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.