Anthony Rizzo's Journey To Becoming The Face Of The New York Yankees
Anthony Rizzo, the 32 year-old Italian American from Fort Lauderdale, Florida climbed his way up the totem pole, going from being just another player to one of the biggest faces of the New York Yankees. Growing up in Florida, he attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, however opted not to follow through with college but instead start his professional baseball career with the Major League Baseball (MLB).
Just as Rizzo was on top of the world and thought life couldn’t possibly get any better, he was faced with heartbreaking news that would change his life forever. He was 18 years-old playing for the Boston Red Sox at the Class-A Greenville Drive in April of 2008 when he started to feel a little off. Rizzo then noticed that his ankles were severely swollen and stayed like that for days, which is when one of his teammates told Rizzo’s father because he was concerned.
After confiding in his father, Rizzo visited a doctor in South Carolina, and then another in Boston where he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is a rare cancer that attacks the lymph nodes. “‘It was really shocking," Rizzo told WebMD.com in 2016. "I was 18 years old and on top of the world, playing professional baseball while all of my friends were off at college. I had no idea what cancer was or anything about chemotherapy."
Having to take part in chemotherapy for the next six months was definitely something he was worried about because like previously stated, he didn’t have much knowledge about cancer and chemotherapy, but he stressed the fact that his doctors and family were very supportive. Rizzo stated, “My doctors were really encouraging at all times. They laid out the treatment and what had to be done. We never had any doubts that I would be cured. My family was also there for me every step of the way. My mom, my dad, my brother, my grandmother…”
Apart from his family, he also received many kind words and well wishes from his teammates, fans, and everyone else in the baseball industry. One person in particular who always gave him words of encouragement was professional baseball pitcher Jon Lester because he beat this disease two years earlier and knows how tough it can be.
Six months after chemotherapy, Rizzo was told he was in remission on September 2, 2008, and all this time later, he is still in remission. However, Rizzo’s grandmother had been battling breast cancer during the time of his chemotherapy, and passed away two weeks after he got the news that he cancer was in remission at age 79. He still pays tribute to his grandmother even 14 years after she passed away by saying a prayer for her before every game.
Because of his experience with this illness, he wanted to raise more awareness about it, so he and his family started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation. Here he has been donating and raising millions of dollars in support of pediatric cancer patients and their families since 2012. “Stay strong, dream big.” Rizzo says when talking about his foundation.
One of his biggest realizations when battling cancer was that as hard as it is for you, it is equally as hard for your family. Not only are they worried about your safety, but also have to take into account things like being able to afford the right treatment so you have a better chance of survival, or at least a “fighting chance” as he says. The Anthony Rizzo Foundation explains, “The mission of the Anthony Rizzo Foundation is to raise money for cancer research and to provide support to children and their families battling the disease.”
Despite all that he has accomplished off the baseball diamond, his accomplishments are equally as admirable on the field. Going straight to the MLB after high school as a 17 year-old can be scary for most people, however he tackled the situation head on. In 2007 he played for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox in the rookie class, where he hit .286/.375/.429 with one homerun (HR) and three runs batted in (RBIs) in only 21 at bats.
Following this, in 2008 at the age of 18 he went on to play in the Class-A Greenville Drive in the South Atlantic League, with 835 RBIs, 260 HRs, and 1,393 hits for the Boston Red Sox. He then had many more commendable seasons, the first in 2011 with the San Diego Padres, and ten more with the Chicago Cubs from 2012-2021, before signing with the New York Yankees on July 29, 2021.
With the New York Yankees, Rizzo has gained a two-year, $32 million contract with an opt-out clause after the first season. An opt-out clause is when a player has the opportunity to opt-out of their long-term deal in the middle of it so they can stay sharp, in shape, and play for the next potential raise. His salary will now push the team’s payroll to $241 million, trailing the New York Mets $249 million.
Rizzo’s recent signing with the Yankees means they won’t be able to bring in any top-tier off-seaosn free agents like first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Carlos Correa, however because of him the Yankees infield is now solid. An article states that, “With Rizzo, the Yankees will have a three-time All-Star at first base, a two-time All-Star at second base (Gleyber Torres), a one-time American League most valuable player at third base (Josh Donaldson) and a Gold Glove winner at shortstop (Isiah Kiner-Falefa). And they will have a two-time batting champion (D.J. LeMahieu) getting at-bats at multiple positions.”
Despite all he has to bring to the table, Rizzo is afraid he might run into trouble with New York City’s private sector vaccine mandate because he isn’t vaccinated. He declined getting the vaccine because he said in an interview that he was “taking some more time to see the data.” Aside from his personal beliefs, another major factor as to why he has held off from getting the vaccine is because he is a cancer survivor, and isn’t sure how his body is going to react from a vaccine after all the treatment he had already gone through.
First baseman Anthony Rizzo was definitely all that he was hyped up to be, as he continued his hot start to the season on Tuesday, April 26th, hitting three home runs in the Yankees 12-8 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Si.com states, “The power surge was the first three-homer game of Rizzo’s career. It was also the shortest total distance for a three-home run game since 2006, per ESPN Stats & Info.” Since then, there have been 177 three-home run games, and Rizzo’s were a combined 1,051 feet.
The average distance of his home runs were 350 feet, which was the shortest average distance for a three-plus home run game tracked by Statcast since 2015. His first home run in the third inning went 346 feet, his second in the fifth inning went 378 feet, and his third in the eighth inning went 327 feet. The same article states that, “While the middle blast easily reached the seats, the first and third were classic Yankee Stadium homers. The first longball had an expected batting average of .180, while the final one, which just stayed fair as it got over the short right field porch, had an xBA of just .010.”
He is currently tied in first place with Aaron Judge for most home runs this season, both with nine. Although he doesn’t necessarily address the Yankees’ long-term needs at first base the way Freeman or Olson would have, the move has worked out for New York in the short-term so far. In just 16 games he led the Yankees in five home runs, nine runs scored and 12 RBIs. He’s also leading his team in Isolated Power (ISO) of .321, slugging with .571, Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of .417, and finally Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) of 271.
Some other standouts of his are that he has the second-best marks in On Base Percentage (OBP) with .382, has a Wins Above Replacement Player (fWAR) of 0.6, and is tied for the team lead with two stolen bases, which is he likely to surpass.
All in all, Rizzo has been a great addition to the team as he has been a major contributing factor to their successes so far. Manager Aaron Boone understands that the job of a professional baseball player isn’t always easy, especially for someone like Rizzo who has been through so much, but he feels that this team is the best fit for him. Boone says, “He’s made for the pinstripes man.” Additionally, an article on NBC.sports states, “‘Sometimes they say those pinstripes can be a heavy burden,’ Boone said. ‘He’s absolutely cut out for it.’”