Chicago Cubs outfielder named to 1st All-Star Team

LOS ANGELES — Thirteen months ago, Ian Happ was sitting in Chicago Cubs manager David Ross’ office at Dodger Stadium.

Ross had summoned Happ to deliver hard news. Happ’s offensive struggles no longer guaranteed him an everyday spot in the lineup. Consequently, Ross shared with Happ that he would not play much in the Cubs series against the Dodgers. Instead, Happ, who then hit .182, would be benched.

“I cried in his office,” Happ recalled on Sunday. “And to come full circle, going from just at this point to an opportunity in the last two months of last year, bringing that into this year and having that first half, I mean, baseball is a wild ride.”

Happ won a more memorable moment on Sunday to forever link with Dodger Stadium. Ross called a pregame meeting to discuss the team schedule and plans for the upcoming All-Star break. But then Ross had one more detail to share and waited until the end to reveal the news: Happ made his first All-Star team as a National League reserve.

Happ will join teammate NL starting catcher Willson Contreras for the July 19 All-Star Game in Los Angeles. The game will be a family affair for Contreras, whose younger brother, Atlanta Braves’ William Contreras, has also been included in the NL roster.

Due to Bryce Harper’s fractured thumb, William Contreras will be in the starting lineup alongside Willson as the designated batsman. 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.

No White Sox players have been announced as reserves, making Tim Anderson, starting American League shortstop, the team’s only representative at the moment.

Hours after the Cubs were defeated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in an 11-9 loss, Happ’s honor still hadn’t fully arrived. He made the team by MLB player picks and finished sixth among NL outfielders on player picks behind Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Joc Pederson — the three fan-voted starters — and fellow reserves Kyle Schwarber and Starling Marte.

Happ broke down in tears as he spoke about calling his parents and fiancé to share the news.

“To be able to call yourself a big league All-Star is really, really cool and I’m honored,” Happ said. “The fact that the guys in the league think that of you and the year that you’ve had and give you that recognition is really, really special. Filling out these ballots for six years now and bringing in guys that you really think are the best players in baseball against, that’s really cool that guys did that for me.

Ross laughed as he recalled that the Friday before Contreras’ All-Star honors were announced, Happ had told him not to tell him in front of everyone if he happened to make the team because he was in tears would burst out. Of course, the clubhouse provided the perfect setting for the big news. It drew claps and cheers from his teammates, who wrapped Happ in hugs.

“It was a great scene, great for our boys, something that really should be celebrated and I think everyone was really, really happy for Ian,” said Ross. “Happer has been the most consistent player I’ve ever seen and the fact that he’s being rewarded for being an All-Star he deserves. He improved his game, not only on offense but also on defense and baserunning. His all-round game was outstanding and I’m very happy for him.”

The All-Star honor is a notable achievement for Happ, who turned around a misguided big-league career.

On this date last year, Happ was .183 with a baseline percentage of .296, a slugging percentage of .626, a strikeout rate of 29% and created 73 Weighted Runs Plus (wRC+) in 76 games. The slump raised significant concerns about whether Happ, a free agent after the 2023 season, fits into the Cubs’ future plans.

But instead of a terrible first half derailing the 27-year-old switch-hitter completely, he turned his 2021 season around in the last two months and carried that success into 2022.

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“If you’ve been through tough times in your career, you know you can look back on it at some of those points,” Happ said. “It’s a journey to a place in the big leagues where you feel like you can play any day and feel confident enough to do it and master the 0v4 and the 0v5 and always coming back, and there’s so much that goes into that mental part of the game.

Happ has overcome adversity throughout his six-year career, including being promoted to Triple A to start the 2019 season. When he thinks about his journey, he can’t think of one thing he’s particularly proud of.

“Just stick with it. Everyone has ups and downs in their career,” he said, “and when you think back to some of those really deep moments where you question your confidence and your abilities and you get to the other side and you feel like you made it To a point where you’ve received recognition like this, that’s really special.

Among the NL outfielders, Happ went into Sunday’s loss third in OBP (.372), fourth in batting average (.277), fifth in weighted base average (.357), fifth in WAR (2.2), sixth in RBI (40) and seventh in wRC+(129). On his first at-bat Sunday after forming the team, he doubled in 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 to come out of is really good. When you see guys making their way to greatness it’s about that kind of stuff. I’m really happy for him to come out and being able to be where he is.”

Patrick Wisdom’s locker in the Dodger Stadium clubhouse is right next to Happ’s, and Wisdom could feel the emotion emanating from Happ following the announcement. Seeing Happ weather last year’s struggles while playing at the elite level rubbed off on Wisdom.

“He’s got an All-Star Caliber year and he more than deserves to be on this team, so it wasn’t a surprise to me because I knew he was supposed to be there,” Wisdom told the Tribune. “He’s a pro through and through, and either batting behind him or in front of him, just watching how he deals with the hits and misses, I’ve incorporated that into my game and I’m constantly learning from him whether he knew it or not. “

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