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Anthony Rizzo was in the Chicago Cubs parking lot Thursday afternoon when he found out he had been traded to the New York Yankees.
After saying his goodbyes to teammates and friends in the clubhouse, he came out to the field with his family and dog Kevin for one last romp around Wrigley Field.
“Obviously very emotional,” he told a small group of reporters afterward. “It’s still a roller coaster. … All good things come to an end. It’s going to be a tough second half here, which a lot of here aren’t used to. (It’s been) a long time. To be able to go to another historic franchise like the Yankees, it’s unbelievable.
“And getting the calls and texts, how excited they are. How excited my family is. My family is from New Jersey and New York and (my wife) Emily is from Connecticut. It’s going to be another special opportunity for me these next three months, I’m just going to enjoy it.”
Rizzo said he was fortunate to go to “the No. 1 sports franchise in the world” and wanted Cubs fans to know he “loved” them.
“It’ll always be nothing but love, from our family to our foundation,” he said. “The best nine, 10 years of my life here. The memories here will last forever. That’s why I always cherished every moment. I leave with no regrets.”
Cubs fans did not get a chance to say goodbye to Rizzo or Kris Bryant, who were not in the starting lineup for Thursday’s 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Bryant, also a free agent after the season, is expected to be dealt before Friday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Before the game, manager David Ross was asked if this was the end of an era.
“I don’t look at it like that,” Ross said. “I don’t know how everyone wants to put it.”
That was assuming one of the Big 3 — Bryant, Rizzo or Javier Baez — was traded.
“I don’t assume anything in my job,” Ross continued. “You (media) can do that. I’d say the players that are here have done a really nice job of creating a championship mindset, championship expectations, high expectations and they’re all still here.”
Many in the crowd of 32,793 at Wrigley wanted a chance to say goodbye to their favorites, but Ross didn’t send either one to pinch hit, saying he was focused only on winning the game. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the right field bleacherites began to chant “We want Rizzo” and the veteran said he wanted to get in.
“I felt like it was payday in spring training,” Rizzo said with a laugh. “But it happened, and this city will be ingrained in my heart for the rest of my life.”
The Yankees are a long shot to win the American League East but have made two big moves in the last 24 hours to increase their chances of making the postseason, acquiring Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo and Rizzo, both left-handed bats. The Cubs received 19-year-old outfielder Kevin Alcantara and 24-year-old right-handed pitcher Alexander Vizcaino. MLB.com ranks Alcantara the No. 12 prospect in the Yankees organization.
The Cubs reportedly are paying the remainder of Rizzo’s $16.5 million salary. Rizzo could re-sign after the season but said he’s focused only on being a Yankee.
“This will always be home for me,” Rizzo said. “My best friend in the game, Jon Lester, did the same thing, and said he has two special places in his heart. For these next three months it’s going to be fun to be back in a race. Seeing the Yankees pull the trigger like this, get Gallo and me now, obviously. That’s what they do, and it’s very exciting.”
Rizzo went through the worst of times and the best of times in his Cubs career. Acquired from the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner in January 2012, he made his Cubs debut the following June and already was dubbed the future.
“I guess we’ll be the face of the franchise,” shortstop Starlin Castro said. “Let’s see what we can do.”
It’s hard to remember now just how big a deal it was nine years ago when Rizzo made his Cubs debut. WGN-TV promoted the debut with a commercial heralding his arrival, and Rizzo was treated to an ovation the first time he stepped to the plate at Wrigley Field. It was a made-for-Chicago match between a blue-collar city and a hard-nosed slugger who walked and talked as if he had been in the big leagues for years instead of having only a brief stint with the San Diego Padres the previous season.
Rizzo drove in the game-winning run in his his first game, a 5-3 win over the New York Mets, and shrugged off the huge expectations when meeting with the media afterward.
“I was the ‘savior’ last year (in San Diego) too,” he said. “And that’s why I think it’s easier this year to come up. Hopefully this is just a building block of what is to come here in the city and the organization. I think there are a lot of good things to come, and hopefully we can look back and this is one of the first steps.”
But it wasn’t a particularly smooth path, and Rizzo and Castro started out slowly in 2013, leading then-manager Dale Sveum to suggest either or both could be sent back to Triple-A Iowa. The statement sent shockwaves through the organization, and President Theo Epstein dispatched general manager Jed Hoyer to Cincinnati to cool things down and assure everyone the two stars were not going anywhere.
On May 12, 2013, the Cubs showed their faith in Rizzo by giving him a seven-year, $41 million contract with two option years through 2021. Rizzo said after signing that “both sides are very happy with the result,” with the Cubs getting “cost certainty” and Rizzo getting security. He had battled Hodgkin lymphoma in 2008 while playing for Class A Greenville in the Boston Red Sox system, and that cancer scare was a factor in his decision to sign for less than market value.
“I’ve had this game taken away from me,” he said. “Not being able to play the game has made me appreciate it a lot more.”
Rizzo soon turned into the superstar the Cubs expected and quickly became the clubhouse leader. The addition of free agent Lester after the 2014 season and the call-up of Bryant in April set the stage for the turning point of the rebuild. The Cubs earned an NL wild-card spot in 2015 and advanced to the National League Championship Series, in which the New York Mets swept them.
The Cubs won the World Series in 2016, beating the Cleveland Indians in seven games to end their 107-year championship drought and giving fans hope a dynasty was born. Rizzo — who caught the final out on a throw from Bryant in Game 7 in Cleveland — averaged 154 games a year from 2014-19, hitting .283 and averaging 29 home runs and 103 RBIs per season.
But the Cubs never lived up to those expectations, and after losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 NLCS they haven’t won another postseason game.
Rizzo struggled during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and did not put up the typical power numbers Cubs fans had become accustomed to in 2021. He hit a combined .238 the last two years with a .778 OPS and was forced to miss time with back issues. He reportedly turned down a five-year, $70 million deal to stay with the Cubs but went into the season knowing it could be his last on the North Side.
“I’ll have a legacy here forever no matter what with my foundation,” he said. “And this fan base, and that’s what matters most — leaving this place better than I found it. I can say that. Mission accomplished.”