Phil Rosenthal: For Cubs’ Addison Russell, Iowa a fitting purgatory
Iowa. That place where, in the movies at least, baseball players dead to the outside world briefly emerge from a purgatorial cornfield to play before vanishing again.
Seems like the right spot for Addison Russell, whose 40-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy concludes this week.
The Cubs, who continue to give Russell every possible opportunity to reform himself , plan to option Russell to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs on Thursday, a day before his suspension ends.
While not exactly additional punishment, an extended stint in the minor leagues affords Russell more time to think about what he has done and what he must do to justify this privilege to continue to play baseball for a living.
It also enables Russell to get his game into midseason form for a major league team that has shown it can get by without him.
The Cubs don’t really need Russell — not at the moment, anyway. And no one ever needs someone who assaults, bullies and otherwise intimidates others.
Let’s hope that continues to sink in on the way to Omaha, Memphis and Round Rock, which apparently is in Texas.
One more misstep, and it’s over, or at least it should be.
As it is, Russell might not deserve the chance he has been given, but he has been given it. So it’s on him to prove worthy of the faith Cubs management has invested in him and his ability to change.
Some do change. Many don’t.
“Indicating a willingness to bring him back to the big leagues when he’s ready from a baseball standpoint, that doesn’t mean he’s sort of at the finish line off the field,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. “I stand by it. There’s no finish line. It’s a long-term process of the work he’s putting in to grow as a person.”
Russell, who has hit .250 in six games on a minor league assignment with Iowa while playing shortstop and second in preparation for the end of his suspension, was placed on administrative leave Sept. 21.
Melisa Reidy, his former wife, accused Russell of physical, mental and emotional abuse in their marriage. Russell was suspended less than two weeks later, after an MLB investigation.
Were the Cubs desperate to fill a middle-infield hole, or believed Russell were ready to return and/or eager to move Javier Baez out of shortstop, where he continues to dazzle, one would like to think the organization still would be principled enough to not rush Russell back to face the Cardinals this weekend.
Far too often teams across sports embrace bullies who show evidence of time served but not rehabilitation.
Yet, thanks to the Iowa option, Epstein and manager Joe Maddon can be compassionate yet unyielding while at the same time benefiting from Russell’s extended spring training in the minors.
In Iowa, Russell can prepare for a move back to second base, a trade or whatever other fate awaits him assuming he can comport to society’s demands off the field.
Baseball is a sport that is unique in its attention to errors. Other facets of the game can overshadow them, but they are always noted, always tracked and never overlooked. Commit too many, and they define you.
Russell’s not out of the woods — or the cornfields — yet. Not by a long shot. Nor should he be.
Iowa surely isn’t his field of dreams, but it is a fitting purgatory.