Wrigley Field often gets called the “friendly confines.” From loveable losers to World Series champions, the Cubs have often stayed out of the media spotlight for the wrong reasons Ñ save the Aroldis Chapman trade. After a slow 2-7 start to the season, the Cubs have bounced back and currently seem to have found that swagger that was at the heart of the 2016 team. Despite the success, the talk of the town has been shortstop Addison Russell.
The 2012 first-round pick was seen as a surefire talent when the Cubs traded fan favorite Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics for him in 2014. The GM of the A’s told Cubs President of Basketball Operations Theo Epstein “You just got Barry Larkin,” referencing the Hall of Fame shortstop who played his entire career with the Cincinnati Reds.
That one comment would heap a whole lot of hype around Russell, which he hasn’t lived up to. The 25-year-old shortstop, however, was going to get every chance in the book to tap into his potential. The Cubs made a significant investment in Russell, and they aren’t going to give up on him when he’s shown flashes, especially defensively. The Russell dilemma would become more complicated towards the end of the 2018 season.
Russell’s ex-wife, Melisa Reidy-Russell, posted a blog post detailing and accusing her ex-husband of physical and mental abuse. The allegations started in June 2017. At the time, Russell responded via a statement to NBCsports.com that “Any allegation that I have abused my wife is false and hurtful.” Major League Baseball investigated Russell after the June 2017 Instagram post, but Melisa Russell didn’t want to speak on the allegations.
Epstein was quickly asked to speak about the suspension, saying that “He accepted this discipline, and I want to talk to him about what that means and find out more Ñ and the victim, first and foremost, deserves our outreach and our support, and that will be forthcoming very quickly.”
The first domino to drop occurred when the Cubs front office elected to tender the former top prospect a contract. The move was never going to be popular among fans or journalists. But a guy with Russell’s pedigree as a player doesn’t get left for dead that often. As a top prospect, Russell is going to get chance after chance to prove himself, despite the issues he is dealing with off the field. Epstein, being in an MLB front office since 2002, knew that better than probably anyone.
“After a very thorough process, we have chosen to take action to try to become a small part of the solution for Addison, his family, Melisa Reidy and the larger issue of domestic violence prevention,” said Epstein via MLB.com. Though he gave the right answer on giving Russell another contract, the move still was not welcomed around Chicago.
Russell isn’t the first player to be investigated for domestic violence under the Cubs’ watch. During the 2016 season, the Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman of the New York Yankees. Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and then firing gunshots throughout his house. Epstein addressed the claims that they were sacrificing their morality by saying, “I don’t feel like we compromised integrity in making this move,” Epstein said. “We approached it as thoroughly as we did Ñ and gave it as much careful consideration as we did and had a genuine debate about it for weeks Ñ because we wanted to make sure we preserve our integrity as an organization,” via nbcsports.com.
From a baseball perspective, Russell’s absence allowed Javier Baez to take over the SS position, and he’s excelled. Baez has proven to be a more than a capable defender, and he has the offensive punch (currently he’s batting .325, 11 HR, and 29 RBIs) that Russell has not consistently shown. Baez’s ascent to the top forced Russell to spend his suspension in Triple-A learning how to play second base. The Russell issue is more important than how he produces on the diamond.
Russell was called back up to the major league roster on May 8 due to Ben Zobrist being out because of personal reasons. Russell returned to a crowd that once supported him, now showering him with boos.
Russell is a father of three children by three different women. Melisa Russell seems to have forgiven him and moved on according to her recent Instagram post. However, has Russell changed? Is he ever going to change? Would the Cubs be sticking by his side if he weren’t a former top prospect? These are all questions that need to be answered, but most likely won’t. For the sake of Addison Russell and his children, I hope he’s started down the right path to making a change.