Although he isn’t a household name yet, first baseman Anthony Rizzo is on the cusp of becoming one considering this season’s buzz surrounding the Chicago Cubs. Before they hired Joe Maddon (perhaps baseball’s best manager), signed Jon Lester (one of the best starting pitchers), called up stud prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, and became a sudden dark horse contender to make the World Series, the Cubs only had Rizzo, their bright spot during a bleak stretch.
The young fielder has never been part of a winning team. Still, as the Cubs gradually improved, so did Rizzo, hitting a career-high 32 home runs and earning a spot on last year’s All-Star team. Now 25 years old and in his fifth big league season, Rizzo is stepping into his prime at just the right moment.
On a campaign for NIVEA Men sensitive cooling shaving products, we spoke to Rizzo about the shift in the Cubs clubhouse, why Kris Bryant got “screwed,” and Joe Maddon’s toilet lamp.
After a big offseason bringing in players like Jon Lester, how has the culture changed for the Cubs?
It’skind of like a shift in the paradigm. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to have that culture. You have to create it and to be around a losing culture is not fun. So it’s all shifted toward winning. You have to keep winning to have that feeling—from what I’ve been told. Because I haven’t been on a winning team, but Jon Lester has, David Ross has, Jason Motte has, Edwin Jackson has. It’s a feeling and it’s a culture that we have to build and set first, so then when the next guy comes up, that’s how you create a legacy.
Was there a moment when you realized that everyone else had changed their expectations for the Cubs this season?
I think when [Major League Baseball] gave us the Opening Night game. That made it known that we should be contending.
How has new manager Joe Maddon changed the environment? He’s an eccentric.
Bringing in Joe has really just shifted gears. There’s no more, “OK, we’ll see how we play out.” It’s: “We’re going to win.” And he’s certainly an eccentric. Our park in Spring Training is Sloan Park. Sloan does most of the plumbing that everyone has used forever—all the toilets. So they made him a lamp out of a toilet. When you flush it, it turns on. It’s in his office.
What is your scouting report on third baseman Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect?
He sees the ball like a beach ball, it seems like. He’s got a good, short swing. He can play defense. He’s got a good arm. He’s very even-keeled—that’s what you need in this game.
Will he have success in the Majors?
Yeah. I mean, I think anyone can have success in a big league lineup. It’s just a matter of doing it on a consistent basis. That’s the hardest part about the Big Leagues is every day you’re facing a better pitcher than the night before. There’s no days off for pitchers, like, oh, this guy’s going to lay one in there for me.
Who is the pitcher you hate facing the most?
It’s a cliché in baseball, but they’re all the same. You’ve got to look at them as just pitchers and not their names. Because they can kind of psyche you out a little bit if you go, oh, I'm facing Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw—no, they’re facing me today.
And what about rookie outfielder Jorge Soler?
He comes from Cuba, so you know that alone, the way he handles himself is amazing. Transitioning from everyday Cuba to living everyday in America. He goes out of his way to learn English, which a lot of guys don’t do.
It’s interesting that you’ve noticed and thought about that. Is this because you’ve taken on a leadership role with the team, thinking about guys off the field?
In baseball you realize right away that when you play there’s someone from the sticks of Alabama, someone from L.A., from the Midwest, from the northeast that all grew up in different cultures and different families. So you better learn to adapt real quick. It’s a long season if you don’t get along with your teammates.
Do you not have specific statistical goals this year? Drive in 100 runs? Hit 30 home runs?
Everyone wants to hit 30 home runs. Everyone wants to drive in 100 RBIs. I just want to play the game every day, have one at-bat at a time. I’m not worrying about, “Oh, you’re not hitting doubles, or triples or homers.” I just want to play baseball.
MLB is experimenting with having a pitch clock. Do you think pitchers should have a time limit to how long they take on the mound?
No. I think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. And I think everyone else agrees with that. If a pitcher has a pitch clock, I’m just going to wait until there’s 3 seconds left to get back in the box. What, are we going to put up field goal posts too? It’s just not part of baseball.
Performance enhancement drugs seem to have been weeded out of the game more, but this season there have already been a handful of suspensions. Do you think their use is still a problem in baseball?
Guys are always going to try and get the edge. It’s just the nature of the beast of the human being. I’m always trying to get better, but at the same time you have to trust who you’re dealing with. Some guys say, ‘I don’t know how this is in my body,” which you could believe or not believe. You could go to a steakhouse and someone could spike your steak and you could test positive the next day. You have no idea. You’ve got to trust what people are giving you and do your research on it.
What do you think about everything Alex Rodriguez has gone through in his career?
Minus all of the steroid stuff, you still have to hit the ball. You still have to see the ball, hit the ball. Steroids ain’t going to help you hit the ball better. That’s what I don’t get. He got punished for what he did. You move on from it. That’s what life’s about. You make mistakes, you move on from it. Don’t sit on it, dwell on it. Just move on.