Addison Russell returns to Cubs: 'He doesn't deserve to be met with an unconditionally warm welcome'

Addison Russell returns to Cubs: 'He doesn't deserve to be met with an unconditionally warm welcome'

After eight months away from Wrigley Field, Addison Russell is back wearing the Cubs logo and the white uniform with blue pinstripes. 

Russell's 40-game suspension for domestic abuse ended last week, but the Cubs opted to keep the infielder in the minor leagues to continue to work on his timing and get ready to handle a big-league workload after missing all of April. 

Theo Epstein said the organization's initial plan was to add Russell to the big-league roster next Tuesday in Cincinnati — the first game after the Cubs' current 10-game homestand — but with Ben Zobrist on a leave of absence and Daniel Descalso still nursing an ankle injury, the Cubs needed some infield depth.

Russell was promoted Wednesday afternoon and immediately inserted into the Cubs lineup, batting eighth and playing second base (Javy Baez remained at his shortstop post). Russell received a mixture of boos and cheers as he was announced before the game and then had a similar reaction from fans when he took his first at-bat in the third inning. He finished the day 0-for-3 with a walk as the Cubs pulled out a 3-2 victory in 11 innings.

Epstein and the Cubs also felt Russell was ready to take the next step in his rehabilitation. Epstein reiterated again that just because Russell is back in Chicago does not mean there is any sort of "finish line" or that his work is complete.

The Cubs gave Russell a conditional second chance and they feel he's met their conditions to date, though Epstein acknowledged this will be a lifelong process for Russell.

"Very meaningful for me, honestly — the testimonials from people in Addison's life who had been affected by his inappropriate behavior before who are now talking about his growth, his improved communication skills, coping skills, emotional control, his increased engagement as a father and as a co-parent," Epstein said. "To me, that's really significant and shows that there's been some progress to this point. 

"He wouldn't be here had there not been progress. This is not a finish line. The work continues. Addison is committed to continuing to put the work in and he'll need to."

If everything had gone according to plan with the Cubs' roster, Russell would've rejoined the team on the road and not at home. 

But Wednesday night's crowd for first pitch was hardly typical of Wrigley Field, due in part to the start of the game getting pushed up a half hour because of inclement weather. Between that and the rebuilding Marlins in town as the Cubs' opponent, this wasn't exactly a standing-room only crowd for Russell's first game back. 

Even if the Cubs' ideal plan was to bring Russell up on the road, that would only have delayed the inevitable return to Wrigley.

"I think it's fine," Epstein said. "It's part of the process. Had he made his return on the road, he would've had to deal with another round of inquiry and dealt with a return to Wrigley field at some point in the near future, so he can deal with all that today and continue to move forward. 

"Look, if there's an additional burden and there's additional scrutiny on him and there are other things that he has to deal with, I think that's just part of the process. That's not unfair. That's part of his arc and the journey that he's on."

As for how Cubs fans might welcome Russell back Wednesday and beyond, Epstein understands there will be some negative backlash along the way.

"I hope Addison continues to grow," Epstein said. "That's what this is all about. I think he should expect to face adversity along the way and he doesn't deserve to be met with an unconditionally warm welcome and with open arms. I think he will receive an appropriate response and that's something he needs to take responsibility for — to process, to handle the right way and to grow from. 

"I think it's all part of the process. He knows it's a long road back to earn people's trust — whether that's the organization, most importantly the people in his life on a  daily basis, his teammates and then the fans. It's not something that you get back easily. It's something he has to learn. 

"Because of the work that he's put in, he's still a part of this organization and I think this buys him a chance to try to earn people's trust back and that's it."

What was Russell expecting as a reaction from fans?

"I'm not sure. I'm really not sure," he said. "I'm just gonna try and go out there and help my team win. Good or bad, I think in my mind, it's gonna be a positive reaction just because of how hard I've worked to get here. I realize there's a long road ahead of me, but I'm happy I'm here in Chicago, ready to help this team win."

Russell said he feels part of his goal is to try to win over fans who were against the Cubs bringing him back and reiterated that he's done a lot of work off the field.

"I've just improved overall," he said. "Better relationships, better communication with my teammates and family and friends. Just overall, I feel like I'm a better person. Hearing from my family and friends and also teammates that I have improved as well is a lot of assurance for me. 

"And then just continuing my therapy as well. I know that I'm making great strides. It's a long road ahead and there is no finish line, but I'm committed to this."

What would he say to fans who don't feel he deserves to be back in a Cubs uniform and back on an MLB field?

"I'm here," Russell said. "I know they're going to think and say whatever they want to say and they're entitled to that and I respect them for that, but the thing is, I'm here and I have an opportunity to help this team win."

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

You enter under the marquee at Clark and Addison. As you make your way through the concourse, a sliver of bright blue sky is visible through one of the walkways that lead to the seating area. As you climb the stairs, the green hand-operated scoreboard in center field comes into view. As you reach the top of the steps, you look to the outfield and see...nothing but a plain old wall?

