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If Anthony Rizzo can be a solid fixture, miracles aren’t necessary

Anthony Rizzo watches flight his first home run with Cubs go-ahead two-run blast fifth Saturday against Astros. | Nam Y.

Anthony Rizzo watches the flight of his first home run with the Cubs, a go-ahead, two-run blast in the fifth Saturday against the Astros. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:36AM



The Cubs were off Thursday — wasn’t that Anthony Rizzo seated alongside Gar Forman and John Paxson in the Bulls’ ‘‘war room’’ as they weighed the relative merits of John Jenkins and Tyshawn Taylor before settling on Marquis Teague in the NBA draft?

Thought so.

I understand NHL players union boss Don Fehr has asked Rizzo to join his labor negotiations in hopes of avoiding another hockey work stoppage. Time permitting, Rizzo will huddle with the Bears’ coaching staff and get some passes to the tight end added to the playbook before the team heads to Bourbonnais next month. And now that he’s here, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Rizzo to have a look at that deplorable parking-meter contract. If there’s anyone who can right a wrong and get a better deal for Chicago motorists . . .

There’s nothing this 22-year-old phenom can’t do, if you believe what you’ve been hearing and reading. Rumor has it Rizzo flew in from Des Moines without a plane for his Cubs debut.

Baseball is his specialty, so the Cubs won’t be languishing in last place once Rizzo goes to work on National League pitching. His mammoth two-run homer that beat the Houston Astros on Saturday was just a start. I bet he’d pitch (and win) if they asked him. Any chance Cooperstown waves its five-year waiting period and allows Rizzo to enter the Hall of Fame this summer, alongside Ron Santo? Pretty neat convergence of past and future for Cubs fans.

Don’t know if you heard it amid the Rizzo talk, but the White Sox also added a player last week, a guy named Youkilis. And get this — he traces his roots to the Boston Red Sox organization, just like Rizzo! He’s said to hit pretty well, he owns two World Series rings, and he plays third base, the position that has given the White Sox problems this year.

July is here, and they have seized and held first place while getting very little from their third basemen, so this Youkilis fella could be a useful pickup. But that’s present-day stuff. Why dwell on it when the Rizzo-colored future is so intriguing?

In fairness, it’s not the Cubs who are promoting Rizzo as a miracle man, as the solution to all that has ailed the franchise for a mere 104 years. And it certainly isn’t Rizzo. If he becomes the middle-of-the-order run producer they envision, he’ll be a nice piece to the sustained-success model they’re trying to build. That’s plenty.

Right or wrong, the hype accompanying Rizzo’s arrival originates with the star power in the Cubs’ front office. Theo Epstein and his cohorts signed him, developed him and sought to get him almost immediately after taking over. More so than Travis Wood, David DeJesus, Ian Stewart or anyone else in the first wave of acquisitions, Rizzo represents the new regime’s vision. The attention is curiosity-driven. If Rizzo succeeds, he validates Epstein.

It was an oddly outdated thought, but I flashed back to the great Champ Summers as Rizzo stepped to the plate in his Cubs debut Tuesday night. Big, broad-shouldered guy with a thick chest, obvious strength and a let-’er-rip left-handed swing, just like the Champ.

Summers parlayed modest talent, occasional power and a let-’er-rip personality into an 11-year big-league career. Before baseball, he had jumped out of airplanes during military service in Vietnam. Nolan Ryan’s heater wasn’t going to scare him.

At age 18, Rizzo lost his first pro season to cancer treatments. Aroldis Chapman’s three-digit heater isn’t going to scare him after that ordeal. And he brings more talent to the table than the Champ ever did. More than Corey Patterson and Felix Pie, among other recent Cubs phenoms? That would be nice.

Assuming Rizzo is as real a deal as Starlin Castro, and if you buy Darwin Barney at second base, the Cubs are set at three positions. Make it four if you view DeJesus as a serviceable everyday outfielder; five if (like me) you think catcher Steve Clevenger can hit his way into the lineup; and six (reluctantly) if they’re stuck with the 2½ years left on Alfonso Soriano’s contract.

Can they contend with that nucleus? Only if the pitching is way better than it is now. Wood has been their best lately, and he’s a No. 3 guy, not an ace.

That has long been true of Ryan Dempster as well, but the ace’s role fell to him once Carlos Zambrano proved psychologically incapable of handling it, despite an ace-level contract. Didn’t work out too well. But Dempster would look pretty good in a White Sox uniform, just like Kevin Youkilis.



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