Joe Maddon’s Perspective on Russell Situation Improving, Still Far from Great

Should I?

It’s a question I frequently ask myself and one that I sometimes pose to CI staffers or the dozen or so folks on Twitter who haven’t muted me. Sometimes it comes from not trusting my own editorial intuition (Should I post this now?). Other times it’s a product of writer’s block (What should I write about?). Or maybe it’s purely internal (Should I have another piece of bread pudding?)

But when Joe Maddon uttered those two words last week in response to a media member’s query about whether he’d read Melisa Reidy’s blog post — you know, the one with detailed allegation’s of her former husband’s abuse — it wasn’t a request for advice. It was a rhetorical question meant to be something of a joke, funny only because it was so in keeping with Maddon’s trademark flippancy that you almost had to laugh at how tone deaf it was.

Surely it was just one of those ill-advised quips born of the discomfort with discussing such a sensitive topic, right? Or maybe it was a factor of time, something Maddon would have had little of since Reidy’s post went viral. Already flimsy as a little pig’s straw house, both excuses blew away when Maddon huffed and puffed several days later.

“There’s nothing I can do to help the situation at all,” the manager said as a way to justify his repeated failure to read the blog.

In addition to providing some really terrible optics, Maddon came off as far more than flippant in this case. He was being downright obtuse, maintaining the kind of willful ignorance typically reserved for keyboard commandos. Seriously, you almost have to be trying in order to muck up the dialogue so badly.

Which is why I have to assume someone in the Cubs front office bent Maddon’s ear about not continuing to blow sour notes into the mic on a nightly basis. Or so it appeared from the way he’d changed his tune Wednesday.

“Domestic violence is horrible, absolutely it is,” Maddon told members of the media after admitting that he had finally read Reidy’s post. “By reading that, you feel her pain, absolutely. But at the end of the day, there’s really nothing that I’m able to do. This is in the hands of MLB and the players union.”

“That was my initial stance and that is my stance,” Maddon continued. “It’s horrible to think what that lady’s gone through. Absolutely. But I don’t know enough about the other side. So I’m waiting for the full report to come out and then we can all draw conclusions at that point.”

The first part of Maddon’s statement represents a decidedly better perspective on the topic and, while long overdue, would be deserving of a little credit had it stood on its own. But he had to press on with the whole “gotta hear both sides” thing, thereby making an unwitting hypocrite of himself.

You can’t acknowledge that it’s “horrible to think what that lady’s gone through” and that “you feel her pain” but then also say you need to learn about the other side. If you indeed believe Reidy’s account of her abusive marriage, there is no other side to hear at that point. At least not one that matters.

That’s where “nothing I can do to help the situation” gets dicey. Maddon is clearly speaking about the process and results of the pending investigation, but it’s easy to see how some would interpret at him washing his hands of any ability to impact the dialogue around domestic violence, particularly as it relates to baseball and professional sports as a whole. That starts by affording the matter the legitimacy it deserves, even if that’s by doing something as small as reading a blog post or choosing your words more carefully.

As far as speaking more specifically about Russell and his future with the team, it’s understandable for Maddon to remain detached. Even if he has strong opinions on the matter, he surely wouldn’t be allowed to share them in a public forum at this point. That said, Maddon’s continued inability to get out of his own damn way on this whole is really disappointing.

I don’t want to let the Cubs off the hook here, either, since they apparently didn’t work with the manager on how to properly address the situation from the start. And if you feel I’m being a little too hard on Maddon and the organization for what can be a difficult topic to discuss, consider that isn’t some collection of rubes we’re talking about.

The Cubs are a billion-dollar organization and Maddon’s had more than enough experience when it comes to public speaking. What’s more, this isn’t even the first time they’ve had to address Russell’s off-field issues. I don’t expect perfection, just a little better than the kind of brutally awful responses that leave you WTF’ing them in group chats.

Now I do want to reiterate what I wrote above, which is that some of what Maddon said Wednesday showed decidedly better awareness of the situation at hand. And while commending the (possibly nudged) improvement to Maddon’s dialogue while simultaneously pointing out how far he’s still got to go may be equally galling to different folks, I’m comfortable being able to do so. I also realize that my comfort is the least important part of all this.

As for “knowing enough about the other side” and “drawing conclusions at that point,” Maddon and the rest of us may have to wait a while. Russell’s initial seven-day administrative leave ends Thursday, but the Commissioner’s office can, and probably will, extend that to another seven days. It’s likely they’ll need more than a week to continue an investigation that The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported now includes much more than just that blog post (subscription required).

In addition to an interview with Reidy, who refused to cooperate when allegations first surfaced in June of last year, Rosenthal wrote that MLB has spoken with “numerous other witnesses.” They also reached out to the mother of one of Russell’s other children, though she declined to comment.

While the lengths of previous administrative leaves and suspensions have varied, all other cases of a player being placed on leave eventually resulted in a suspension without appeal. Roberto Osuna, then with the Blue Jays, had his initial leave extended seven times before eventually receiving a 75-day suspension for domestic violence. So, again, this could take a while.

Maddon may not be able to do anything about the investigation, but he can certainly use the meantime to brush up on how he’ll address its inevitable results.

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