Cubs' Ian Happ hopes players, MLB owners can come together to grow the game

Cubs' Ian Happ hopes players, MLB owners can come together to grow the game

A Fourth of July flyover at Wrigley Field. That was the image that kept popping into Ian Happ’s head in the early stages of return-to-play negotiations between MLB and the players association.

“Its unfortunate we didn’t get there,” Happ, the Cubs MLBPA representative, said in an interview for Sports Talk Live on Wednesday. “Definitely it would have been great for our game, and it would have been a cool opportunity for us to grow the sport.”  

Instead, players will report to a second round of Spring Training during Fourth of July week. On Tuesday, after over a month of tense negotiations, MLB set a schedule for the 2020 season. Opening Day is penciled in for July 23 or 24.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Of course, its expected that at least some players will choose to opt-out of the season. Players are being asked to assume the risks of returning to work during a pandemic while being paid prorated salaries. Those who are considered to be at-risk for serious illness from COVID-19 reportedly would still be paid for the season if they opt-out.

Happ declined to say whether he expected any of his teammates to opt-out, but he did say he expected the baseball community would support the decisions of any player who decided not to play this season.

“I think it’s so important to see the whole picture here,” Happ said, “and that this is our job and guys want to get back to playing, but at the same time, there’s a lot more that goes into it.”

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that 40 MLB players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week alone, raising concern about the feasibility of this season. MLB shut down its Spring Training sites in Arizona and Florida in response to the outbreak. But Happ said he thinks getting players to their home ball parks to begin training will be the “biggest hurdle” in containing the virus. He expects several players to test positive for COVID-19 as they arrive.

“Spring Training facilities, other places that guys were working out together, it was a lot different than what we’re talking about with these health protocols,” Happ said.

Once players report to training, they will be tested for COVID-19 every other day. Happ said they’ll also have to report how they’re feeling multiple times a day.

Once the season starts, Happ is still holding out hope that some of the agreements that were thrown out when the players voted “no” on the league’s last economic proposal will still be incorporated this year. He doesn’t expect that to include big changes, like expanded playoffs, but maybe some of the smaller items, like mic’d up segments during games, will be implemented.

Asked to reflect on the back-and-forth that brought MLB to this point, Happ pushed back on the perception of the negotiations as millionaires and billionaires haggling over money in the midst of a pandemic.  According to FiveThirtyEight, 40.6 percent of players who accrued at lease one day of service last season, have accumulated less than $1 million in career earnings.

“We play with teammates who are under that threshold," Happ said. "We’re very fortunate to be playing a game for a living. We’re very fortunate to be in the positions we're at. But there’s a lot of guys that don’t get to play that long. … There’s plenty of stories out there about guys that played in the big leagues that are being supported now by the baseball community, by the baseball family. I think we as players need to do a better job getting that narrative out, really educating the fan base, understanding that, that isn’t what we’re talking about.”

More negotiations are on the horizon, with the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 season. So, where does the players and owners’ relationship stand now?

“I hope that we’ll be able to start working together in a better fashion,” Happ said. “I hope that we’ll be able to understand that growing the game together is the best way to move the sport forward, and it’s the best way to give our fans a great experience on a daily basis.”



Cubs Talk Podcast: How can the Cubs fix their closing problem?


Cubs Talk Podcast: How can the Cubs fix their closing problem?

The Cubs are 10-2 but they still have a glaring issue that needs to be addressed in order to make a significant run to the playoffs: the closer.

David Kaplan is joined by NBCS Chicago Cubs insider Gordon Wittenmyer as they discuss ways and options the Cubs can address their closing situation. Later on, they discuss if Theo Epstein took a shot at Joe Maddon and how the Cubs are leading the charge in baseball for safety protocols.

(1:20) - Should José Quintana be the closer?

(7:05) - Are the Cubs as good as their record?

(13:00) - Debate on the three-batter rule for pitching changes

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

(17:00) - Cubs are among one of the safest teams in the MLB

(22:00) - Did Theo Epstein take a shot at Joe Maddon?

Listen here or below.

Cubs Talk Podcast




Why Cubs’ Alec Mills became first pitcher to hit since MLB added universal DH

Why Cubs’ Alec Mills became first pitcher to hit since MLB added universal DH

Thursday’s Cubs-Royals game was one-sided, with Kansas City taking an early lead and never looking back in a 13-2 victory. Despite the loss, the Cubs made some history in the ninth inning.

Cubs pitcher Alec Mills became the first hurler to have a plate appearance since Major League Baseball implemented a universal DH. 

“I told him to look intimidating and I think he did,” Cubs manager David Ross said with a smile after the game.

The Cubs forfeited the DH in their lineup in the seventh inning, when they moved Victor Caratini (Thursday’s starting DH) to first base and Ian Happ from first to right field among several innings worth of moves that emptied their bench.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

With the DH gone, reliever Dan Winkler entered the lineup in the seventh in place of Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, a move Ross said postgame was to get Heyward off his feet. When that spot came up in the ninth, Ross sent Mills to the plate. He struck out looking, as Ross asked him not to swing.

“Alec was fine with going up there. I asked him not to swing,” Ross said. “Every part of my being knows that’s probably the wrong thing to do, is take the competitiveness out of a player. He’s been pitching so well for us; I don’t want anything dumb to happen in that type of game.”

Reds two-way player Michael Lorenzen is the only pitcher credited with entering a game on offense this season. He pinch ran on July 26.