‘Baseball’s a wild ride’: How Ian Happ went from bench player to NL All-Star
Last June, David Ross called Ian Happ into his office in Los Angeles before the Cubs’ four-game set against the Dodgers and shared some news with him.
It broke Happ, he wept in a mixture of frustration and sadness.
“[He] basically said that I wasn’t gonna play for the series much and kinda be coming off the bench cause I was struggling so bad,” Happ, who was hitting .182 at the time, told reporters Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. “And I cried in his office.”
Sunday in Los Angeles, Happ again broke down in tears, only this time they were of joy, satisfaction and accomplishment. Ross had called a team meeting and announced that he was a reserve in the 2022 All-Star Game, joining teammate Willson Contreras, who will start at catcher.
“You think about all the people that helped along the way — family, friends — I got super emotional then,” Happ said. “I don’t know. It hasn’t set in. I don’t know if I could contain those much.”
The last 12 months or so have been a testament to Happ’s character and dedication — all of which were rewarded Sunday.
Happ was struggling big time in late June of 2021. He had started the season as the team’s leadoff hitter and center fielder, but by the time they played the Dodgers in L.A., he was a bench player. He did not even seeing the field in the first game of the series, when the Cubs threw a combined no-hitter, arguably the highlight of the 2021 season.
“A long time ago,” Happ said. “Different team, different everything.”
He still believed in himself, knowing what he was capable of on the field, but it would have — and probably should have — been easy to not. It wasn’t the first time he had struggled — he was optioned to the minors to start the season in 2019, spending the first three-and-a-half months of the season at Triple-A.
Instead, Happ was motivated, he wanted to show the Cubs and the baseball world what he was capable of. He became a regular player again after last season’s trade deadline and ran with the opportunity. Over the last two months of the season, Happ slashed .288/.363/.581 with 15 home runs.
And that period of sustained success carried over this season, where he’s slashing .276/.370/.448 with 8 home runs and a career-high 22 doubles. Happ is sixth among NL outfielders with a 2.4 WAR, per Baseball-Reference.
His ability to persevere has served him well.
“I don’t know if there’s one specific thing, but … I think sticking with it,” Happ said. “Everybody in their careers has ups and downs and [you] think back to some of those moments, some of those really low moments where you’re questioning your confidence and your ability.
“To be able to come to the other side of that and feel like you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve gotten recognition like this, man, it’s really special.”
That’s what makes this All-Star nod so special. After Ross shared the news, Happ called his mother, brother and fiancé to share the news — and the tears started flowing, again.
“I mean, to share that with them, to be able to share [those] days I had with them and those experiences is gonna be really really cool,” Happ said. “Those are the people that have been by my side through everything, through all of the tough parts and the great parts and celebrating the successes and being there and the lows.”
They were there at his low point in Los Angeles in 2021 and they were there in L.A. a year later at arguably the pinnacle of his career on a personal level – the day he could officially say he’s an All-Star.
“It’s an honor. To be able to call yourself a big-league All-Star is really, really cool. I’m humbled by it,” Happ said. “To have that come full circle, from just being at that point to getting an opportunity those last two months of last year, riding that into this year and having this first half, I mean, baseball’s a wild ride.”