Thirteen months ago, Ian Happ sat in Chicago Cubs manager David Ross’ office at Dodger Stadium.
Ross had summoned Happ to break tough news. Happ’s offensive struggles no longer warranted him an everyday spot in the lineup. Consequently, Ross informed Happ he wasn’t going to play much in the Cubs’ series against the Dodgers. Instead, Happ, then hitting .182, would be used off the bench.
“I cried in his office,” Happ recalled Sunday. “And 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.”
Happ gained a more memorable moment Sunday to forever associate with Dodger Stadium. Ross called a pregame meeting to go over the team schedule and plans for the upcoming All-Star break. But then Ross had one additional detail to share, waiting until the end to reveal the news: Happ made his first All-Star team as a National League reserve.
Happ will join teammate Willson Contreras, the NL’s starting catcher, for the All-Star Game on July 19 in Los Angeles. The game will be a family affair for Contreras, whose younger brother, the Atlanta Braves’ William Contreras, also made the NL squad.
Because of Bryce Harper’s fractured thumb, William Contreras will join Willson in the starting lineup as the designated hitter. Aaron and Bret Boone were the last pair of brothers to make the same All-Star Game in 2003. The last brothers to start on the same All-Star team were Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 1992.
Hours after the Cubs were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers with an 11-9 loss, the honor still hadn’t fully sunk in for Happ. He made the team through MLB player voting, finishing sixth among NL outfielders on player ballots behind Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Joc Pederson — the three starters chosen by fans — and fellow reserves Kyle Schwarber and Starling Marte.
Happ teared up as he talked about calling his parents and fiancée to share the news.
“To be able to call yourself a big-league All-Star is really, really cool and I’m humbled by it,” Happ said. “The fact that guys in the league think of you that way and the year that you’ve had and give you that recognition, it’s really, really special. Filling out those ballots for six years now and putting guys in that you’ve played against that you really think are the best players in baseball, that’s really cool that guys were doing that for me.”
Ross laughed as he remembered Happ telling him Friday before Contreras’ All-Star honor was announced that if he happened to make the team, not to tell him in front of everyone because he would break down in tears. Of course, the clubhouse setting provided the perfect backdrop for the big news. It set off clapping and cheers from his teammates, who enveloped Happ in hugs.
“It was a great scene, great for our guys, something to really celebrate and I think everybody was genuinely really, really happy for Ian,” Ross said. “Happer has been as consistent of a player as I’ve ever seen him be, and the fact he gets rewarded by being an All-Star, he’s deserving of that. He’s upped his game, not just offensive numbers but his defense and baserunning. His all-around game has been stellar and I’m so happy for him.”
The All-Star honor is a remarkable achievement for Happ, who turned around a big-league career trending in the wrong direction.
On this date last year, Happ was hitting .183 with a .296 on-base percentage, .626 slugging percentage, 29% strikeout rate and 73 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) through 76 games. The slump raised significant concerns about whether Happ, a free agent after the 2023 season, fit into the Cubs’ future plans.
But instead of an awful first half completely derailing the 27-year-old switch hitter, he turned around his 2021 season in the final two months and carried that success into 2022.
“When you’ve gone through tough times in your career, you know when you get to some of those points, you can look back on that,” Happ said. “It’s a journey to get to a place in the big leagues where you feel like you’re capable of playing every day and confident enough to do it and to be able to take the 0-for-4s and the 0-for-5s and to keep coming back, and there’s so much that goes into that mental part of the game.”
Happ has overcome adversity during his six-year career, including getting sent to Triple A to start the 2019 season. Reflecting on his journey, he couldn’t pinpoint one specific thing he is most proud of.
“Just sticking with it. Everybody in their careers has ups and downs,” he said, “and thinking back to some of those really low moments where you’re questioning your confidence and your ability and to come to the other side of that and feel like you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve gotten recognition like this, it’s really special.”
Among NL outfielders, Happ entered Sunday’s loss ranked third in OBP (.372), fourth in batting average (.277), fifth in weighted on-base average (.357), fifth in WAR (2.2), sixth in RBIs (40) and seventh in wRC+(129). In his first at-bat Sunday after making the team, he doubled as part of a five-run first inning against Dodgers starter Julio Urías.
“It’s spectacular, man,” Ross said. “I’m so proud of him. The mental toughness that you have to have to come out of that is really good. When you see guys set their path to greatness, it’s after stuff like that. Being able to come out and be where he’s at right now, I’m super happy for him.”
Patrick Wisdom’s locker in the Dodger Stadium clubhouse is situated directly next to Happ’s, and Wisdom could feel the emotions coming from Happ after the announcement. Watching Happ endure last year’s struggles and come through it while playing at an elite level has rubbed off on Wisdom.
“He’s having an All-Star-caliber year and he’s more than deserving to be on that team, so it wasn’t a surprise to me because I knew that he should be there,” Wisdom told the Tribune. “He’s a pro through and through, and either hitting behind him or in front of him, just watching how he handles the successes and the failures, I’ve added that to my game and am learning from him constantly whether he knew that or not.”