forward with Russell as a part of the team is the least right way.

The snippet below is just a small part, albeit a pretty graphic one, of an interview that describes Russell’s abhorrent behavior in a way previous accounts had not. It’s a cathartic and eye-opening experience for those who weren’t able to fully grasp what had gone on and a brazen “Here you go” for those who had obscenely clamored for specifics when Reidy’s initial blog post wasn’t enough.

One of the worst incidents that she remembers with Russell occurred after she went out for a “girls night” with a friend. Reidy says he came to find them and immediately said they were going home. Once in the cab, Russell was yelling at her (“in front of his friend and my friend and the taxi driver”) so she told the cab to stop and decided to get out and walk home. “I was crossing the street, I saw Addison coming out of the taxi. You know, you just know…he just starts running towards me,” Reidy says. Her fight or flight instinct kicked in and she took off running. “He slips…which pisses him off even more. I remember him gritting his teeth. I look back…and so I just try to run. And then everything kind of went sideways.”

“He slammed me into concrete…like, football tackled me. His friend was there and Carlie was there and they watched it. I was down, he was on top of me, yelling in my ear, saying, “You like doing this to me. You push my buttons. Do you like it when I get like this? Do you like doing this? You like pushing me to the point where I have to act like this.”

When he apologized, she says he told her, “I would never really hurt you, I just needed to get your attention because you weren’t listening to me.”

Please, please go read the whole thing right now if you haven’t already. Or maybe read it again. I promise I’ll still be when you get back.

See, I told you. Now I’m going to share with you something I don’t think you should read, but that I’ll present for your potential perusal nonetheless. Somewhere between the release of Engstrom’s IG post and Reidy’s interview, former Tribune columnist Phil Rogers dropped a steaming hot pile of take about the Cubs need to keep Russell around.

While it would be easy to cast Russell aside, he is the guy they should work the hardest to get back on track. Javier Baez is a much flashier shortstop than Russell but the Cubs have played their best in the Maddon era when they had Russell at short and Baez at second base. He deserves another chance, assuming there are no more incidents like the one with his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy.

Though he later issued a quasi-apology for the timing of his column, it was more of a “sorry-not-sorry, Cubs still need to keep Russell.” But at least he linked to the ER interview, so shrug emoji or whatever.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not just about the timing, which could not have been worse if it was planned that way. Second chances aren’t deserved, they’re earned. And unless you count the hollow statement crafted by Russell’s PR — the one that was released along with the news of the Cubs tendering him a contract — as earning anything more than dismissive side-eye, nothing has yet been done to merit a return to the roster.

And that’s assuming Russell hasn’t already burned through more than two chances already. The Cubs have known about his dalliances and love for the nightlife for years, which in and of itself is nothing worthy of character assassination. But you add in the initial investigation into his domestic abuse, then the reopening of that investigation, then Reidy’s reports that some of this was going on while they were on team functions, and it’s not hard to imagine that perhaps the due diligence will result in the surfacing of memories out of the Cubs’ collective amnesia.

Even if Russell was sly and subversive enough to keep all the worst of this from the organization, it’s pretty clear we’re talking about a habitual pattern of behavior. You don’t just mature out of that or go into remission after a few counseling sessions. The Cubs can and should support Russell in his growth and development as a human being, but they’d to well to excise him from the team as they do so.

I don’t believe they should release him simply to make him someone else’s problem, though that’s frequently what happens when talented athletes are cut loose in the wake of suspensions and arrests. There simply doesn’t seem to be a viable option for the Cubs that involves keeping Russell on the roster. Even for those entrenched holdouts who think he can still help the team, consider that Russell could actually face a reopening of MLB’s investigation and a lengthening of his suspension.

Again, there’s no right answer here, nothing that will wash the stink of the situation from the organization in a single pass. I mean, winning will spray a little perfume on it and time will wash out the worst odors. And with that in mind, it’s best to get moving on with the cleanup as quickly as possible.


Ed. note: I had initially included the following post from Russell’s Instagram, but deleted it because I couldn’t really wrap my head around how to address it. I still don’t, so I’ll just say that it’s timing — right in line with the publication of Reidy interview and the so soon after Engstrom’s IG post — feels waaaay too coincidental to be anything other than orchestrated damage control.

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