Cubs release Jason Heyward: 'A great human being, a great player'

November 14th, 2022

This is an updated version of an article that ran on on Sept. 29.

CHICAGO -- Sitting inside an interview room at Wrigley Field in late September, wearing a Cubs uniform for one of the final times, veteran outfielder was asked if he could somehow put into words his tenure with the ballclub.

"A lot of history being broken. A lot of winning," Heyward said. "What a ride for this city, for this fanbase. And the love that I've received, the love that we've received -- the guys that were part of those groups -- is never taken for granted."

Prior to a 2-0 win over the Phillies on Sept. 29, Heyward met with reporters for the first time since president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer announced in early August that the Cubs would be parting ways with the outfielder after this season. Heyward was formally released on Monday, giving him a chance to pursue a job elsewhere and allowing Chicago to further turn the page to a new era.

Given his wealth of experience in the game, the 33-year-old Heyward said he was not surprised by the team's decision. The writing was on the wall as the Cubs prioritized evaluating younger players. Heyward praised Hoyer for how "real" he was throughout the situation, and the outfielder hopes to prove to a new team that he can still be a part of a contender in 2023.

When his playing career is over, Heyward said he could see himself involved with an ownership group or perhaps some kind of role in a front office. The veteran said he would love to find a way to help "bridge the gap" between a clubhouse and the increasingly data-driven decision-makers.

That is a topic for down the road.

"I know I have a lot to offer still for a winning baseball team," Heyward said.

Over the course of his 13 seasons in the Majors -- spent with the Braves, Cardinals and Cubs -- Heyward has played on the October stage eight times. He has earned five Gold Glove Awards for his elite defense in right field, he has been Chicago’s Roberto Clemente Award nominee each of the past two years and he picked up one very memorable World Series ring.

And while Heyward's statistics with the Cubs may not have met the expectations of the eight-year, $184 million contract he signed prior to 2016, his legacy with the franchise is linked to that ring. During that '16 season, he was part of the dynamic Cubs team that ended the 108-year World Series drought.

"We don't win that championship without him," Cubs manager David Ross said. "That guy's a great human being, a great player. And he's done a lot for this organization and myself, for sure."

Ross was a catcher in Atlanta in 2010, when a 20-year-old Heyward -- a first-round Draft pick from nearby McDonough, Ga., three years earlier -- broke into the Majors amid lofty expectations. In his first big league at-bat, Heyward took Cubs righty Carlos Zambrano deep.

"It was crushed," Ross said.

The moment that really stands out for Ross, along with Cubs fans alike, was behind the scenes during Game 7 of the 2016 World Series against Cleveland. In the 10th inning, following a rally by Cleveland to pull the game into a 6-6 deadlock, the soft-spoken Heyward rallied his teammates during a 17-minute rain delay.

"He slowed it all down for us," Ross said. "Things are spinning really fast and we've got a moment to reset, and J-Hey stopped everything and got back to like, 'We are the best team in Major League Baseball. We've proven that.'"

The Cubs struck for two runs in the top of the 10th and went on to win, 8-7, bringing the first title to the North Side since 1908. Heyward was asked Thursday if he felt his speech truly had an impact on the game's outcome.

"I know it had an effect on it," Heyward said. "We were all reminded of who we were and how we got to that point."

Years from now, when Heyward returns to Wrigley Field to celebrate anniversaries of that championship, that moment will be linked to his legacy in the city. That, along with his impact on teammates and work in the community, will have a lasting legacy more than any diminishing statistics.

More than once, Heyward was one of the first incoming phone calls for a Cubs' first-round Draft pick. When young players reached the big leagues, he showed them the ropes and led more through an example of daily work and preparation than words.

"Personally, I'm just super lucky to call him a close friend," Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner said in August. "What he was for me is a lot more than just a veteran in the clubhouse. Pretty much, he gave me guidelines on what it means to play at this level and mix that with a life away from the field. He's a very, very impactful person in my life."

"He's the best teammate I've ever had by far," Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks said recently. "I think a lot of guys can say that about him. Just the person he is, man. What he's contributed behind the scenes."

At the start of this season, Heyward agreed to move to center field when the Cubs signed Seiya Suzuki out of Japan to be the team's new right fielder. That meant a lot to Suzuki, who called Heyward a "brother" after getting to know him during Spring Training.

"He's a player that has been successful in right field," Suzuki said in August via interpreter Toy Matsushita. "For him to basically give me that position was something that really struck me. I'm just really appreciative."

Heyward said he plans on continuing to call Chicago home, given his ties to the city now through his family. 

"It brings a smile to my face, knowing that I had a chance to play in front of these fans," he said. "It was really gratifying, because good times, bad times, they're still right there waiting for something positive to happen. And we earned the right for them to be right there, even more on the edge of their seats."