MORRISSEY: Anthony Rizzo is the latest crush to distract Cubs fans
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com January 15, 2013 10:20PM
Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is in the dugout before the game with the New York Mets on June 26, 2012 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: January 16, 2013 12:05AM
Friday is the start of the Cubs Convention, that offseason genuflection to all things blue and fluffy. Players will get the kind of reception the Beatles received at Shea Stadium in 1965 except for . . . well, that’s exactly the kind of reception they’ll get.
Most of them, if they’re honest with themselves, will wonder what the team did right in 2012 to deserve such adoring fans. A 61-101 record would seem to argue strongly in favor of booing, if not tarring and feathering.
But these are the Cubs, a different animal, more of a stuffed animal, really, and this is why they will receive a hero’s welcome.
Anthony Rizzo figures to be at the top of the heap, the latest in a long line of players who have attained Face of the Franchise status. Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Sammy Sosa and Kerry Wood come immediately to mind as other FOTFs. But at least they had, you know, actually accomplished something.
Some of the attraction with the 23-year-old Rizzo has to do with the concept of promise. That swing. That easy smile. If he wore a wool jersey, he might be a young Mickey Mantle. Never mind that he is 87 games into his Cubs career.
Much of Rizzo’s attraction has to do with the fact there’s nobody else the franchise can serve up for public consumption. And that doesn’t bode well for 2013.
Starlin Castro? He was supposed to be the FOTF, but a sexual-assault investigation last year derailed that, even though he was never charged.
Alfonso Soriano? He’s the most embraceable Cub in terms of personality and recent performance, but fans still have scars from his massive contract and his misadventures in left field.
Manager Dale Sveum? Maybe if the Cubs were selling beard stubble.
Team president Theo Epstein? He’ll be the FOTF if and when the Cubs start winning.
No, it has to be Rizzo, and I feel sorry for the kid. He hasn’t even played a full major-league season. But the team won’t let that stand in the way of a good diversion.
That’s the problem with the Cubs — not Rizzo, but the fact that the franchise always holds up a player as a shield against all the losing. And too often it works. It’s the opiate of the people: If the fans pay attention to the individual exploits of Ryno or Woody or Gracie, maybe they won’t be so preoccupied with the unfortunate reality of the standings.
The psychology behind the ruse is that a Cubs fan always needs one player to love. And after all these years of bad baseball and well-attended statue unveilings outside Wrigley Field, who can argue with it? The fans need a lovable Cub like they need a Hawaiian shirt in the winter here, but just try telling them that this weekend at the convention. You’ll be drowned out by cries of, ‘‘My God, there’s Jody Davis!’’
It’s genius, in much the same way the whole Cubs business plan has been the last 30 years or so — pay attention to everything but the product on the field. The franchise has marketed Wrigley, Sosa’s fuel-injected home runs, rock concerts at the park, Ron Santo, offseason fan conventions and families’ generational ties to the team. They haven’t been able to market a winner. The big talk of the offseason? The departure of TV broadcaster Bob Brenly and the arrival of his replacement, Jim Deshaies. Behold, the Cubs.
So here comes Rizzo, with a .285 average, 15 homers and 48 RBI in 2012 as his calling card. He is the future. He is the Cubs’ idea of The Natural, wonderfully marketable. This weekend, he’ll be the guy to make fans forget how bad the team is going to be.
I don’t want to paint a picture of Cubs fans as complete lemmings. Attendance dipped to 2,882,756 last season, its lowest total in 10 years. I’m sure chairman Tom Ricketts will find himself on the business end of some uncomfortable questions Saturday, the biggest being, ‘‘One hundred and four years, are you kidding me?’’
Some of you Cubs fans will see Rizzo this weekend and fall to your knees in homage. I remember how you threw yourself at Kosuke Fukudome, which, by the way, wasn’t your proudest moment.
Then again, Rizzo is about all you have. The Cubs could have just 10 players back from last year’s 25-man roster.
All hail the boy king.