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Major League Baseball has a domestic violence policy, and, on paper, it can be pretty effective. There are internal investigations and suspensions can occur without charges being filed or there being an arrest: that’s a positive workaround for the world we live in, where domestic abusers rarely face punishment or even public scrutiny.
When we see how the policy and punishments are used in practice, though, we get the uncomfortable reminder that, too often, MLB’s view of domestic abuse is mostly one where they’re hoping to minimize the public relations hit. Giants’ CEO Larry Baer was suspended for just half of the 2019 season, despite being caught on video attacking his wife in public in order to wrest a cell phone from her hands. The Yankees traded for then-suspended closer Aroldis Chapman, because his domestic abuse suspension lowered his value, and allowed New York to acquire him for less than he’d usually cost… and then they flipped him to the Cubs that summer, at a premium, because the suspension was over and so to was any stigma attached to his person. The Astros traded for Roberto Osuna last summer to improve their bullpen for similar reasons: this version of Moneyball is an uncomfortable one to witness play out.
And now, we’re dealing with the Addison Russell post-suspension fallout. The Cubs’ infielder was suspended 40 games by MLB after his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, detailed years of emotional and physical abuse by Russell in social media posts and in interviews. (Jason Mastrodonato asks an important question in a Boston Herald feature: why was Russell’s suspension so short in comparison to, say, a suspension for the use of PEDs? Especially given what we know of the nature of his abuse.) Russell, who is arbitration-eligible and therefore just under contract on a year-to-year basis, was given a $3.4 million contract for 2019 — a very small bump from 2018’s $3.2 million, but that minimal raise had more to do with Russell’s awful on-field performance than anything he did in his private life. The fact he was kept on at all is proof enough of that.
Russell’s manager, Joe Maddon, has handled every question about his player horribly, and even downplayed the allegations by Melisa Reidy by saying, “Anybody can write anything they want these days with social media, blogging, etc.” and that he wasn’t going to bother to read up on anything until after a suspension was handed out (or not handed out) — he even mentioned giving “both sides” their due time, as if Russell was going to come up with a viable justification for years of torture. As a wonderful (but locked) follow on Twitterrecently put it: Joe Maddon isn’t a progressive mind, he just wears glasses.
The Cubs’ lack of caring about paying and fielding a domestic abuser goes beyond re-upping his contract and Maddon’s infuriating incompetence, though. It turns out that the Cubs’ organization is possibly threatening writers who criticize Russell for his domestic abuse, now that the suspension has been served.
To the Cubs, the domestic abuse is behind them and Russell both, in the sense a suspension was served and their player is telling the media he’s glad for his second chance, and willing to change his position and role just to play the ole ballgame he loves once more, as long as it helps his team win. What a guy, right? Therefore, it is very unfortunate for them when you remind the world that Addison Russell, for years, emotionally and psychologically and physically abused his wife. Sorry, Chicago, but a 40-game suspension and a team-first attitude does not change these facts about who Russell is and what he’s done one bit.
Russell “served his time” or whatever, sure, but was that time sufficient in the first place? Why should he still get to play professional baseball for a living? Why should Cubs fans and baseball fans in general be subjected to the existence of Russell and the memory of what he did, forced to relive their own personal trauma so that Chicago can get a discount on a bench player with a decent glove? Why should he be in a position to earn the richest contract of his career, instead of finding a new line of work altogether?
In addition, I’m not saying that this would all be better were Russell any good at baseball, but the fact that he isn’t much good or use at all only highlights the issue further: the Cubs are threatening writers for critical stories about a domestic abuser, and he’s not even a special talent nor key cog. He’s just some guy. Imagine what they’d do for a star player, to make the memory of his abuse vanish from the public consciousness? The Ricketts would probably buy your paper and shut it down in response to your story.
As a prison abolitionist, I don’t believe in prisons and the prison-industrial complex, but I do believe in rehabilitation and attacking the root causes of violence and abuse. Given all that, I have to say that serving a 40-game suspension and being shielded from all other consequences while receiving a pay raise and still getting to have the same high-profile job you had, as a beloved member of one of just 30 MLB organizations, is not going to help with any kind of rehab of Russell’s abusive nature. As Mastrodonato points out, MLB will ban players for life for using PEDs one too many times, but someone like Russell can for years abuse his wife in myriad ways, and a few months later have his team pulling out all the stops to defend him and their decision to avoid severing ties with him. That’s, to put it bluntly, pretty fucked up, and a reminder that MLB’s interest in stopping domestic abuse has more to do with keeping their name out of your mouth when discussing it than in actually bringing about positive change.