MESA, Ariz. – Addison Russell had more than five months to prepare for his first media session since his domestic violence suspension, and it showed.
With his manager, top front office executives and the Cubs’ highest-ranking public relations people watching from the back of the room, the Cubs’ troubled shortstop held a 20-minute Q-and-A session heavy on “thank you for that question” responses and obviously well rehearsed talking points, but bereft of details and emotion.
“I’m accountable for my past actions,” he said more than once when asked about his past denials and whether he acknowledges details of the abuse his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, outlined.
“I am not proud of the person I was.”
Russell spoke Friday for the first time since being put on administrative leave by the Cubs Sept. 21, pending the outcome of a Major League Baseball investigation that resulted in a 40-game suspension under its domestic violence policy. He has 28 left to serve.
After multiple written statements, including two involving denials of Reidy’s allegations, Russell on Friday repeatedly talked of taking “accountability” and apologizing, but without acknowledging, even when asked, the often jarring details Reidy described in an interview published online in December.
“Without getting into details or specifics, I just want to own that what I did was wrong and inexcusable,” he said. “And I’m sorry. Sorry for the hurt and pain I put Melisa through.”
Russell: “I’m accountable for my actions. I’m not proud of the person I was.”— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) February 15, 2019
(Repeats this several times when asked about previous denials and whether he acknowledges doing things detailed by ex-wife. Does not acknowledge any details of abuse)
The Cubs have given Russell a “conditional second chance” to return to the field if he meets what they say is a steep set of requirements, regardless of the terms of his MLB suspension and mandated therapy.
Russell: “I’m fully committed to the work (off-field/therapy). This is my main focus. I believe the baseball aspect of things will handle themselves.”— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) February 15, 2019
Team president Theo Epstein, one of the execs in attendance for Russell’s news conference, stressed that Russell is only in the early stages of that process.
“I am fully committed to this work; this has been my main focus,” said Russell who came close to being released by the organization in the fall. “I think identifying this issue in my home and with my family is most important. I believe that the baseball aspect of things will handle itself.”
Russell, who has a son with Melisa, is working with a personal therapist in addition to the MLB program. He said he talks weekly with that therapist and last talked with him Thursday.
“I’ve had time to reflect,” he said, “and through counseling I have a better understanding what domestic abuse really is. … I’ve expanded my definition of what domestic abuse is, and it includes feeling like you’re the only person on an island, feeling isolated, but also disrespected by someone who cares about you.”
The Cubs’ position players start official work Monday, and Russell is considered a full participant in camp, including exhibition games.
“It’s one step at a time,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s so many ‘if’ components attached to this thing. But right now it appears he’s doing all the right things.”
Backlash over the Cubs’ decision to keep Russell has been quick and loud with every turn of the process since the Cubs tendered him a contract in November.
“It’s kind of new ground for us, too,” Maddon said, “to give people an opportunity to resurrect themselves in a sense and put themselves back on the right path as human beings first. It’s not even about baseball right now. That’s where we’re at with all of this stuff.”
When asked how sure he is that he won’t abuse again, Russell said, “I would say that person is left in the past.”
He also knows what’s coming the next time he plays a game in front of a crowd, even this spring.
“I understand that there’s Cubs fans that don’t understand this process that I’m going through,” he said. “I’m sorry for letting the Cub fans down, along with the organization. What I want to say to them is I am committed in my work to become a better person and be a better person at the end of this.”
Cubs players said they support the front office’s decision to give Russell another opportunity.
“We’re human. He made a mistake,” reliever Pedro Strop said last month. “If he does the right thing, if he does whatever he needs to do, he’s going to be welcome to come back.”