On June 7, 2007, one of the greatest and most beloved Chicago Cubs of all-time, Anthony Rizzo, was drafted by Theo Epstein … but not by the Chicago Cubs.
At the time, Epstein still worked for the Boston Red Sox and Derek Lee was still manning first base in Chicago – and none of us knew the man who’d ultimately catch the final out of the Cubs first World Series win in over 100 years had started his professional career elsewhere.
A couple years after Rizzo was drafted, current Cubs GM Jed Hoyer was hired as the General Manager for the San Diego Padres. And not one year after that, he made his move to acquire Rizzo in a deal that sent All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez back to the Red Sox. On June 9th, 2011, after spending 93 games in the Padres Minor League organization, Rizzo got his call up to big leagues, but fortunately for all of us … it didn’t go too well. In just under 50 games and roughly 150 plate appearances, Rizzo struggled to make contact, striking out over 30% of the time, while finishing his cup of coffee with a .141/.281/.242 slash line.
That shaky start to his career likely played a role in the Padres’ eventual targeting and acquisition of first baseman Yonder Alonso. Indeed, not even a full month after the Padres picked Alonso as the heir apparent to Adrian Gonzalez at first base, the Padres shipped Rizzo off to the Theo Epstein-led, and completely rebuilding, Chicago Cubs. Rizzo needed just 70 games at Triple-A Iowa to impress the Cubs new front office and on June 26th, 2012 he put on a new jersey, laced in Cubbie-blue, for what we all hope was the final time.
I don’t need to remind any of you of what happened next … but I will anyway. During his first seven years as a Chicago Cub, Rizzo did nothing but impress us. On the field, he’s become a three-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glover, and one-time Silver Slugger. He’s also received MVP votes in each of the last five seasons, including two top-five finishes and another top-ten finish. And, of course, he helped the Chicago Cubs end the longest drought in professional sports history.
Off the field, Rizzo was (and remains) a model for professional athletes. A cancer survivor himself, Rizzo started the Anthony Rizzo Foundation and has generated millions of dollars in donations to help in the fight against cancer. On top of that, Rizzo has made it a personal calling to frequent children’s hospitals to help inspire and support kids battling the a wide range of health issues.
And after his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was terrorized by a school shooting in February of 2018, Rizzo returned to Parkland, Florida to deliver an emotional speech at the vigil, pledging his support and condemning the acts of violence.
Rizzo’s body of work as both a caring human being and talented ballplayer earned him repeated nominations for the Roberto Clemente award, one of baseball highest honors, and in 2017 he became one of the youngest recipients of the award.
Thanks to an extension signed back in 2013, Anthony Rizzo, now 29 years old, still has three more years under contract with the Chicago Cubs. But as we discussed just yesterday, no one player on this roster is more deserving – or more desired by fans – to secure a deal that’ll keep him in Chicago for the rest of his playing days.
At the Daily Herald, Bruce Miles spoke with Anthony Rizzo about his career with the Chicago Cubs – both on and off the field – entering a season in which he’ll turn 30. If any article is worth your attention today, this profile on Rizzo is it: “It’s crazy. I remember posing for a picture on Instagram that I was in the 25-and-under club. What was that, 2015, when everyone first got called up when we were all 25 years old and younger? Four short years later … but I feel like every year I gain more wisdom and knowledge.”
At the Herald, Rizzo discusses his humble beginnings and everything he’s learned along the way. He discusses his new role as something approaching a “grizzly veteran” and how great his body feels, even now as he ages.
Beyond that, Rizzo shares his perspective on giving back, including his frequent trips to the hospital, many of which aren’t publicized: “To be able to go talk to someone while wearing a Cubs uniform, whether they know who you are or not, whether they know my name or my story, to just be able to talk to them and bring a smile is just so rewarding a feeling. They’re going through their toughest time in their life. To be able to lift them up for a few seconds, it’s only temporary, but hopefully that could last forever.”
Be sure, before your day is through, to check out this article at the Daily Herald and really appreciate the caliber of player – and human being – the Cubs have had for nearly a decade. Anthony Rizzo is a rare breed and the Cubs – and the city of Chicago – is very fortunate to have him around.
Hopefully, some day soon, the Cubs will be able to reward Rizzo with another extension, retaining one of the best team and community leaders in the game. I think I can speak for all of us when I say they should do whatever it takes to make sure this guy, if anybody, never wears another jersey again.