As soon as Anthony Rizzo stepped to the Cincinnati Reds dugout this past Thursday with some words for Aroldis Chapman, a question arose in the minds of Cubs fans: Was this a case of Rizzo taking ownership of his team?
Was this an example of Rizzo truly becoming the team leader in the wake of the Jeff Samardzija trade? Rizzo will likely shy away from it publicly, yet he has always appeared to have natural leadership qualities. He already seems to be a guiding presence within the locker room, even at the tender age of 24.
The only question has been whether or when Rizzo could accomplish enough at this level, or whether he could manage to stay consistent enough for that role. Rizzo is now an All Star, however, and his 20 homers, 49 RBIs and an .879 OPS can do some talking for him.
The Cubs front office will still likely bring in a veteran who can duel as a guiding force for the young, and even yet to get younger, clubhouse. Maybe even a veteran that is decorated enough to take some of the burden away from Rizzo, who likely still needs to grow into such a role.
However, you can see where someday Rizzo could be the Cubs version of a Paul Konerko or Tino Martinez type.
"I thought Anthony standing up, quite frankly, in that moment during the ballgame showed that he’s got a little bit of heart and what it takes to be a leader. I think everybody kind of gravitated to it," his skipper Rick Renteria told Patrick Mooney.
Rizzo has always been a favorite of this front office. They drafted him. GM Jed Hoyer has traded for him twice. It has been his personal makeup, as much as his left-handed power bat, that has been the reason for the long-standing attraction. Rizzo has endured real grown-up issues at a young age. Overcoming a serious illness will dwarf baseball any day.
The Cubs first baseman also had his share of ups and downs last year on the field. However, now Rizzo is producing on the field in a big way. The first time All-Star will be able to carry that credibility into situations when it comes to guiding a young player like a Javy Baez in the near future.
Some believe leadership can be overrated within the game; certainly, at least the rah-rah effect. But it's more about setting an example. Recently I've been thinking about comparing this next core of Cubs players on the come to the core the Yankees boasted in the 90's heyday of Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte.
That team just ooozed leadership, and the responsibility was distributed throughout the clubhouse. Even so, most would agree that Martinez was the guy who, while maybe not the most talented, had the ultimate respect in that clubhouse.
Rizzo could soon be surrounded by players like the aforementioned Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, any or all of whom could easily surpass him in ability and output.
That said, Rizzo may end up becoming an elder statesman of sorts, one that saw this rebuild through. Anthony Rizzo is now the face of the franchise regardless. He already seems to be speaking out more as well, whether it be at the Reds dugout or at the lack of clubhouse renovations.
I can tell you from personal experience, this is a first-class kid. Rizzo is also certainly a guy everyone can get behind; that was proven to the fullest recently with the All-Star Game Final Vote campaign.
Most of the core may still be on their way, but the anchor is already here.
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