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.

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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 2020 schedule will feature these 9 teams in 60-game season

Cubs 2020 schedule will feature these 9 teams in 60-game season

The 2020 MLB season is finally scheduled, and it's gonna be unlike one we've ever seen.

Opening Day is scheduled for July 23-24, the National League will have a designated hitter and all extra-inning games (starting in the 10th inning) will begin with a runner on second base.

Perhaps the biggest change is the divisional realignment to reduce travel length amid the coronavirus. Divisions will be geographically based, meaning the NL Central and AL Central will combine into a 10-team mega grouping.

MORE: 2020 MLB season is a go with reported July 24 start date for 60-game season

Schedules have been sent to the MLB players union for approval and based on reports will include 40 traditional divisional games and 20 interleague matchups. Meaning, NL Central teams will play 20 total games against AL Central teams.

For the Cubs, their schedule will be a combination of these matchups:

  • 10 games against the Cardinals
  • 10 games against the Brewers
  • 10 games against the Reds
  • 10 games against the Pirates
  • 4 games against the Twins
  • 4 games against the Indians
  • 4 games against the White Sox
  • 4 games against the Tigers
  • 4 games against the Royals

In the interest of limiting travel, creating five-game series made some sense, but MLB insider Joel Sherman says that is not the plan.

Nevertheless, limiting travel will be a priority, meaning teams will likely play the Cubs and White Sox on the same road trip. Similarly, it would make sense for the Cubs to play the Cardinals and Royals on a single trip, and on another play the Tigers and Indians (and maybe Reds).

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What protocols made it into MLB and MLBPA's health-and-safety agreement?

What protocols made it into MLB and MLBPA's health-and-safety agreement?

Health-and-safety talks between MLB and the players association went more than three hours past the deadline imposed by the league. But on Tuesday evening, the MLBPA announced the news on Twitter: “All remaining issues have been resolved and Players are reporting to training camps.”

Among the changes made, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported, players with pregnant spouses can go on the three-day paternity list, and in the case of a family emergency players can take up to seven days of paid time off. If the player asks for more time than that, his club can decide whether to pay him for additional games missed.

The players association reportedly proposed in earlier negotiations for players who cohabitate with a high-risk individual to have the choice to opt out of the season and still receive pay. The league had only extended that protection to players who were themselves considered at high risk.

Under those proposed rules, Mike Trout, one of baseball’s biggest stars, would have qualified to earn a paycheck if he decided to opt out of the season. He and his wife Jessica are expecting their first child in August. Two months ago, when MLB was still considering playing the season in one location, he spoke about how hard it would be for players to leave their families for extended periods of time.

“What am I going to do if she goes into labor?” he told NBC Sports. “Am I going to quarantine for two months after I get back? Because obviously I can’t miss the birth of our first child.”

The situation has changed since then. Teams are scheduled to play in their home cities. And under the final protocols, Trout is reportedly guaranteed only a few paid days off for the birth of his first child.

The health-and-safety protocols also require players on opposing teams to stay six feet from one another before and after the game, and in between innings, according to Nightengale. Players will be asked to limit their time at the ballpark and will only be able to arrive within five hours of the game and leave within 90 minutes after.

Players and managers must also remain six feet away from umpires, The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham reported, and those who don't are subject to suspension.

There will be a separate injured list for those who test positive for COVID-19, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported. The players would not spend a specified number of days on the COVID-19 injured list. There will also be a 10-day IL and 45-day IL for other injuries, according to's Mark Feinsand.

If necessary, MLB will be able to relocate teams to neutral sites to address health and safety concerns, according to Nightengale.

"The health and safety of players and employees will remain MLB’s foremost priorities in its return to play," the league said in a release. "MLB is working with a variety of public health experts, infectious disease specialists and technology providers on a comprehensive approach that aims to facilitate a safe return."

More details of the newly agreed upon health-and-safety protocols had yet to be made public at the time of the announcement, but more are expected to be released in the coming days.

The Tuesday  deadline for the health-and-safety agreement had seemed ambitious in the first place.

On Monday evening, the league said in a statement that it was giving the players association until 4 p.m. CT to answer two questions: will players be able to report to camp by July 1, and will the MLBPA agree on the health and safety protocol outlined in the operating manual?

MLB said it needed those two pieces of information “to give us the best opportunity to conduct and complete our regular season and Postseason.” According to multiple reports, the league’s decision to implement a 60-game season was contingent on the players agreeing to both.

On Tuesday, a half an hour past the deadline, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the two sides were still discussing health and safety protocols, but with “no major snags.” About wo hours later, MLB and MLBPA had finalized the protocols.

Health-and-safety negotiations began back in May, when MLB reportedly delivered a 67-page document on the subject to the players association.

It laid out a testing plan that would have players screened for COVID-19 multiple times a week and their temperatures taken much more frequently. It detailed a staggered spring training ideally separated between multiple sites for each team.

It limited contact between players by banning high fives, fist bumps and hugs. It sought to cut down on the amount of spit in the air and on the ground by prohibiting chewing tobacco and sun flower seeds.

The players responded days later with notes on testing frequency and protocols, protections for high-risk players and family members, access to injury prevention and treatment therapies, and on-site medical personnel, to name a few.

But once MLB handed its first economic proposal to the players, health and safety discussions faded out of public discussion. As tension rose between the two sides in economic negotiations last month, the union said they remained far apart in health and safety talks as well. But in a mad dash Tuesday, the two sides made it to the finish line.


EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this post contained reported details on what players can opt out of the season and receive full prorated salaries, but this article has been updated to reflect new reported information.

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