Billy Williams offers lefty-hitting insight to Anthony Rizzo
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com June 25, 2012 10:30PM
Updated: July 27, 2012 6:26AM
Why, there is fresh beige paint on a couple of walls here at Wrigley Field! And new green paint in the elevator. (Bet you didn’t know there was one!)
Why, there is even new sod in the outfield to remind us, perhaps, that this is still a ballpark and not just a dance club.
Special-ness is in the air, and it’s because this is — ta-da! — 1 BR. That is, the last day Before (Anthony) Rizzo.
The minor-league first baseman everyone has been talking about, the guy who has hit 23 home runs at Class AAA Iowa, will be in the lineup Tuesday against the New York Mets.
Rizzo’s lucky he wasn’t inserted into the series opener Monday because two-time Cy Young Award-winning left-hander Johan Santana was the Mets’ starting pitcher. Rizzo, you see, is a lefty himself, and lefty-lefty isn’t a good matchup, especially when fans basically are expecting you to be Babe Ruth at the plate.
Make no mistake, the lefty deal is a big one here. A left-handed slugger at the Friendly Confines brings to mind only one ‘‘recent’’ Cub: Hall of Famer Billy Williams.
The wind blows in, the wind blows out, the wind blows right and left. But when it blows out toward Sheffield and you’ve got a lefty crusher at bat, move your cars and get the kids off the sidewalk because rocket shells will be dropping in.
Williams, who hit 426 home runs, was trying to think of a left-handed slugger — besides himself — who called Wrigley Field home.
‘‘ ‘Swish’ Nicholson, I’m thinking,’’ he says, standing by the dugout.
Bill ‘‘Swish’’ Nicholson, indeed, hit more than 200 home runs for the Cubs from 1939 to 1948. In fact, he had a combined 62 homers and 250 RBI in 1943 and 1944.
But Billy knows about left-handed hitting, in general. And he has watched Rizzo, 23, who was up in the majors for a cup of coffee with the Padres last season.
‘‘I saw him a lot in Arizona this spring,’’ Williams says. ‘‘He’s a guy who moves the ball around, and he made good contact.’’
That’s good, Williams explains. If you just try to pull the ball, you’re in trouble. Because, as noted, the wind blows against a lefty as much as for him.
‘‘See, if he’s a pull hitter, he’d have a tough time,’’ Williams says. ‘‘But he sprays all over. He’s actually a line-drive hitter, which is what you want. I never tried for home runs, just line drives. I only weighed 173 pounds.’’
Rizzo goes 6-3, 220.
Williams points to the outfield.
‘‘He’ll have to hit the ball on a line,’’ Williams says. ‘‘Now, there in left-center is a soft spot. I used to like that. He drives the ball pretty well that way.’’
Rizzo is aware he is bigger news than he probably should be in this horrid Cubs season, yet he doesn’t lack for confidence. Before he left for Chicago on Monday, he had a message for Cubs fans.
‘‘I want to tell them that there’s going to be good times and there will be bad times,’’ Rizzo told the Des Moines Register. ‘‘Hopefully there will be times I’m a hero, and there will be times that I’m the villain. That’s the nature of the game, and that goes for every baseball player.’’
Oh, it does. And it’s nice Rizzo understands the ups and downs of the game. But he’s still coming in as something more than a hopeful, a maybe. In this broken-down season, Rizzo is perceived as a savior. Or at least a stopgap entertainer until the ‘‘real’’ Cubs are assembled at a future date.
Indeed, he is supposed to be a linchpin in that ‘‘new’’ club. He, Jeff Samardzija, Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and . . . nobody knows.
LaHair will move to right field to let Rizzo take over at first base, and that should be OK. All Rizzo needs to do is hit, something the Cubs don’t do much of these days.
‘‘I just hope he doesn’t put too much pressure on himself,’’ Williams says.
Not like the Cubs have made that an easy thing to do.