Anthony Rizzo: The Heartbeat

Leadership is a tricky concept sometimes. What defines a true leader? Is it in actions showing others around you the right things to do? Is it instead the inspiring speeches that animate others to act boldly? Is it sacrificing your own happiness or comfort to help others? While it is a murky concept, as a Supreme Court Justice said about something completely different, I know it when I see it.

When it comes to the Chicago Cubs there is only one man that fits all of these traits: Anthony Rizzo. Chicago has had a long history of strong leadership. Frank Chance was a player/manager through the Cubs first dynasty. Ernie Banks earned the title Mr. Cub for his leadership in a nearly 20 year career. Another colorful first baseman, Mark Grace, famously patted his heart to celebrate the Cubs playoff birth in 1998.

I'm here to argue none of these past heroes are close to Anthony Vincent Rizzo. After being drafted by the Red Sox in 2007 he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2008. That is frightening for anyone let alone a 19 year old kid. Rizzo won his fight, and has made a point ever since to visit others who are fighting and to donate extensively to cancer charities including his own foundation.

After all of that mere baseball struggles would seem trivial, but Rizzo had some of those as well. After a trade to San Diego he struggled in his first stint in the majors batting below .200. That was when the Cubs pounced and traded for Anthony before the 2012 season. The rest they say is history, but it wasn't without a lot of hard work. Completely remaking his swing in Iowa before returning to the Cubs for good late in the year and becoming a star player.

The first sign of what kind of a leader the big first baseman would be was shown in July of 2014. Reds closer (and future Cub) Aroldis Chapman threw near the head of Cubs outfielder Nate Scherholtz and Rizzo wasn't having it. He challenged the entire Cincinnati dugout on behalf of his teammate. From that moment on, he was the emotional leader of the Cubs.

The next two seasons the Cubs went from promising to contending with their emotional force, Anthony Rizzo, in the heart of the team. Finally reaching their first World Series in 71 years, they found themselves down 3-1 to Cleveland. Some teams and players would throw in the towel at this point, but not Tony nor the Cubs. With the help of the Rocky movies and his smooth right fielder, Rizzo helped inspire his teammates to battle back. It was fitting to see where the last out of the Chicago championship ended up.

The ball settled in Anthony Rizzo's big right hand and then into his back pocket. As if fate had always been leading it there. Rizzo was the man the Cubs moment had needed, 108 years of waiting for just the right man/player to come along. Someone who had battled adversity that makes a championship drought look silly in comparison.

True leadership though is not about a kids sport like baseball, it's about not backing down when real challenges emerge. Rizzo didn't when he had cancer and now makes a point in visiting and inspiring those currently fighting.

Now another tragedy has struck in Parkland, Florida at the high school Anthony graduated from. 17 students and teachers were killed in a mass shooting on Wednesday at Parkland Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Rizzo immediately left Cubs Spring Training to return home to support the victims. He didn't hesitate because that's what leaders do, he could have easily sent a donation or made a video tribute. No one would have said a bad word against him, but he had to go to help those effected. Anthony Rizzo is not just the heartbeat of the Cubs, he is the heartbeat of Parkland. That more than any baseball achievement makes him a real leader.

Filed under: Cubs

Tags: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs, Leadership

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  • He is not only a great player, but an exceptional person. We're lucky he's a Cub!

  • I noticed that your list of past and current Cub leaders that all played first base at least for a time. Not sure what that means but maybe the big guy at first is a leader by nature for a lot of teams.

  • Anthony, thank you for those words. No politics, no, division, just my heart is broken and we are Ameriican people, who can do better than this.

  • Love me some Rizzo!!!!! Stud player and stud human being.

  • Anthony is a special young man. I complemented his mother on her parenting the first time I met her in 2014.
    Not that the situations in any way compare, but the 2002 Cubs called on a 37 year old Joe Girardi to address the crowd when Darryl Kile was found in his hotel room and the game had to be cancelled. Not Manager Don Baylor (fired a few weeks later) or any of stars of the team. Not to diminish Anthony's gifts in any way, but the Epstein era Cubs are blessed with multiple mature young men who lead by example on and off the field every day.
    Words alone provide little solace for tragedies like this week, but Anthony's remarks should be required listening for public speaking classes for years to come. They seemed truly heartfelt and 100% his own feelings, not the product of any politician's speechwriter.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    There are many traits that, by themselves, can make a person a leader. When you begin stacking them upon a single person is when you get something truly special. Great job, Sean, in lying out these various traits and how they may have manifested themselves.

    But there is another example, one that some may perceive as weakness, that I believe goes a long way towards explaining Rizzo's strength. Towards the end of Game 7 in Cleveland, he was shown in the dugout in obvious distress, which he would later describe as a near-breakdown. He leaned on Grandpa Rossy and said "I'm freaking out!". Ross talked him off the ledge, hilariously telling him it's only going to get worse. Here was the mighty Anthony Rizzo, heart and soul of this young team, on the biggest stage in franchise history, beginning to fall apart. He recognized his weakness and sought the guidance of someone he respected and admired.

