Nine days before the end of Addison Russell’s 40-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale wrote a puff piece about the shortstop’s search for redemption after his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy, said he emotionally and physically abused her. It’s the kind of story that a franchise would want out there: Behold a man redeemed. But days later, Fangraphs contributor Sheryl Ring reported that the narrative control from the team extended beyond just going to the sport’s usual water-carriers.
Baseball Prospectus writer Mike Gianella also tweeted that he had heard similar comments from anonymous sources, and Bill Baer of Hardball Talk wrote that he received confirmation of Ring’s report from a media member after publishing a blog Sunday on the subject. Ring told Deadspin, and also clarified in later tweets, that she had several sources who all shared similar stories.
The Cubs denied the allegations in Baer’s report. Theo Epstein spoke about it specifically on Tuesday telling reporters that the club believes in a free press and any threats of reprisal towards media members were “not acceptable.” He added:
I’d be really surprised if that happened at the Cubs, and if it did I’d want to know who it was because they wouldn’t work for the Cubs much longer. That’s a fireable offense to try to threaten a media member because of unfavorable coverage. Especially on a topic of this nature. That’s a pretty serious allegation, and again, I’m not calling it into question per se, I just want to make it clear that would not be acceptable behavior. That would be a fireable offense. If anyone wants to mention by name the person who did that, there would obviously be repercussions right away.
Cubs vice president of communications Julian Green was less elegant in his response. Green told 670 The Score on Thursday that he immediately called the editor of Fangraphs, who told Green that he couldn’t do anything about Ring’s tweet because it came from a personal account—which sure sounds like a Cubs executive trying to influence coverage of the team in an attempt to deny allegations that the Cubs are trying to influence coverage of the team. He also seemed to misunderstand why the reports were coming from national writers, and not the specific beat writers who were affected by this themselves:
“A person who has had no known association or record with the Cubs and is not acting on behalf of a credible news outlet for which they work or are affiliated with — which by the way requires high standards for reporting — can send a tweet without material key facts and not have it questioned because they sent it from their personal Twitter account — it’s egregious, and I think it’s absolute power unchecked”
“But at no time have we basically said that if you tell a good story, you can have all the access that you want and if you tell a bad story, you can’t do it.”
(Green’s statements also show a misunderstanding of the credibility these writers have built for themselves and speaks to a lack of understanding of how information actually travels on the internet, but I digress.)
Somewhere between these comments, an impassioned defense of the team from the expected water carriers, and the ball club calling up Russell, Cubs fans saw vindication in defending their beloved shortstop online. Ring has since been forced to make her account private because of the growing harassment that has come from her initial report.
“I woke up yesterday morning to a message calling me a ‘crusty tranny dyke,’ and said that the writer would rape and kill me for ruining Addison Russell’s life. That’s what my life has been the last week—messages like that. I’ve had to lock down my Twitter and delete my public Facebook,” Ring told Deadspin. “Meanwhile, Julian Green goes on the radio and brags about calling my employer and demanding my head, which only proves that my story was accurate in the first place.”