It’s hard to picture Anthony Rizzo playing the villain or being an in-your-face leader for the Cubs.
But Rizzo’s personality will shape the identity of the next contending team at Wrigley Field, because he’s a 24-year-old first baseman with $41 million guaranteed through 2019 and a direct line to Theo Epstein’s front office.
That made Rizzo jawing at the Cincinnati Reds such good theater, even if he joked about it being a promotional stunt to get into the All-Star Game.
“I knew there was 30 minutes left in the Final Vote, and I didn’t hit a home run that day, so I had to do something,” Rizzo said Friday, surrounded by reporters at his Wrigley Field locker.
Rizzo found out he made the National League team after Thursday’s hard-earned 6-4 victory over the Reds. That took 12 innings, and teammates erupted when manager Rick Renteria broke the news inside Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse.
Rizzo screamed at Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning after the Reds closer stared into the dugout. Chapman struck out Nate Schierholtz after buzzing two 100-plus mph pitches near his head.
Chapman dismissively waved his glove at the Cubs while walking off the mound. Rizzo went out to first base and heard something from the Reds, throwing down his hat and glove and marching toward their dugout. Both benches emptied.
“It was just an incident where you stick up for your teammates, and that’s all it is,” Rizzo said. “I respect the Reds. I respect Chapman. I respect their players. But you just got to stick up for your teammates.”
Rizzo can talk because he’s putting up All-Star numbers, starting Friday with 20 homers, 49 RBIs and an .892 OPS. And maybe the kind of edge the Cubs are going to need.
“They showed their heart,” Renteria said. “You get taunted a little bit, and the guys stood up for themselves. We’re very proud of that.
“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. They’re growing up.”
The longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse is gone now, but Rizzo didn’t view the Jeff Samardzija trade as a personal changing-of-the-guard moment, or a turning point for Starlin Castro, another young All-Star with the weight of the franchise on his shoulders.
“I don’t think we’ll ever look back,” Rizzo said. “I don’t think that’s the type of players we are. We just want to get better and keep our heads down. And when we are good, just keep going with it and not think about: ‘Remember when we weren’t good? Remember when we were battling?’ We just want to get the pieces and keep getting better.”