As bars of various rap, country, and oldies hits blared through hanging speakers in the Chicago Grand Sheraton on Friday evening, dozens of Cubs players — past and present — filed up onto the stage to thunderous applause, slapping five with kids and waving to adults as they took their seats for the 2019 Cubs Convention opening ceremonies. The room roared for the likes of Kerry Wood and Kris Bryant, even mustering up an impressive show of enthusiasm for newest Cub Daniel Descalso, whose introductory picture still featured him in a Colorado Rockies uniform.
One Cubs player who was predictably absent from the event was Addison Russell. The 24-year-old shortstop has been away from the Cubs since early October, when Melissa Reidy — Russell’s ex-wife — came forward publically with disturbing accusations of physical and emotional abuse. Following an investigation, MLB handed the Cubs’ shortstop a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. After the Cubs came under fire in 2016 for trading for closer Aroldis Chapman, who himself received a 30-game suspension for violating the same policy, many fans around the North Side were ready to cut ties entirely. The Cubs felt that pressure, not only externally, but internally too.
“Collectively and individually, our initial reaction after the suspension was, because domestic violence is so clearly unacceptable as a behavior or pattern of behavior, because it’s such a plague of society, our initial reaction was just to move on,” Cubs President Theo Epstein said. “That’s not something we want to be connected with. Separate ourselves from it and solve it by creating as much distance from it as possible.”
That didn’t happen, though. In late November of 2018, the Cubs tendered Russell a contract, avoiding the first year of arbitration and settling on a (non-guaranteed) one-year, $3.4 million deal. Epstein offered a handful of reasons for the move, noting that the Cubs consulted with several domestic violence experts, all of whom stressed the importance of second chances. He also mentioned that they wanted to support their players not just during high moments, but the low ones as well and that the situation offered a valuable teachable moment for everyone within the organization. Most notably, he talked about how he had personally consulted with Reidy, who was supportive of the decision.