John Lackey has no interest in a David Ross-style retirement tour with Cubs: 'I just won't show up the next year'

John Lackey has no interest in a David Ross-style retirement tour with Cubs: 'I just won't show up the next year'

MESA, Ariz. — John Lackey didn't come here for a victory lap or a David Ross-style farewell from Cubs fans, the national media and Corporate America.

"Not a chance," Lackey said Thursday morning. "There will be no retirement tour. I just won't show up the next year."

Don't expect to see "Grandpa Lackey" trending on Twitter and all over Instagram, though he did seem amused by how his good friend and former catcher has appeared on "The Ellen Show," gotten a book deal, signed on with ESPN, joined Theo Epstein's front office as a special assistant and booked "Dancing with the Stars."

"He's doing everything possible," Lackey said. "I don't think that dude said 'no' to anything yet. He's enjoying himself, for sure."

At the age of 38, Lackey enjoys being an old-school enforcer on the mound, occasionally grumpy with reporters and oblivious to what's being written and said about him. He's in the second season of a two-year, $32 million contract and will get his third World Series ring in April.

"I feel great," Lackey said. "I'm just playing this year. See what happens at the end of the year. If I still feel good, keep playing."

Standing in front of his locker at the Sloan Park complex and looking back on his 2016 season as a whole, Lackey took a passive-aggressive shot at manager Joe Maddon during his first extended media session this spring.

"Until I had the little time on the DL, I was about as good as I've ever been, honestly," Lackey said. "I had to warm up a couple times in extra innings. Probably didn't help. That probably ended up getting me. Yeah, I wish that wouldn't have happened. Let's see where it might have gone."

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Lackey went on the disabled list with right shoulder stiffness in the middle of August and finished at 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.057 WHIP, just missing the 200-inning mark (188.1). The guy who didn't come here for a haircut got two no-decisions and a loss in his three playoff starts, becoming a four- or five-inning pitcher.

"He was going good last year until we attempted to bring him into a couple games by warming him up," Maddon said. "I believe there's a lot of good baseball left in him. I just think last year I screwed it up by permitting him to warm up.

"In the moment, it didn't (bother him). But I think it's a cumulative situation. It does come back and bite you in the arm. You're trying to win the game, here's this guy that says 'I can do it,' the days looked right regarding when he had pitched previously. But that is something I should not permit."

Lackey skipped going to Washington with his teammates for President Barack Obama's final official White House event: "I was at a charity event, honestly. Just had a prior deal." Lackey had visited the White House for ceremonies honoring the 2002 Anaheim Angels and 2013 Boston Red Sox and understands what the Cubs will face as defending World Series champs.

"It's hard to win one, much less two," Lackey said. "It's a tough thing to do, but I think this is unique, just with the youth in this room. We're going to have a lot of guys that are still young, still hungry and not tired, I guess."

With Lackey thinking about disappearing to Texas at some point, Jake Arrieta awaiting free agency and the fifth starter an open question, the Cubs could be looking at a one-year window before a dramatic overhaul.

"I don't think we think that far ahead," Lackey said. "I'm trying to be good my next start. Whatever happens next year is, kind of, who cares?"

Lackey's spring debut is supposed to be Tuesday in Mesa against Team Italy in a World Baseball Classic tune-up.

"We'll see," Lackey said. "We'll see if it fits into my golf schedule."

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Cubs’ Ian Happ claimed center field after AAA detour: 'He's the real deal'

Ian Happ paused before answering, the moment of silence punctuating his matter-of-fact response.

“No,” he said. “I don’t feel that way.”

Looking back, he doesn’t feel like he rose to the Major Leagues too quickly.

Happ has had to field that question since spending 2/3 of last season in Triple-A. But already this year, Happ has hit three home runs, tied for the most on the team, while also maintain a top-three batting average (.297). Not only is he performing on the field, Happ has also embraced a leadership role and taken over for Kris Bryant as the team’s MLBPA representative.

