How Cubs reliever Scott Effross claimed off-the-field leadership role
Effross made his first major-league start in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss Tuesday to the White Sox at Wrigley Field.
Before Cubs side-armer Scott Effross transferred the experience of his debut season into a strong April, proved his comfort in a range of relief situations or made his first career start Tuesday against the White Sox, he offered his help to team rep Ian Happ during collective-bargaining negotiations.
‘‘I’ve always been kind of interested in the business of baseball and like the front-office work,’’ Effross told the Sun-Times. ‘‘It’s something that’s always intrigued me, as far as what that kind of life is like.’’
Effross wasn’t sure what his official Major League Baseball Players Association title was — ‘‘I was kind of just thrown into it and didn’t really get knighted or anything into the reps’’ — but ‘‘alternate team rep’’ sounded about right. When Happ mentioned he could use some help, given that the veteran group who had taken care of union business no longer was on the team, Effross embraced the opportunity.
The pairing made sense from a communication standpoint. With Effross having played with many of the Cubs’ homegrown players and the younger guys on the roster and Happ more familiar with the more established players, they had the 40-man roster covered.
As the owners imposed a lockout and the work stoppage neared 100 days, communication became all the more important.
‘‘Part of it is who he is as a person, just being a really good human, and he’s intelligent,’’ Happ said of why Effross was ready to take on that kind of leadership role early in his career. ‘‘So I think both of those things were first and foremost. I think he’s really easy to talk to and communicate with, to make guys comfortable to come to him with any issues they might have had. And his path through the system.’’
Effross hasn’t had a traditional path to the big leagues. He was drafted in 2015, the same year as Happ. In 2019, he was part of the way through his fifth season in the minors and dropped his arm slot down from 35 degrees to zero.
‘‘In hindsight, I’m incredibly thankful for almost a second chance to continue to pitch,’’ Effross said. ‘‘So once I decided that we’re going to do it, [I] kind of went both feet in and tried not to look back.’’
It worked. The Cubs called up Effross after the trade deadline last season, and he posted a 3.68 ERA in 14 outings.
‘‘Last year, I got thrown into a lot of different scenarios at the end of the season, which I was really happy about,’’ Effross said this spring. ‘‘So not only was I able to get my feet wet, but also get my feet wet in close ballgames, back-to-backs, everything. So just having that learning experience I feel like set me up pretty well for at least my mindset this year.’’
He has allowed only two earned runs in 11 appearances so far in 2022. In the Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the White Sox, he started in place of Drew Smyly (bereavement list) and allowed two unearned runs and two hits in 1⅓ innings.
‘‘Until you prove that you feel like you belong — and you have to prove it to yourself — it doesn’t matter what a coach may say, what front-office personnel may say,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘To go out there and have results is a powerful thing. And I think that’s where he’s at right now.’’
Effross already had established some of that ease and comfort in the offseason, sitting in on union calls with Happ and helping to poll his teammates on collective-bargaining issues. A lot of his introduction to the union’s inner workings was a thrown-into-the-deep-end kind of learning experience.
‘‘I wanted to learn enough to where if guys had questions, I was able to help answer them,’’ Effross said. ‘‘Especially guys who maybe didn’t feel comfortable speaking up too loud.’’