Cubs contend with off-field controversies


The Cubs decision to keep Addison Russell has been controversial.

By Neal Klepitsch, Staff Writer

For the first time in the Joe Maddon era of Cubs leadership as manager, the start of Spring Training has brought a sense of uneasiness and doubt for a franchise that has made the postseason the past four seasons. Several off-the-field concerns and controversies have been the cause of headlines for the media instead of the now annual World Series chase beginning for a team bringing back a majority of a roster that has the most wins in baseball over the last 4 seasons.

The decision to not trade or release shortstop Addison Russell who was suspended 40 games for violating the League’s Domestic Abuse Policy was controversial for an organization often proclaiming themselves an agent of change in the community. Cubs leadership has endorsed the decision to bring back Russell as a decision that is beneficial for all parties and does not diminish the victims of domestic violence. Owner and chairman of the Chicago Cubs Tom Ricketts told ESPN, “after talking to lots of experts, after talking to Addison multiple times, talking to the league — that we’d rather support him through the process than just cut him and let him go, that doesn’t mean it’s in conflict with support for victims of domestic violence.”

Russell’s $3.4 million contract is below what a player with his statistics would normally make under normal circumstances. The decision to not part ways with Russell and the attention it caused has been displeasing to some fans. For an organization trying to keep up public perception the matters have been made worse with the discovery of the Ricketts’ family patriarch Joe Ricketts Islamophobic and racist emails.

The emails were released by online media outlet “” on February 4th. The viewpoints were immediately condemned by Cubs leadership and it was pointed out that Joe Ricketts has no official position with the Cubs and is not part of the trust benefitting from ownership. Tom Ricketts said at a Spring Training press conference in Mesa that: “My father has no direct role or economic interest in the team and that doesn’t represent what this organization is.” He is still supporting his father and remarked that he has never heard his father make bigoted remarks.

The public relations nightmare caused the Cubs to create a partnership with several Islamic groups in the Chicagoland area. A joint press release by the Cubs stated a goal of “genuine, meaningful and visible steps toward combating Islamophobia, bigotry and racism.”

The incident has developed at the same time the Cubs have announced their own television network “Marquee Sports Network” a partnership with Sinclair Broadcasting. The decision ends an over 70 year tradition and agreement with WGN. Beginning in 2020 all games will be broadcast exclusively on the Cubs network. Details of what the cost to subscribe to the network and what cable/streaming services will pick up the network as part of its normal broadcasting remains to be seen. The timing does not lead to a positive public image as Sinclair Broadcasting has often been accused of being politically slanted to the far right.

The idea of not having Cubs games on WGN is something that does not sit well with some Cubs fans. WGN has helped make the Cubs into one of the most recognizable brands in sports broadcasting day games across the country as cable expanded.

Camilla Niedermayer who learned the game of baseball and fell in love with the Cubs by watching WGN telecasts in the 1960’s after immigrating from Germany was disappointed with the decision to move away from the classic network. “WGN has introduced the game of baseball and the Cubs to so many fans, it will be sad to see this tradition end,” Niedermayer said.

The off the field events have cast doubt on the franchise but on the field there should be reason for hope. The returning roster won 95 games last year and have had four at least 90 win seasons in a row. Picking up the club option on Cole Hamels should bolster the starting rotation. If Yu Darvish stays healthy and off the DL the pitching staff should not have the wear and tear the roster suffered from the final month of last season.

Kris Bryant is said to be healthy after battling a nagging shoulder injury most of last season. If Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez continue to perform to expectations there is no reason why the Cubs cannot compete for another NL Central title. With the Brewers and Cardinals both appearing to be stronger than last season on paper, the NL Central is shaping up to be the most difficult division in Baseball.

If the non-baseball distractions are handled in the proper way as Cubs leadership say they being dealt with, the Cubs should be competing for a playoff spot com September.