Even before the first public allegation of domestic abuse against Addison Russell, back in June of 2017, the then-Cubs infielder looked like a troubled man.

He wasn't hitting. His defense was slipping. Just a reporter's take here, but in the clubhouse he seemed tense and distracted and had become less pleasant to speak with.

Then-manager Joe Maddon saw it all, too, of course. Maddon had begun "resting" Russell, as he put it, starting Javy Baez instead at shortstop for multiple games.

"I looked into his eyes and determined something wasn't right," Maddon explained at the time.

A lot about Russell wasn't right, as it turned out. From his character to his demeanor, from his comments during interviews to his performance on the field, he repeatedly fell short. If anyone embodied the Cubs' regression since the 2016 World Series, it was the stumbling, mumbling one-time All-Star starting shortstop.

The Cubs' decision this week to non-tender Russell, ending his five years in the organization, was most welcome. At least a year too late -- and strictly about Russell's value on the field, according to team president Theo Epstein -- but welcome.

Goodbye and good riddance. Without Russell, the Cubs are instantly better. Or, if not better, then at least less offensive.

"Addison by subtraction," as one Twitter user so cleverly put it.

I won't rip the Cubs and Epstein for sticking with Russell as long as they did, because earnest efforts were made to support Russell's ex-wife and his family, to help Russell grow and to institutionalize violence prevention within the organization.

But I still have trouble believing Russell really gets any of it. Many of his comments before and after his 40-game MLB suspension for violating the league's domestic-abuse policies were just too tone-deaf.

"I'm one of the guys who goes out there and puts his [body] on the line," he said after rejoining the Cubs last May. "We do it because we love it. We want to win, and we want to bring another championship to Chicago. And if hometown fans want to boo someone that's trying to help bring the team a World Series again, then that's on them."

That kind of ignorance packs a wallop. So much so, it overshadows something as magical as the Russell grand slam that carried the Cubs into Game 7 of the World Series.

Certainly, Russell's downfall since that championship in Cleveland has buried any good he did with the Cubs in a dark corner of the distant past. He was revealed as a bad guy. He became a pretty bad baseball player, too. Overmatched at the plate, unfocused in the field, embarrassingly amateurish as a base runner.

Epstein has made it clear that the Cubs must put 2016 in the rearview in order to grow. Ridding the organization of the bumbling, mumbling Russell may or may not have anything to do with that, but it sure feels right.

That was a trick question. It's a tie between everybody.

Jonathan Toews' comments about the lack of togetherness on the ice after Monday's pathetic 4-0 loss to the Blues were eye-opening.

"We're just kind of looping through areas," the captain said. "We're just separate, and we're all over the place. You're bound to make mistakes."

There are well-oiled machines, and then there's whatever the heck this is.

Six losses in seven games, and now five of the next six on the road?

* If Illinois' basketball team ever learns to put two halves together, look out.

Don't hold your breath, though.

Monday's 81-79 loss to Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was the latest example of the Illini playing horribly and spectacularly on the same night.

An utterly unprepared team took the court at home and somehow managed to fall behind by 27 points. Where was the leadership from Ayo Dosunmu, Georgi Bezhanishvili or anyone else? Did coach Brad Underwood forego a fiery pregame speech and instead do a full three-plus-hour reading of the script of "The Irishman"?

The Illini were electric during a second-half comeback that put them in position to shoot for the win on their final possession. Freshman center Kofi Cockburn is must-see TV. Underwood has the horses to end the school's six-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Yet this team continues to sleepwalk for long stretches under its third-year coach. My money is on the drought.

* Has Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty taken off his uniform yet or is he still out there running over anything he sees that's navy blue or orange?

* People aren't talking nearly enough about the possibility that No. 1-ranked Ohio State is the greatest Big Ten team of 'em all.

Heading into this season, my top three would've been 2002 Ohio State, 1997 Michigan and 2014 Ohio State. Yes, they're all of fairly recent vintage, but those teams pulled top talent from all over the country. The same can't be said about Big Ten champions from bygone eras.

Anyway, I'm putting 2019 Ohio State at the very top if the Buckeyes win it all. So there.

Continue Reading

on Chicago Sun-Times