    We can speculate on the origin of these leadership qualities, but that is where true leadership and strength comes from. You nailed it on the head, charactercounts: We should all thank Anthony's parents for raising such a fine young man.

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    You are right about Rizzo he truly is a leader on the Cubs team like no other. I take some issue with your having left out Ron Santo. He was the true leader on the Cubs team during the middle to late sixties and into the 70s and any fan of that era and up to his untimely death remembers his dedication to JDRF and the price he paid for his illness.

  • In reply to Theodore Anderson:

    Ultimately, this is a story about Rizzo, not about every leader in the history of the club. Ronnie was certainly one of the greats, but there was also plenty of guys before him that made similar impacts as well. You can't include them all.

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    In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Michael,
    I understand and understood that it was about Rizzo and he deserves all the praise. You opened the door by mentioning leaders that were apparently a racist , a man who cheated on his wife and a convicted drunk driver. Santo was none of those and was a leader on and off the field. If there are others that made similar impacts, other than Rizzo, I've never heard about it. I wasn't suggesting you "include them all" it was just in my mind and from my reference point Santo was such a glaring omission.

  • In reply to Theodore Anderson:

    Fair point, Theodore. Not that Michael needs my support, nor am I speaking for him, but I get the feeling he was defending his "teammate" Sean, much like Rizzo vs. the Reds in 2014.

    Santo is certainly worthy of admiration. So are the others Sean mentioned. Everyone has flaws if you dig deep enough, and some flaws are more glaring than others depending on one's point of view.

    I've spun the jukebox in my brain searching for just the right lyric to put this into perspective. Some lines from legendary musicians such as Dylan, Cat Stevens, and Neil Young have come to mind. But I'm going with a songwriter who I know is clearly inferior to try to make a point about not holding too high of standards, and recognizing that it isn't always a good idea to dig too deeply:

    "Every rose has it's thorn."

  • Nice piece. Completely agree with Rizzo's leadership. He still needs to grow a bit in the clubhouse, where he is presently more glue than a figure demanding excellence and doing things the "right way." But he has a great base of respect on the team to make that final leap.

    And a quibble with a minor point that the Cubs have a long history of "strong leadership." You only go a hundred years after Frank Chance by a shortage of leadership (as well talent, bad drafting, etc.). Ernie Banks was a beloved figure, very positive, a glue guy, great dignity helping break the color barrier for the Cubs but not a traditional team leader. Mark Grace had great influence over young players, but his playing career reputation was mostly as a good-time Charlie. He was a player with the talent to get 3,000 hits and win batting titles (even in the age of Gwynn), but he never finished in the top three in any season. But the man never focused on his fitness and loved leading late-night outings around Wrigleyville.

    But absent from the list was Andre Dawson who Grace called the Cubs best leader during his years on the team. He had the talent, the dedication, mentor players from Tim Raines to Shawon Dunston, and his teammates would follow him wherever he wished to take them.

    But nice article. Rizzo really walks the talk.

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    Sorry, Sean opened the door.

  • Sean, great article about a true leader and wonderful human being. I'm proud to own a gold Cub jersey with Anthony's name on the back.

  • Cubs don't like to give longer deals to 30+ players, but if they give one to anyone it will be him.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    I don't think that is true. They gave Lester a 6 year plus an option for a seventh year and Darvish a 6 year deal. I think it just depends on the circumstance and the player. But I agree they may give Rizzo a longer deal. Maybe extend him before this deal runs out.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    Given the current controlled-talent pool on the team & in the minors and my own beliefs about his abilities which I wont get into, I just do not see him getting another contract with the Cubs. It is not that he is not successful now. It is not that he is not a great person & leader. Given the History of Theo & Jed, I see them selling HIGH toward the end of his great contract. I mean it is a really great contract he is on. He is being paid as a 2.0 WAR player basically. He doubles that as a minimum now. So he is value.

    Rizzo is 28.5 years old & under contract thru 2019 with 2 club option years after that. Baseball players do not age well in the sport in their 30s. He has a 4 year head start on the younger players and done well.

    Jed & Theo do not typically overpay players in their 30s for long term deals. I suppose it is possible that if he maintains his current stats that maybe you keep him. But come 2020, when you have to start paying Kris Bryant, Kyle Hendricks, Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell in their primes, will there be enough money to pay Rizzo as he gets older and deal with all the league penalties as they stand?

    I hate losing players that are well liked. But it is entirely possible Rizzo's run with the Cubs is up in 2020. My belief is to earn that next contract, he will need to show he can do a better job spraying to all fields.

  • Rizzo is a class act all the way. I'll give the Cubs some credit for their focus on "character," and for understanding that Anthony needed to leave training to be with his home town during this time. That said, Rizzo is a cut above and a credit to his upbringing. I'm glad he's a Cub.

  • Rizzo is awesome. So glad that he’s a Cub. A World Series winning Cub. I liked his humbleness, sincerity & passion in Parkland. I think others (former players/coaches & celebrities), who stand on their soap boxes pontificating, pointing fingers, could learn a thing or 2 from him.

