Joe Maddon Seemingly Washes His Hands of Addison Russell’s Mental Errors

Joe Maddon sounded as though he’d had enough when asked Monday about Addison Russell’s admission that he wasn’t very familiar with the teams signs, directing media members back to the player for answers. But given more time to expound upon the matter Tuesday afternoon on the Bernstein & McKnight Show, Maddon went straight Pontius Pilate and just washed his hands of it.

“Honestly, it’s really in the player’s hands at this point,” the Cubs manager said. “He’s been here for several years and I assure you the conversations have been there constantly. We’ve worked through this in the past and at some point it’s up to the players to make this adjustment too.

“Again, staff-wise, I know, I was there. The conversations between he and I and also infield coaches and baserunning coaches, we’ve had these conversations. We just need to get Addy to, it’s more of a how do you go through the permutations mentally before the play occurs? How do you visualize in advance? That’s what I’m really, really after is to get him to the point where he sees things before they occur, which would equal focus. That’s where we’re at.”

Though Maddon is speaking specifically to the matter of working with Russell on his baserunning and decision-making on the field, that’s not the only area in which the team has offered guidance over the years. At least as far back as February 2016, the Cubs had serious concerns about Russell’s indulgence in the nightlife and his general maturity level.

This could be part of the reason they’ve been so adamant about being “part of the solution” when it comes to Russell’s domestic violence rehabilitation and the larger DV scourge in Chicago and beyond. That isn’t to say anyone in the organization knew what was really going on in Russell’s private life, just that perhaps they saw warning signs and felt convicted to make amends for what ended up happening.

But as Maddon indicated, there’s a point at which you simply realize you’ve done all you can do and that change — if it is to come at all — has to come from the individual with whom you’ve been working. Given that this has apparently been a constant conversation for more than four years now, it’s a wonder it took this long for things to really come to a head.

Then again, most abusers are master manipulators adept at hiding things from even those who know them best. Russell’s athleticism and skill on the diamond, which Maddon gushed about during the interview, have either masked or excused the issues with focus and fundamentals that are really just now coming to light on a broad scale.

Much has been said about Russell’s accountability, or lack thereof, which could be playing a role here as well. When you’re athletically superior to all of your peers and you’re lauded for such talent from a young age, it’s possible there was just never a need for such trifles as paying attention to signs.

Any more specific speculation about Russell’s upbringing would be irresponsible, but suffice to say his actions as an adult indicate that he isn’t very familiar with being told he’s wrong. Whether or not there’s any legitimacy to that observation, or to various other analysis you can easily find in comments here and elsewhere, it’s now wholly on Russell to course-correct.

“Some guys just have a hard time with [baserunning],” Maddon said. “The conversation has to continue, but in a lot of these situations — and sometimes it’s not necessarily reported in this way — but the player has to be responsible for his own actions too.”

If I didn’t know better, I’d say Maddon is distancing himself from Russell by putting in a little CYA work here. After all, the big narrative this season is all about how he’s being more hands-on with instruction and doing a lot more work on the field with his players. And you know what? I don’t blame Maddon one bit for drawing a very bold line here.

My opinion differs when it comes to bullpen usage and lineup construction, though Maddon does at least seem to be backing away from his previous assertions that he doesn’t believe in the hot hand. Which is to say that the Cubs will be riding the big bat of Robel Garcia for the time being, though it’s not as if any other second base options are forcing any kind of decision.

“In situations where they’re struggling like this, I like to give them a couple, three days off so they can think it through all the way, slow things down a bit, maybe come back and regroup,” Maddon explained.

If that’s the case, Daniel Descalso should be all kinds of regrouped after receiving only five plate appearances in July. Or maybe the Cubs should make the overdue move to re(make the)group when it comes to the bottom of the roster.

Regardless of what you think of Russell, whether you’d like to fire him into the sun or you believe he’s done his time after a bout of youthful indiscretion, what has become very clear is that he needs a change of scenery. Maybe another team in another town will have the same trouble, but it’s obvious that the Cubs haven’t been able to get through to him. Now in his fifth season in Chicago, we’re well past the wait-and-see phase.

It just does not appear that remaining in a Cubs uniform is what’s best for either the Cubs or Addison Russell. More importantly, it may not be what’s best for his family. Maybe moving on provides the catalyst he needs to truly create meaningful change in his life. And on the field too, but that’s irrelevant in the face of his growth as a human being.

This isn’t the last we’ve heard about the matter, but it sure sounds like at least Maddon is done talking about it.

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