For fans entering Wrigley Field prior to 1937, that was the view for those seated in the grandstands looking onto the field. No lush green ivy running from foul pole to foul pole. Just a wall, like every other stadium in the league.

How boring.

Part of what makes the Wrigley Field experience so special is having an outfield that looks different than the 29 other major league ballparks. So, how did it get there? For that, Cubs fans have a former White Sox owner to thank.

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The origins of the ivy go back almost 90 years. William Veeck was the Cubs president from 1919 until his death in October 1933. During that time, he hired his son, William Jr., who started as a gopher but quickly moved his way up the Cubs organization. Veeck Jr, whom Chicagoans know better as Bill, would go on to buy the White Sox in 1975. He was behind infamous baseball moments like sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat in 1951 and Disco Demolition Night in 1979.

In 1937, Veeck gave Cubs fans an early glimpse of his ability to make a splash.

That season, team owner P.K. Wrigley decided to renovate the ballpark that bears his family’s name and make it more of a destination rather than just another baseball stadium. A big part of the upgrade was the addition of the bleachers and the center field scoreboard, which has remained in its spot for the past 83 years.

Wrigley turned to Veeck, tasking him with marketing Wrigley Field with something a little more colorful in front of the bricks supporting the bleachers.

As for the inspiration for the ivy, Veeck credits the home of the Indianapolis Indians, Perry Stadium, which opened in 1931 and had ivy climbing its outfield walls. In his autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck”, Veeck wrote:

Since I had always admired the ivy-covered...walls at Perry Stadium in Indianapolis

I suggested we appropriate the idea for ourselves.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The ivy remained at Perry Stadium (which was renamed Victory Stadium and Bush Stadium over the years) until the ballpark closed in 1996. The Indians tried to replicate the ivy covered walls at their new park, but team officials were told professional baseball standards now required padded walls 

Wrigley’s walls have been grandfathered into the rules, so they can remain as is. And any attempts to change them requires the approval of the City of Chicago, which added the ivy to part of Wrigley Field’s Landmark Designation.

The ivy also has a special set of rules. If a batted ball goes into it and disappears, the batter (and all runners) are awarded two bases. However, if an outfielder makes an attempt to get the ball out of the ivy, the ball is live (and the outfielder runs the risk of finding not only the ball in play, but others hit there previously).

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But what if Veeck never planted the ivy?

What if in 1937, Mr. Wrigley decided a brick wall was enough. Would the team have kept the walls at their current height and just added pads to them when the league required they do so?  Without landmark status, the Cubs could have decided during subsequent bleacher renovations to lower the height of the walls a couple of feet to allow outfielders to attempt home run-saving catches.

In that case, there would be no need for a basket at the top of the walls. And without one, Javier Baez’ eighth inning shot into the left field basket in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants isn’t a homer, but a long fly out. And instead of winning that game 1-0, maybe the Cubs lose it.

Maybe that gives San Francisco the momentum they need in the series and they go on and beat the Cubs in the NLDS. Then there is no World Series title and the championship drought is at 111 years and counting.

And that’s a world I just don’t want to live in. And it makes me appreciate the ivy on the walls that much more.

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Union's counter to MLB allows players to opt out of proposed 114-game season

Union's counter to MLB allows players to opt out of proposed 114-game season

The MLB players union sent its proposal for the 2020 season to MLB on Sunday, five days after receiving what they deemed to be an “extremely disappointing” financial proposal from the league.

According to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the union’s proposal includes starting a 114-game regular season on June 30, an uptick from the 82 games the league has proposed. Players would be allowed to opt out of the season, with those considered to be “high risk” (or live with someone who is) for severe coronavirus symptoms getting paid and service time. Those not considered high risk wouldn’t be paid if they opt out but would receive service time.

The league's Tuesday proposal included a sliding scale where the top-earning players would take the biggest pay cuts, while the lowest earners would make close to prorated salaries. That was met with disapproval from the players, who agreed to take prorated salaries in March based on games played and believe that should stand as the lone pay cut for 2020.

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The owners have cited a provision where that agreement can be nullified if games are played without fans this season — meaning significant revenue losses. Fans aren't expected to be in attendance for most, if not all of this season. With the players seeking prorated salaries, playing more games means taking less of a pay cut. 

Under the union's proposal, the regular season would end on Halloween, with an expanded postseason following. MLB proposed adding four playoff teams in 2020 due to the unique nature of the season. The MLBPA, however, is also calling for an expanded postseason in 2021 — the last season of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.  

Financially speaking, MLB’s biggest incentive for the 2020 season is the national TV money brought in during the playoffs. Scheduling the postseason into mid or late November is risky, then, due to a potential second wave of the coronavirus.

The players are also asking for a $100 million advance during the second “spring training,” as well as an offer to receive a $100 million salary deferral if the postseason is cancelled. The deferral would be for players making $10 million or more before salary proration.

Players will need three or four weeks to ramp up before any regular season can begin. As Passan notes, the two sides need to come to an agreement this week for a June 30 Opening Day to be realistic.

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