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Sheryl Ring of FanGraphs reported the following earlier today:
I spoke to one media member who told me they were privately instructed by the Cubs to lay off Russell and threatened with reprisal if they didn't.— Sheryl Ring ⚾️ ⚖️ "The Counselor" (@Ring_Sheryl) April 28, 2019
Back on October 3rd, Major League Baseball announced that Addison Russell “has accepted a 40-game suspension without pay for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.”
This came after the league investigated allegations of domestic abuse made by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, in a blog post last September. The Cubs had the opportunity to part ways with their starting shortstop by non-tendering him, as he is not yet eligible for free agency, but didn’t. Doing so would’ve helped them from a PR perspective in two ways in that they spent the entire offseason insisting that they couldn’t sign any free agents because the team was out of money.
Why did they double down on Russell by tendering him a contract? Why did they triple down by making threats behind the scenes just as Russell finishes his suspension and prepares to return to the Cubs?
If you are powerful and successful, then you believe you are good. Every action you used to obtain power and achieve success was also good because the end result was good. Therefore, every decision, every action you make now is good, because you are good. Something isn’t wrong or bad unless you decide it is, and why would a baseball team decide that they’ve made a bad decision in their roster construction or with their payroll?
The Cubs know they are right and good because the decision-making that led to bringing back Russell and giving him a second chance came from the same brains that made the Cubs extremely profitable for its ownership group and a world champion in 2016.
But they’re not acting like nothing bad happened. They’re acknowledging that something bad happened, yet they’re trying to force the culture to move on and in doing so, they’re actually invalidating the pain of the entire experience. Domestic violence makes people uncomfortable — that’s why they don’t want to talk about it. They’re eager to “move on” or “not see the big deal” because doing so would mean baseball couldn’t be a distraction from reality — it would be reality.
That’s understandable in only the most basic way. Addison Russell has excepted punishment for something he did and after which MLB determined he was culpable. The joy and adulation sent from fans to Russell and the money sent from the team to Russell served as a context for a period of abuse in a marriage. That’s an ugly truth. Fans aren’t responsible for what Addison Russell did — he is responsible — but it should be clear why it’s impossible to simple detach the off field actions from the on the field stuff. They’re connected.
Addison Russell represents the Cubs and Major League Baseball. He lives a public life. What he does off the field can’t help but be connected back to the Cubs and Major League Baseball. It would be irrational to think otherwise.
The loudest fans want players to face more consequences from their team for not running out a grounder than for what he does to his wife off the field. And, yeah, I’m making a generalization, because what evidence do we have to suggest that the generalized, dominant mindset that’s driving team actions differs from that?
Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon know what’s best, though. What they know that we don’t is that Addison Russell can still provide “surplus value” and a “return on investment”. The Cubs don’t want to lose an “asset” because of the effect it will have on team performance. That’s the dehumanizing aspect of business and baseball colliding in the public sphere. These teams thrive on human emotion — fan emotion — to make money, and when that emotion threatens their money, they threaten to snuff it out.
Addison Russell’s story isn’t over just because his suspension has ended. The Cubs owed it to their fans and the community at large to either take a stand by not re-signing him or by being very clear about where they stand on his actions and the issue of domestic violence; or, at the very least, not treat him like some fallen hero on a redemption arc.
But that’s what they decided to do because they need him to feel comfortable in the clubhouse. Not because they like and respect him, but because they need to be sure they’ve done everything in their power to maximize his value to them on the field. Going after the press to squash bad publicity is a way to keep the clubhouse clean and the “distractions” minimal — remember how we always hear about players trying or needing to avoid distractions and get into a routine? — so that the team can control enough of the environment to, hopefully, generate the desired outcomes of winning and gate receipts.
Articles about Addison Russell’s very recent and relevant history of domestic violence are going to be treated like someone’s out to sabotage the Cubs’ stock price. That’s the relevant bit of today’s news. The dehumanization of reality starts at the top.
The Cubs have plainly stated that they’re 100% behind Addison Russell. They take pride in their investments... so long as they can still project a return on them. The Cubs don’t care about Melisa Reidy for the same reason they don’t care about Addison Russell and certainly don’t care about you: there are no people, relationships, or community. Just the Cubs. Forget your feelings.