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“He’s the real deal,” Ross said Sunday, after Happ went 3-for-3 with two doubles in the Cubs’ intrasquad scrimmage.

The club’s decision to send Happ to Triple-A Iowa at the beginning of last season came as a surprise. Much of Happ’s conviction that he was ready for the major leagues when he debuted came from his standout rookie season.

Happ hit 24 home runs as a rookie – still his career high – and finished eighth in rookie of the year voting in 2017. His batting average regressed the next year (from .253 to .233), and his strikeout number rose (from 129 to 167). But he joined the .350 club in on-base percentage.

“We believed then and we believe now that he’s going to be a really good player,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this week. “We thought it was the right move and something that was necessary even though it was really unpleasant to send him back there. To his credit, he made the absolute most of it, took personal responsibility.”

When Happ returned to the big leagues, his progress showed. He won NL player of the week in the final week of the season. But he’s made even more of a splash this year, from Spring Training through the first two weeks of the regular season.

Entering the year, center field was one of the main position battles to monitor for first-time manager Ross.

“Right now, the job is Ian Happ’s,” Ross said Sunday.

Ross’ lineup choices had suggested as much already. Happ has appeared in all 13 of the Cubs games, at least pinch hitting in the three he didn’t start.

“It’s hard to take Ian Happ out of the lineup,” Ross said of the switch-hitter. “The guy’s swinging the bat really well, and his right-handed at-bats have gotten tremendously better. He’s been a staple.”

Happ started his season off with a two-run home run in his first plate appearance. He was batting ninth, and through all of Ross’ reshuffling of the bottom third of the batting order, Happ has been the Cubs’ most frequent nine-hole hitter.

With the Cubs’ No. 7 and 8 hitters consistently getting on base, in the nine-hole has showcased Happ’s ability to drive in runs (he’s tied for second on the team with six RBI) or set the table for the Cubs’ unconventional top of the order.

“I feel great about where I'm at right now,” Happ said, “my ability to help the team and get on base for those guys that are hitting behind me.”

Just as he set the tone in the batter’s box early, with an Opening Day home run, Happ flashed some leather in the opening series against the Brewers. Three days into the season, Happ tracked a long fly ball back to the wall. He leaped and caught it just before his back slammed into the ivy, which barely cushioned the brick behind it.

Happ slid down the wall into a crouch, his body no doubt feeling the results of the impact. But it wasn’t long before he stood back up.

“I think he absolutely took advantage of his time down (in Iowa),” Epstein said, “and is in a different and better phase in his career now because of what he went through.”



How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

How Cubs temporarily grabbed White Sox spotlight during Sunday Night Baseball

Even with the White Sox on center stage, the Cubs found their way into the spotlight.

“We’re gonna aggravate everybody in Schaumburg with this,” ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian said Sunday. “White Sox fans, sorry about this.”

The White Sox made their first appearance on Sunday Night Baseball since May 12, 2013 on Sunday. But early in their matchup against the Indians, the ESPN broadcast momentarily pivoted towards the North Siders.

ESPN showed the results of a social media poll asking baseball fans what they make of the Cubs’ 10-3 start to the season. Of the more than 52,000 respondents, 41 percent said they’ll start to fade soon, 34 percent said they’re a World Series contender and 25 percent said they’re a division title contender.

“Apparently, we had a lot of respondents calling from the South Side of Chicago,” Vasgersian joked.

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The Cubs were scheduled to appear on Sunday Night Baseball before their series against the Cardinals was postponed. So while the poll’s appearance was no coincidence, some White Sox fans probably weren’t happy seeing it pop up mid-game.

“White Sox (fans) are saying,” Vasgersian said, “‘It’s the first time we’ve been on Sunday Night Baseball since 2013 and we gotta talk about the Cubs?’” 

White Sox fans have aired their grievances in recent years over the team being forgotten by national media, especially as the Cubs have received plenty of coverage. This may not fall under the same category as previous occurrences, but it certainly brings back memories of those moments.