Caught in the middle of a social-media storm and Major League Baseball’s stronger policy on domestic violence, Cubs All-Star shortstop Addison Russell released a statement Thursday that denied an abuse accusation leveled in an Instagram comment.
“Any allegation I have abused my wife is false and hurtful,” Russell said. “For the well-being of my family, I’ll have no further comment.”
The Cubs didn’t suspend Russell, telling him to stay away from Wrigley Field and handle his personal business, keeping him out of uniform for that night’s game against the Colorado Rockies. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein said his understanding is the police are not involved “at this time” in the Russell matter: “But I would not necessarily know.”
Epstein also couldn’t say when Russell might return to the lineup. A source close to Russell said technically “there is no investigation to speak of now,” framing it as a fact-finding stage under a collective bargaining agreement that gives commissioner Rob Manfred broader powers to impose discipline in these cases.
Epstein became aware that Russell’s estranged wife, Melisa, spilled details about their marriage Wednesday night, calling him out as a cheater on Instagram. The rumblings about Russell’s off-the-field issues burst to the surface when a woman believed to be one of Melisa’s close friends made the third-party accusation with a comment on the post.
Epstein met with Russell and manager Joe Maddon after a loss to the Miami Marlins and alerted MLB on Thursday morning. That image and the unidentified woman’s Instagram account were deleted after it caught fire on the Internet.
“It’s honestly at such an early stage,” Epstein said, “that I don’t think it would be appropriate to do anything other than say we’re going to let it develop and then act as appropriately as we can. We care about all the parties involved and hope for the best.
“But making any judgment, I think, would be inappropriate at this very early stage.”
Epstein said the organization is limited in terms of conducting its own internal probe and will leave it up to Manfred’s office, which got its first test case before the beginning of last season, suspending New York Yankees closer/future Cub Aroldis Chapman for 30 games without South Florida prosecutors filing criminal charges after a domestic dispute.
“It’s exclusively the territory of Major League Baseball,” Epstein said. “We did, of course, meet with Addison and reach out to his wife as well. But per the policy, it has to stop there and any investigative action is exclusively the territory of MLB.”
Russell is 23 years old and exceptionally quiet in the clubhouse. He clearly hasn’t been performing up to the level that made him a 21-homer, 95-RBI force and a Gold Glove finalist last season, now hitting .209, lacking the same strong defensive presence and dealing with this cloud over his name.
“I would say the Addison Russell that we know is somebody that is a young kid who’s doing his best to be a really good citizen and a really good player,” Epstein said. “I think anything I say right now will be sort of viewed through the lens of this allegation – and it’s at such an early stage – that before I say any more I’d rather let this play out, out of fairness to Addison and fairness to the Cubs.”