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.”



Former Cub Sammy Sosa continues to deny steroid use: 'I never took anything'

Former Cub Sammy Sosa continues to deny steroid use: 'I never took anything'

In “Long Gone Summer,” the ESPN 30-for-30 that aired Sunday night, Sammy Sosa seemed to get as close as he ever has to admitting to taking performance enhancing drugs. Then, in an interview with David Kaplan for Sports Talk Live on Monday, Sosa walked back those comments.

He pinned the confusion on English being his second language.

During “Long Gone Summer,” in response to a question about Cubs ownership wanting Sosa to come clean on steroid use, the retired right-fielder said, “Why do they worry about me when pretty much everybody in that era did it?”

That era, of course, was dubbed the steroid era.

Sosa evidently saw fans on Twitter seize on his comments.

“That’s why when people tweet what I’m trying to mean, I’m not trying to mean anything,” Sosa told Kaplan. “Nobody, for example, played with me on my team.”

How would a stranger know how to interpret anything I may have implied, Sosa seemed to ask.

“What I’m trying to say is in the game of baseball, (everyone) has their own issues,” Sosa said. “So, I see Mark (McGwire) and I as the ones that get the blame. That was what I was trying to say.”

Ten years ago, McGwire admitted to using steroids during his baseball career. Sosa, on the other hand denied steroid use before congress in 2005. Then in 2018, Sosa insisted on E:60, “I never had a positive test in this country,” despite being among the 104 players who tested positive in MLB’s 2003 testing survey, according to a 2009 New York Times report.

If there was any thought that the newest ESPN documentary on the 1998 home run chase might inspire Sosa to change his stance, Sosa closed that door on Monday.

“I was the type of guy that I always wanted to be in the right lane,” he told Kaplan. “That’s why we fight, to let the whole world know that I never took anything.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Was Craig Hodges snubbed out of an interview in "The Last Dance?"

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Was Craig Hodges snubbed out of an interview in "The Last Dance?"

Laurence Holmes, JJ Stankevitz and Corey Robinson join Kap on a Wednesday edition of SportsTalk Live.

“The Last Dance” continues to dominate headlines and Craig Hodges isn’t happy with some of the headlines it has created. Does the former Bulls champion have a legitimate gripe? The panel discusses that plus Craig joins Kap later in the show to explain his comments.

The draft is over and one ESPN projection isn’t too kind to the Bears. They have them at 6-10. Could they actually be worse in 2020?

That plus we pay tribute to the first responders and front line workers on National Nurses Day.

0:00 - Former Bulls champion Craig Hodges is critical of “The Last Dance” and the fact he wasn’t interviewed for it. Does he have a legitimate gripe?

4:00 - One ESPN projection has the Bears finishing at 6-10 in 2020. Could they actually be worse next season? And did the address their biggest needs this offseason?

13:30 - Craig Hodges joins Kap to discuss his issues with “The Last Dance”.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Sports Talk Live Podcast