Jason Heyward’s career with the Chicago Cubs is coming to a close, ending with one year and $22 million remaining on his eight-year, $184 million contract.
It didn’t pan out the way former President Theo Epstein envisioned in 2015 when he gave Heyward the long-term deal, and current President Jed Hoyer decided in August to cut the cord after this season and move in another direction.
It was another example of conscious uncoupling in which both sides part amicably like a no-fault divorce, much like the way Epstein said goodbye to manager Joe Maddon in 2019.
Only fairy tales always have a happy ending, as many of the 2016 Cubs discovered on their way out of town.
Heyward will get a chance to wave farewell to Cubs fans Saturday at Wrigley Field when a tribute video is shown during the game against the Cincinnati Reds. On Thursday he met with the media and didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room — failing to live up to expectations after signing the biggest contract in franchise history.
The offensive numbers Heyward compiled in Chicago speak for themselves, and the three Gold Gloves he earned here couldn’t make up for the perception it was a bad contract.
“I feel like I’m a very fortunate person to be in a select group of players that earned bad contracts, because there are a lot of bad contracts out there, if that’s how we’re looking at it, right?” he said.
“But to be able to show the value of myself as a person in probably one of the toughest times I’ve had on and off the field in 2016, but to still show I’m here for the team, to still play defense the way I played defense, run the bases and just to step in and step up in multiple times when I was needed, to be who I am and to be Jason Heyward. …
“We still got a ring. And it took every bit of that from me and from that group. There was no other group that was going to get that done. That (perception is) fine. I understand. People can say ‘bad contract,’ this and that. But I know I also had my hand in a lot of winning baseball on the North Side of Chicago.”
Heyward’s contributions included his rain-delay speech during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series, a moment that can’t be overstated in the Cubs’ 10-inning win over Cleveland after Aroldis Chapman served up a tying home run in the eighth inning.
Maybe the Cubs would have won anyway. But the players were adamant afterward that Heyward’s decision to call them together in the weight room and remind them who they were was a decisive factor in the historic win.
“I know it had an effect on the group that was together,” Heyward said. “The right people were in the room. That team was really, really talented. That team was really, really poised, and it doesn’t happen without all those guys together.
“So it most definitely had an effect on the outcome of that game, just because we were all reminded of who we were and how we got to that point. Once again, one more time, ‘Go finish the way we’ve played, no matter what the result is.’”
The players-only meeting came about because Heyward sensed the team had lost its mojo. Chapman was crying, and no one was talking. The Cubs had heard all year about the “curse” that always vexed the team in big moments, and Heyward was determined not to let it get into their heads.
“I felt like that was probably the first time I’d seen everyone not having much to say,” he said. “Everyone kind of being dumbfounded a little, being banged down, and rightfully so, because of all the weight of the curse, because it was Game 7, because we’re not at Wrigley, because (Cleveland) had a lot of momentum.
“A lot of things did not go our way at one time, and it would’ve been very easy to go, ‘Well, we gave it a hell of a run.’ Now let’s go see what happens. To me we had a moment. I didn’t know how long (the delay) was going to be.
“But I saw it was raining, and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to say something. I’ve got to remind these dudes of how I see them.’ They’re amazing. They’re gladiators. And through every up and every down through that season, it didn’t matter. We always had an answer — to laugh at it, to have fun with it, to talk (trash) to each other, see who would come out on top and praise the people that came through. … It was someone different every night. Just needed a reminder.”
Hoyer, then the general manager, called the 17-minute rain delay “divine intervention.” It gave the team a chance to regroup, and Heyward was the right person to lead the charge.
“J-Hey called a meeting, and we just let it all out,” Anthony Rizzo said afterward. “And we’re world champions.”
The Cubs never won it all again, of course, and last year’s sell-off spelled the beginning of the end of Heyward’s career on the North Side. When Heyward and free agent Willson Contreras leave after the season, Kyle Hendricks will be the only player remaining from the 2016 champs, along with manager David Ross.
Heyward fell in love with Chicago and plans to keep his home and remain involved in the community. He also thanked owners Tom and Laura Ricketts for giving him the opportunity to experience the Cubs life.
“I understand a lot of people have (gripes), and I respect their opinions, and they have a lot of reasons to not be happy with them,” Heyward said. “But ups, downs, great days, bad days, Tom always came and spoke to me, made sure to shake my hand and look me in the eye, make sure I’m good and had everything I need.
“They also broke the curse that was here for 108 years. That’s not an easy thing to do, so a lot of respect for them.”
Heyward should get a nice send-off Saturday, as he deserves.
Numbers don’t define a player as much as his character, and Heyward’s legacy was sealed on a rainy Wednesday night in Cleveland.