Why Anthony Rizzo isn’t the leader of the Cubs you think he is – but the one they need

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Let’s get one thing straight about Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

He is not the leader of this team. Or his captain.

At least not as you probably think.

Not like Mark Messier, intense and in your face. Not the “Jump, I drive the bus” Kirby Puckett in Game 6. Not even Derek Jeter’s team spokesperson, all-in-one, New York State of mind.

But Rizzo’s style as a leader has been the perfect fit for this team right now, in a very stressful COVID-19 sprint the Cubs are leading at three weeks with a 13-3 record.

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“What is the definition of a leader for you?” Rizzo said in a lengthy speech this spring about his role and his expectations this year. “My style of leadership is my style.”

This issue regarding Rizzo has been the subject of almost as much local sporting discussion so far this season as the closer Cubs situation.

The answer over the years has mostly been playing 153 games a year with a career .862 OPS, fearless approaches loading batters and cluttering up the field, and at least one dramatic comeback from a season-ending ankle injury. in a circuit pennant race against the Cardinals.

But no season the Cubs have played with Rizzo has ever been more built for what he brings to a clubhouse, between a sense of humor and a mischievous smile and what he calls a style of communication. based less on blasting his teammates than on sending a message “right” way, loving manner.

After a three-month hiatus and a long-awaited return to the field under strict testing protocols and fanless conditions, no one upped the humor, and no one seemed to love the moment more than the leader of the team of all this “energy” canoe that the manager and the players continue to talk about.

“I think everyone is [raising his leadership efforts], but it starts with Rizz for sure, ”said teammate Kyle Hendricks. “He’s really taken a lot, being an incredible teammate, the energy he brings every day is definitely on another level.

From hand sanitizer in his back pocket for the first runner to reach first base this season, to the bling bling of “Tony 2 Chainz” for Wednesday’s big dinner party in Cleveland – that part of Rizzo’s nature. which is laughing and trying to lighten the mood for everyone has never been more valuable.

“I don’t know if this is the circumstance of the year or just a change of approach,” said freshman manager David Ross, a 2015-16 teammate. “I really feel like he’s just trying to have as much fun as possible on the baseball field every night. He wants to succeed. He wants to contribute.

And this is no accident.

After a quick exit from the playoffs in 2018 and missing out on the playoffs last year, Rizzo faced not only the likelihood that the Cubs’ championship core would be in danger of being broken in trade, but also a long look in the mirror at how great he was. willing to change to be the kind of leader and influence in the clubhouse he wanted to be.

RELATED: Anthony Rizzo relishing Cubs hot start: “This could be our last year together”

He was already a leading face for the franchise, a strong representative off the field and a popular personality in the clubhouse – if not the classic leader, first to the park, last to leave, kick-ass.

There may never be these last things. He said during spring training that he had no intention of changing who he was: “I’m not going to show up at 10. [a.m.] when I usually show up around 2 or 3 hours. It doesn’t do me any good unless something happens.

But he said Thursday he took to heart the “dialogue” he had had with the front office, former manager Joe Maddon and others since the end of last season.

And a busy season less is more, with restrictions on how much time players can spend at the ballpark and undertake indoor hitting and video work, plays to the strengths of his personality and character.

“I say all the time we’re creating our own weather,” Rizzo said of all the noise and the “cheerleader” in the canoe which isn’t necessarily new to this team – but newly needed without fans. “Whether it’s 30 degrees or 100 degrees, that’s how we look at it.”

If Rizzo was a follower earlier in his career, he’s clearly shown a change in more recent seasons, not more than this one, with his real-world backdrop and sense of time borrowed for the Core.

“Anthony Rizzo has matured a lot since we’ve played together, in a great way,” said Ross. “Not that he was immature before. But he continues to grow and wants to be the leader he knows he is. And it has these characteristics.

Teammates say they’ve noticed small differences in Rizzo even since last year, in a willingness to approach a teammate with something they’ve noticed or even take charge of an exercise that isn’t done properly.

Rizzo said it only works “when guys know it comes from the right place and from the heart,” he said, highlighting the clubhouse’s culture change just since it debuted in San Diego in 2011. “It’s not, ‘Call someone in front of the whole team.’ My early years were more than that.

“You’re learning more and more now, it’s not really the way to do it that much anymore, because guys are going to crawl a little bit more in a hole and lose your confidence.”

If he goes up to 31 in a “leadership” role, it’s more of a natural order of things, Rizzo suggested, it’s more the basics’ turn to step up after former veterans John Lackey, Dexter Fowler. , Miguel Montero or even Ross cycled. out of the clubhouse as players.

But don’t confuse Rizzo with Jason Heyward as the guy who is suddenly going to call the next rain delay reunion that inspires a clubhouse to change baseball history. It’s still not necessarily Rizzo’s way.

It’s not like he needs someone to ‘slap a’ C ‘on his chest,’ as some of our favorite broadcasters like to shout.

“It’s just being aware,” Rizzo said. “Don’t run away from being the leader, be the unquote face of the franchise the way you want to put it. It’s about embracing it and making sure that everyone is doing well in all aspects, whether it’s our enclosure, whether it’s guys that don’t play every day – just pick up the guys and to make them feel good. And in turn, it’s the same that guys do for me.

These are also the Wednesday channels. And the pocket of hand sanitizer in the opener. And all he has in store behind the smile of tomorrow.

“He does a great job leading,” said Ross, “and being the example of fun.”

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