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    Can someone explain to me whats going on in Tampa right now? First they trade for CJ. Cron and DFA Corey Dickerson. Yes, I know all star selections are not everything, but he was an all star as recently as last summer and even though he tailed off as the season went on, he still hit 27 HR's and slashed .282/.325/.490 w 2.6 fWAR along w solid defensive numbers albeit in LF. Yes, he was set to make about 6 million, but he has no value to another team? Why didn't they trade him ?

    Next they trade Jake Odorizzi ( a starter a lot of people here have wanted to Cubs to trade for over the yrs) to the Twins for 20yr old A/A+ ball SS/3B Jermaine Palacios ? He's not a top 100 MLB prospect and even as low as the 27th ranked prospect in the twins system. Is this crazy? Jake is not worth an organizational top 10 prospect? What am I missing? I know its apples to oranges, but what is Archer and Colome worth now?

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    I think the simple answer is no one knows what the Rays are doing right now. It seems likely that they will be one of many teams to slash payroll prior to the start of the season, and there isn't a lens beyond saving money that I see for these moves at the present time. It is possible that it is because the offers for Colome have been underwhelming that they made these moves to cut payroll, but it is hard to understand what they are doing from the outside.

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    Boy this filter is something when its hungry. It gets hANGRY !

  • I love this well written article! I do think it is important not to confuse the narrow concept of a "leader" with the broader concept of a moral leader. Stalin was a leader, but was he a moral leader? In fact, he faked his morality for public consumption. In other words his own personal movie studio produced some of the first special effects in cinema, and moral acts were staged to portray "Uncle Joe" as the champion of the people. Anthony Rizzo is a moral leader! We live in a world today that believes in the communist concept of Moral Relativism, or equivocation. They should have their own movie studios to enhance their self defined aggrandizing righteousness. True personal morality can not reflect equivocation. It is constant and unwavering. Anthony Rizzo is just a great human being!

    I haven't been around for a year now. I was sorry to hear about John's passing, and glad to see the Cub's Den marching on. I have been in the Philippines coaching the Women's and Junior's national softball teams and doing clinics on 7,200 islands, ha ha! The girls are getting cheated. The bad news: The Olympic committee is taking 12 baseball teams of 25 players each, and only 6 softball teams at 15 players each. We are petitioning their hypocrisy since their 2020 Olympic charter says they will have numerical equality. And Japan wants 12 teams and says they will pay for the fields and all expenses. The good news: We rose from 17th in the world last spring to a legitimate 3 or 4th. We beat every team in the world this year except Japan #1, and the USA #2. And we don't even have a legitimate softball field in the entire nation, though a couple are being built this year. We even play on cow pastures. Our #1 pitcher, Lyca, lives in a bamboo hut with a dirt floor. Pretty typical. I am proud of them. We also have a lot of Phil-Am players going to American universities I might add. Go Cubs!

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    Congratulations on your success with your softball team. You have good reason to be proud! I hope the Olympic committee wises up.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    Welcome back, Quasimodo! Awesome to hear from you again. Glad everything is going well for you and I hope the IOC sees the light.

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    In reply to Quasimodo:

    I still remember your reluctance when the Cubs signed Heyward. Well, you've proven to be more right than the army of scouts they employed. The young women you're sending to the Olympics are very lucky, indeed.

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    In reply to Mike Moody:

    So good to have you back, especially after such an experience. The girls you coach are proof that athletes are everywhere and if they don't have equipment or great fields they make do and I think that sometimes we lose track of the purpose of sport (and the Olympics) is that yes it's great to win, but competing is key, doing the best one can.
    As I watch these Olympics I of course want to see who medals, but I can't imagine the joy of even Making and Olympic team! What a thrill that must be.
    Anyway, I'm sorry to veer away from the Cubs--it was such an interesting year that you had that got me going.

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    In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    That was in response to Quasimodo's post.

  • Thanks to all of you guys. I guess I got off track. I will give your wishes to the girls next month. I hope as well they adjust their thinking. We are on the cusp of making it, placed second to Japan in the Asian Championships (toughest global division) but it is still 2.5 years away.

    More importantly you guys are still here, love the Cubs, and appreciate a truly great human being. I was in some shock over John. It is a time when words failed me, where as Rizzo didn't fail to be the leader he is.

  • In reply to Quasimodo:

    Welcome back Quasi. Missed your analysis in here. Hopefully we will get some more of your insights as we move on to the season.

    Congrats with the women softball players!!! Job well done.

  • The good news is, Heywards mechanics look the best I have seen. If he can just carry it into a game he must justify a $84 million contract, haha! If I was working with him I would make him focus 90% total on hitting 30% to LF and 60% up the middle.

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    In reply to Quasimodo:

    I think you meant the $184 M contract.

  • Rizzo, what a guy! Wouldn't it be nice if all celebrities had his good sense?

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    JD Martinez is signing a 5 yr $110M contract with Boston. Once Yu signed the others are following suit.

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