The Chicago Cubs officially released veteran outfielder Jason Heyward on Wednesday. The baseball world knew this was coming as the Cubs had already given the MLBbro outfielder a warm sendoff at Wrigley Field, honoring him during a game in late September.

 

 

A true leader in the clubhouse, Heyward was once proclaimed by the late great Hank Aaron to be the next Black baseball star when he broke through with the Atlanta Braves in 2007. In his later years, he was beloved by the city of Chicago for his connection with the city and his contributions to the 2016 team that broke a 108-year World Series drought. 

Heyward posted a ,245 average, .700 OPS over seven seasons with the team and had one more year and $22 million remaining on the 8-year contract he signed in December 2015).  Heyward’s MLB journey is full of roller coasters and ups and downs, but his reputation as the consummate professional has been steady and the driving force behind his 13-year career that is probably coming to an end. The 32-year-old outfielder will go down as one of the best teammates and defensive players of his generation. 

 

 

Rewinding The Clock: MLB’s Next Generation 

When discussing the great young players in the game, Heyward used to be one of the first names that would come up. You’d hear about Buster Posey (who edged Heyward for Rookie of the Year), Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Manny Machado. As these guys took off like rocket ships, Heyward went from being in that conversation to just being a guy.

Originally the Braves’ first-round selection in the 2007 MLB Draft out of Henry County High School in Georgia, Heyward began his minor league career as a prodigy at age 17. Heyward soon became one of the top-rated prospects in all of baseball for his multifaceted skill set and debuted as Atlanta’s starting right fielder Opening Day, 2010 with fanfare and expectations on 100. 

 

 

He was projected to be the second coming of Darryl Strawberry, Willie McCovey or Willie Mays and was even given the nickname “J-Hey Kid” (Mays was known as the Say-Hey Kid) after hitting 18 homers and finishing 20th in the MVP balloting and second in the Rookie of the Year voting. He homered in his first MLB at bat, which in hindsight is probably the worst thing he could have done, because from then on people expected him to become an overnight Hall of Famer.

 

 

After seven solid seasons in Atlanta, Heyward was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and had a career season, finishing 15th in the MVP voting. If Black baseball fans in Atlanta were slowly losing touch with the team that was known for its Soul Patrollers in the 90s, Heyward’s departure was the last straw. 

“Get one thing straight. I didn’t choose it. I got traded,” Heyward told The Shadow League back in 2015. “So that’s between teams, but for me, I like St. Louis a lot. It’s been a great experience so far. I like the mindset and the mentality we bring. It’s a one day at a time attitude and we never give up and we never feel like we are out of any game.” 

Despite his success in Da Lou, J-Hey took less money to sign a long-term deal with the Cubs. His blossoming combination of solid hitting and better defense in the outfield was supposed to be the cornerstone of Chicago’s North side success for years to come.

His slash line of .248/.280/.347 with 281 RBI in his first 710 games of a 744-game stint, didn’t add up to his salary, but what gets overlooked by many in professional sports is his veteran leadership behind the scenes that balanced out the struggles that fans see on the field.

Nothing illustrated this point more for Heyward than Game 7 of the World Series back in 2016. J-Hey called a team meeting during a rain delay to rally his teammates to a championship. 

Just think of how much his teammates respected him to lock in after his speech – despite Heyward batting .104 (5-48) over 16 games in the postseason. This is the example of leadership and the respect he commanded in the dugout as a liaison between the manager, coaches and players. Championship teams need that one player. Heyward was that guy for years.

 

“What I’ve taken most from it is, how do we handle failure?” Heyward said in a September press conference. “Because that’s a big part of life, obviously, but it’s a big part of this game. We’re always going to fail more times than we succeed. And I know that’s cliche, but how we handle those things, that comes back your way.”

 

Despite his offensive struggles this past season, his leadership and professionalism were appreciated by Cubs President, Jed Hoyer, according to NBCSports.com. Heyward was nominated in 2021 and 2022 for a Roberto Clemente Award as well. 

 

Roberto Clemente Award | MLBbros Tony Kemp and J-Hey Kid Nominated

 

“He’s a guy who had a lot of [veteran] players that influenced him as a young player in Atlanta, and he kind of pays it back now,” Hoyer said, referring to, among others, his current manager, David Ross. “He’s really good with those [young] guys. Everyone always talks about Jason being such a pro, how he handles all of his business off the field, how he prepares for games, how he prepares in the offseason. Everything he does is kind of first class in that regard.”

Shadowed By The Hype: MLBbro Royalty

It was probably unfair for folks to limit Heyward’s “star appeal” by putting him in a box and defining him as merely a baseball player who hasn’t lived up to the billing. Heyward is actually an American success story and when speaking with him, it’s obvious in his eloquence that he’s not only intelligent and insightful, but respectful to people and the game of baseball. Say what you want about his baseball steez and the fact that he never had that breakout 30-homer, 30-steal, 100 RBI year, his worth as an MLB player and the way he represents the African-American community is invaluable. 

Heyward is the son of Dartmouth graduates and was born in Ridgewood, New Jersey. His pops, Eugene, is from South Carolina, and mother, Laura, is from NYC. They are an Ivy League love story having met at Dartmouth. Eugene played basketball and majored in engineering and Laura studied French. Eugene’s uncle, Kenny Washington, played basketball for two John Wooden-led NCAA championship UCLA teams in 1964 and 1965. Jason’s younger brother Jacob was also a right fielder who played college baseball for the Miami Hurricanes. 

 

 

The Heywards moved to the Atlanta metropolitan area in Georgia soon after Jason was born. The pressure of being a hometown product and playing in the shadows of so many great African-American Braves players of the past added to the already massive challenge of adjusting to big league life. As if Heyward needed any more over-the-top expectations, Hank Aaron of all people, hailed him as the future of baseball

Prophecies of that magnitude often go unfulfilled. Heyward’s “slow progression,” injuries and his part in the highly-hyped and expensive failure of the “Soul Patrol” (Signing the Upton Brothers to huge contracts and teaming them up in the Braves outfield with Heyward in 2013) made it increasingly clear that if greatness (or even total happiness) was in Heyward’s future, he would achieve it as an All-star influence on the game and the younger players. He’s done that and we tip our hats to one of baseball’s good guys. A true MLBbro boss.

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