By Bruce Levine
CHICAGO (CBS) — Cubs players and officials did their best Thursday to respond to news that Major League Baseball is looking into domestic abuse allegations against shortstop Addison Russell.
This is an inquiry into the claim, a source in the league was careful to say. The allegation was made on social media by a third party, and there’s no full-blown investigation at this point. The first step will be for the league to talk with Russell’s wife and her friend who posted the abuse allegation on Instagram on Wednesday night.
Russell on Thursday afternoon denied the domestic abuse allegation.
“Technically, there is not an investigation by MLB,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said before the Cubs hosted the Rockies on Thursday. “Right now, this is an allegation by a third party on social media. This is a serious allegation. That is why we had a meeting with Addison. As of right now there is nothing more we can say. We wanted to give this the appropriate attention and answer the questions we can.”
We do know this: Russell is a 23-year-old going through a difficult adjustment in his professional career right now. An All-Star starter in 2016 for the champion Cubs, Russell is in the throes of a 13-of-94 slump and hitting just .209 for the season.
Until Wednesday evening, the concentration was on his problems on the field and his mechanical mistakes. But now Russell must deal with a whole world wondering what is going on in his personal life.
The defensive slippage has been more noticeable as of late. Bobbling balls and errant throws have become more prevalent for Russell. First baseman Anthony Rizzo has appeared to be more like a hockey goalie at times, making great saves on some of the Russell two-seam fastball throws to first base.
“No one knows what is going on,” Rizzo said before Thursday’s game. “Somebody reported something. Obviously, there were some pictures up. Comments were made. You just don’t know what is going on. Who knows?”
Russell is a quiet and respectful person to deal with on an everyday basis. “Yes, sir” and “no, sir” are common responses from him in a group or in one-on-one interviews. The fact is that even the people closest to him around the team are taking a wait-and-see approach to this developing story.
“This all came to our attention last night,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I am still trying to understand it myself. We did get together as a group, so the guys could say or ask anything that they had in mind. That was all we have done. It was all superficial and light. There is just not a whole lot to talk about yet.”
Russell was told not to come to the park Thursday and instead get his personal matters in line. Epstein and Maddon will play one player short, for now. Russell had been a part-time player in the past week as he struggled.
“I sat with him and Theo and just listened,” Maddon said about the meeting with Russell and Epstein. “I wanted him to know that I had not lost confidence in him as a player. I felt before this that something was bothering him. I didn’t know what it was. I told him that it was wise not to play him too much. I wanted him to know from me to him it wasn’t a confidence thing.”
Third baseman Kris Bryant said the team is doing its best to cope with the troubling situation involving Russell.
“Any time something like this happens it is important to come together as a team,” he said. “Our main focus as baseball players is our job on the field. We want to focus on that. It is a tough situation and unfortunate.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.