If you thought the Cubs, and perhaps you as a Cubs fan, would escape their self-created hell of an offseason just because baseball games were being played again, then the world is going to have some awfully violent market corrections in store for you. But I admire your optimism and hope in these times. It appears that the Cubs stepped in it again, or more to the point it became public knowledge that they’d stepped in it again, yesterday with reports that the Cubs were declining access or threatening writers who did not give positive coverage of Addison Russell. With his return to Wrigley now imminent, and most everyone except Russell wishing it would never happen for a litany of reasons, the Cubs are clearly going to a prevent defense of the highest order. The problem with a prevent defense of course is that it does give up a ton of yards.
It started with Sheryl Ring of FanGraphs. That was picked up by NBC’s Hardball Talk. This was followed by a few beat writers who follow the team saying they hadn’t heard this and certainly hadn’t been threatened by the team, and then some other writers or media members not as close to the team saying they had heard this or been on the receiving end. You know us, we go by the amount of smoke something has, and this one has a ton. Sheryl Ring and FanGraphs aren’t just some yahoos in the dark, even if some would like to still portray them as such, and all this comes from somewhere and something.
And really, when you’re on the side of Bob Nightengale on anything, you’re on the wrong one.
There is nothing comfortable about anything surrounding Russell right now. His suspension, the Cubs handling of him, his impending return, but most of all who he is and what he’s done, and whether or not he has any interest in not being that (sure doesn’t feel like it). While I am as uncomfortable as anyone, just because I’m uncomfortable doesn’t mean I can’t see where the Cubs are on this at the base level. Since the suspension, which at first they didn’t handle well at all, Theo Epstein’s openness has been if not welcome, at least a change. There is no clear answer on whether or not heaving Russell out of Chicago and his job is beneficial to Melisa Reidy and to survivors at large. Some say it does worse damage, others say it doesn’t. Perhaps the Cubs cherry-picked the experts they talked to, but in this day and age a sports organization talking to anyone is a step in the right direction.
Theo has been careful to mention Melisa and their child’s interest at every turn, and even has said Melisa herself didn’t want Russell cut loose. Maybe that’s not exactly what went down, but if it went against her wishes I think we’d know at this point. And considering the hell she and their child have been through, they are deserving of whatever share of a major league paycheck they get. Maybe it’s uncomfortable and upsetting that Russell will continue to get to work here specifically for most, and I get that because no one wants this around. At the same time, it may be that it has to be somewhere. You’re not supposed to feel good about it, or like it, or comfortable, but just because it lacks all of those things doesn’t mean it’s completely wrong. Yes, the point of sports fandom is to feel good and happy and fun, but this is also real life, which is basically none of those things most of the time.
I won’t really know what’s going on until Russell screws up again, which it seems like he will because no one other than those with vested interests have made it seem like he’s even considered at least contrition. Or maybe until the Cubs make it clear what they feel like is screwing up again and then cut him loose. What’s their threshold? Then we’ll know where their interests lie, whether it truly is a life concern and helping or whether it’s simply about baseball concerns (and considering the makeup of the Cubs infield right now, even that seems like it shouldn’t be much of a concern for them either).
But with this, the Cubs aren’t taking responsibility as they’ve said they would and in some ways have. The awkwardness, to be polite, of the the whole thing is part of the story. Trying to whitewash what Russell has done and who he is is part of the problem. Russell carries this with him everywhere he goes, and will from here on out, which is part of what I would assume his therapy is. The Cubs, by deciding to keep Russell for whatever process they want to run through, chose to take that on. They didn’t have to. So coverage of that isn’t wrong or unfair. It’s the story.
The Cubs can’t have it both ways, though lord knows they’ve spent the offseason and now into this season trying. They made work of making it clear just how transparent they’ve been to everyone about everything, but then are snippy when that bites them in the ass, however true it may have been. The Cubs could have avoided this conflict, at least on this particular problem, and these kinds of tactics by not choosing to retain Russell. Here we are. One wonders if they’re so thorny on this because they know that Russell is just a fuckwad who will do fuckwad things again and are trying to shield themselves.
Figuring out the endgame of this particular tactic is not uplifting. One can only assume the Cubs thought that a rash of positive, “overcoming” stories would make fans forget what had gone on, bringing questions about it to an end, and smoothing over as much as possible what is going to be an even stickier situation than it already is when Russell gets here (if he gets here, which he doesn’t have to, and the Cubs might want to consider that one strongly. Iowa is…well I don’t care what it is this time of year, but an extended stay there is certainly a card to play). Which is in direct opposition to the things they’ve said since Russell got suspended, which has emphasized what he did and what he must do pretty much at every point.
The Cubs keep saying they want to be part of the solution and lead. It might be just words. But if they’re truly to set a new way of sports dealing with domestic violence, that means accepting all that comes with it and not just the aspects that make yourself look good. No one is going to look good out of this. That’s the path the Cubs chose, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily the wrong one. It’s just the much harder one. And maybe they’re balking at just how hard it is. But it’s too late for that.