For 99 dark days and long nights this past winter, it appeared as if Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association would not be able to broker a truce to break the owner-imposed lockout — one that ultimately marked the second-longest work stoppage in the history of the national pastime.
While it may seem an afterthought now, it was only a few months ago that the league’s owners and players failed to come to agreement on a new CBA, leaving the 2022 season hanging in the balance. Some said the game would never recover.
With billions of dollars and many livelihoods at stake, the two sides were mired in a seemingly endless stare-down, each hellbent on making the other blink first. The drawn-out negotiations became intense and, at times, rather contentious.
Stepping into the fray, even while serving as a representative for the Chicago Cubs — one of the league’s legacy franchises — was 28-year-old reliever Scott Effross, whose entire career in the big league at that point amounted to just 14 innings pitched in the waning days of the 2021 season.
How did something like this happen? Apparently, Effross’s teammate and good friend Ian Happ reached out during the marathon CBA negotiations, suggesting that, as a newbie to the Cubs, Effross would be more relatable to the club’s many young players.
He was right. The former Indiana University political science major embraced his opportunity as Chicago’s “alternate team representative,” essentially Happ’s right-hand man — a position in which he took meticulous notes during union calls, polled teammates on collective-bargaining issues and, perhaps most importantly, answered questions from fellow Cubs.
His teammates, Effross told the Chicago Sun-Times, “maybe didn’t feel comfortable speaking up too loud.”
For a player with a strong analytical bent and lifelong desire to learn more about the business of baseball, representing the Cubs at the bargaining table was an optimal way to spend a protracted off-season.
“I guess it was kind of a semi-leadership role,” says the affable and exceedingly down-to-earth Effross in a phone interview with the Atlanta Jewish Times. “He [Happ] did the majority of the legwork as far as being our team rep and coordinating. I was just trying to help and be in the meetings and try to take in as much as I could. One, being my first off-season in the majors and two, my first experience with collective bargaining. I was trying to help Ian as much as I could, whenever he couldn’t make a phone call, or needed some advice. Really cool experience and something that I would like to continue to work on for sure. I definitely have interest in that world and, at some point, maybe would love to dive deeper into it if I get the right chance.”
As Happ and his playing brethren soon found out, what Effross lacked in on-field presence he made up for with his business acumen and fluid communication skills, the latter proving instrumental for enlightening fellow twenty-something teammates about the new CBA.
“Part of it is who he is as a person, just being a really good human, and he’s intelligent,” Happ recently told the Chicago Sun-Times in an attempt to rationalize how Effross could be ready to assume a leadership role so 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.”
That path has been anything but a conventional one. After grinding it out for several years in the lower-echelon minor leagues, Effross found himself at a crossroads in summer 2019 while pitching for the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.
He had been scuffling of late and, with each passing day, it seemed as if his chances of one day getting a big-league call-up were growing slimmer. And then, just before the All-Star break, Smokies pitching coach Ron Villone approached him about undergoing a radical change in his delivery by dropping down to a sidearm release. Effross had to think about it for a week. Pitchers develop the sidewinding technique in Little League, not several years into their professional careers. This would be a drastic transition.
“At the time it was a little jarring to hear, because I had been doing something my whole life,” says Effross, who, in the latter half of 2019, worked long hours with Chicago’s rehab pitching coordinator Josh Zeid (a fellow Jew and former member of the Israeli national baseball team) to fine-tune his mechanics. “I really had no idea what would happen.”
Indeed, it was a bold move that has clearly paid tremendous dividends as Effross did have a stint with Chicago last fall and broke camp with the team this spring.
Now, as the season nears its midway point, he has emerged as one of the most effective middle relievers in the National League, with his sub-3.00 ERA and elite strikeout-to-walk ratio.
“I am grateful for the Cubs for giving me a second opportunity,” adds Effross, a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan who had mixed emotions when the Tribe fell to the curse-busting Cubs —led by one of his best friends, Kyle Schwarber — during the 2016 World Series. “They didn’t owe me that. At the time, I was a very inconsistent Double-A pitcher. There very easily could have been some other decisions made. But they saw something in me. I’m incredibly thankful for just the chance — even if it never worked out the way it has right now — to pursue something.”
The Twinsburg, Ohio, native is in a perpetual state of gratitude. Back in early May, after Cubs starter Drew Smyly was put on the bereavement list, Effross got the nod to start against the crosstown White Sox. Even though he got yanked in the second inning of the Cubs’ eventual 3-1 loss, Effross made it a point afterwards to show manager David Ross just how appreciative he was.
“One of those bucket list items, saying I started a game at Wrigley,” he says.
“After the game, I went up to Ross and said, ‘Thank you for this cool opportunity.’”
Whatever is in store — whether more spot starts or high-leverage, late-inning appearances out of the bullpen — the reliever is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s been a fun stretch so far,” says Effross, who grew up as a member of the now-defunct Congregation Shir Shalom in Northeast Ohio and sports a Star of David necklace every time he takes the mound.
“I always thought my initial reaction would be ‘Ok, I just want to get there, say I did it and then check it off and whatever happens.’ I threw my first game and my immediate reaction was, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to do this again, again and again.’”
- David Ostrowsky
- collective bargaining agreement
- Chicago Cubs
- Scott Effross
- Indiana University
- Ian Happ
- Chicago Sun-Times
- Tennessee Smokies
- AA baseball
- Minor Leagues
- Ron Villone
- Josh Zeid
- Israeli national baseball team
- Kyle Schwarber
- Drew Smyly
- Congregation Shir Shalom
- Star of David