“We’re going to win the N.L. Central and you can quote me on that.”
Those were Anthony Rizzo’s words to reporters on Thursday, just one day ahead of the Cubs’ annual gathering of meatballs and Pollyannas at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. Whether he was just fluffing the crowd or expressing his genuine feelings, the guarantee had people talking.
Is this really a good thing though? After all, guarantees should be reserved for the likes of Rasheed Wallace and deposed Men’s Wearhouse CEO’s, but not Cubs. I mean, I’m the guy who took Tom Ricketts to task over simply saying at last year’s convention that he believed the Cubs had a playoff team on their hands.
But this proclamation from a nascent superstar rang so much truer than the hollow, clanging cymbal of his team’s owner. Where Ricketts’ words felt antiseptic and disingenuous, Rizzo’s were visceral and had veracity. One man bought his leadership and the other earned it, and my reaction to their proclamations varies as a result.
It doesn’t hurt that this Cubs team is significantly better than last year’s, at least on paper. Jon Lester alone is enough to tip the scales in 2015’s favor, not to mention Joe Maddon, Jason Motte, and Joe Ortiz. Okay, maybe not so much Ortiz yet, but you get the point.
But even though the branch Rizzo climbed out onto is significantly thicker than is has been of late, his brazen declaration is still quite a departure from what we’ve come to expect from the Cubs. Theo Epstein told us all that an NL Central was the goal for 2015, but he colored it with the innuendo and entendre of exec-speak.
There’s no room to interpret the quote above though, no mistaking a turn of phrase or a $20 word (really, people who use big words are just trying to compensate for something or make themselves seem smart). Rizzo put himself out there, man, but it’s a place he’s comfortable being.
This isn’t too unlike that game against the Reds last season when Rizzo took issue with the Cincy bench and stalked toward it menacingly. No longer the struggling slugger, he’s become a leader who’s not afraid to step up with both words and actions.
I’m not a fan of braggarts and bloviators, but that’s not how Anthony Rizzo came across to me. This is a man who knows his role and is ready let the world know that the fanboys aren’t the only ones out there who think the Cubs can get things done.
That said, I don’t think Rizzo and his teammates are going to make good on his guarantee. But when I wrote earlier about “The Cubs Way,” I liberally sprinkled in quotes from Theo Epstein’s introductory presser in 2011. But in perusing back through Epstein’s words, I found one other gem that I had missed.
“We’re going to change the culture. Our players are going to change the culture along with us…”
That’s exactly what Anthony Rizzo is doing, both with his bat and his bravado. Not content to be cuddly little also-rans anymore, the Cubs continue to do what they can to remove the “lovable loser” label from this snakebit squad.
It’s all for naught if the rest of his compatriots don’t take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them. But I’ve got a pretty good feeling that they’re all more than willing to do exactly that. And I’ve got a funny feeling that this prediction is going to get more than its share of run this weekend.
As if the masses converging on the Loop over the next few days needed anything else to get them going, this should have them frothing at the mouth. But you know what? That’s not a bad thing. It’s about time these folks had something legitimate to get excited about, even if it is just a short proclamation that isn’t all that likely to come to pass.
At this point, I sincerely hope Rizzo gets a chance to reprise his words at CubsCon, if only so I can witness the ensuing swoon-fest. I can just see him taking the stage and making the guarantee again, then dropping the mic and walking off like a boss.
To that end, I’d like to co-opt a line from the Rolling Stones: “I know it’s only [Rizzo’s quote], but I like it.”