Cubs’ Russell denies domestic-violence allegation as MLB investigates

A disappointing Cubs season took a sharp and sobering turn Thursday when Major League Baseball began investigating a domestic-violence allegation made against shortstop Addison Russell via social media Wednesday night.

Team officials and teammates were forced to address the issue before the series opener against the Rockies, and Russell released a brief denial through the team.

“Any allegation I have abused my wife is false and hurtful,” Russell said in the statement. “For the well-being of my family, I’ll have no further comment.”

At the team’s request, Russell stayed away from the ballpark Thursday, leaving the Cubs a man short against the Rockies. And team president Theo Epstein did not rule out a longer absence.

Addison Russell

Javy Baez, who had shared starting duties with the slumping Russell the last two weeks, is the starter until further notice.

The commissioner’s office has the discretion to put a player on paid administrative leave for up to seven days while allegations are investigated, but that has not happened with Russell.

“It’s not a suspension at this time,” said Epstein, who used that qualifier because the process is conducted exclusively by MLB and beyond the team’s control at this point.

After alluding to problems in the marriage on social media earlier in the year, Russell’s wife, Melisa, suggested in multiple posts late Wednesday the couple was breaking up.

In a subsequent comment related to one of the posts, a woman Russell’s wife referred to as a close friend, alleged him of “mentally and physically abusing her.” More specifically, the friend continued, “He hit her.”

MLB is investigating based on the posts and was expected to try to interview both the wife and the friend under its two-year-old domestic-violence policy, an MLB official said.

Any potential penalties are at the discretion of the commissioner’s office on a case-by-case basis.

Former Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, for example, served a 30-day suspension last year before the Cubs acquired him from the Yankees, despite charges being dropped by authorities after a police investigation in Florida. That case involved a gun and 911 call.

A search of public records in two states Thursday found no evidence of Russell being involved in police or other legal actions.

Given the seriousness of the subject, Epstein said the team reacted quickly Wednesday night, talking after the game with Russell and alerting MLB. Epstein said Russell’s comments after the game were similar to Thursday’s statement.

Epstein said he talked with Russell’s wife but would not provide any details.

“Right now this is an allegation by a third party on social media — a serious allegation,” Epstein said. “That’s why we met immediately with Addison. That’s why we referred it immediately to major-league baseball. And that’s why we’re taking it very seriously.

”But as of right now, that’s what this is. We just don’t know.”

That Russell was having issues at home was not a secret in the clubhouse, but the allegation of violence was “shocking” to Kris Bryant and other teammates.

“It’s way too early to jump to conclusions,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “I love Addison. We’ve had some really good memories together. But I don’t know — I love him here. I don’t know what’s going on outside of this. You just want to find out what’s going on.”

One of the few teammates to say he spoke with Russell Thursday was close friend Carl Edwards Jr., who said Russell was in “high spirits” and “had confidence” in being cleared.

“He’s like a little brother to me,” Edwards said. “I support him regardless, wrong or right. I’m not going to look at him any different. We don’t really know what’s going on.”

Epstein and other team officials met with players before the game to brief them and answer questions.

“It’s just important to watch our words and be respectful, especially in a situation like this where we care about all the parties involved and where it’s such a serious allegation,” Epstein said. “We want to make sure we do the right and appropriate thing.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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