Cubs' Rizzo draws comparisons to Konerko for leadership, production

They seem to be drastic opposites.

Let's start with age. Paul Konerko is 43 and has been retired since 2015.

Anthony Rizzo is 30 and smack in the middle of his prime.

Konerko was a 6-foot-2, 220-pound right-handed hitter. Rizzo is a 6-3, 240-pound lefty.

Konerko made his mark on the South Side, with the White Sox. Rizzo plies his trade on the North Side, with the Cubs.

Konerko lives in Arizona and Rizzo spends his off-seasons in his native Florida.

They appear to have nothing — or little — in common, but I've always seen a link between Konerko and Rizzo.

There is the obvious bond, they were/are longtime first basemen in Chicago. Konerko was with the Sox for 16 years and Rizzo is entering his ninth season with the Cubs.

What stuck out to me was the leadership.

Konerko was never outwardly vocal, and neither is Rizzo.

But when the White Sox were on their 2005 postseason run that culminated with a four-game sweep over the Astros in the World Series, Konerko showed why he was named captain by manager Ozzie Guillen. He was the guy the rest of the roster followed.

Jumping in with the Cubs during the 2016 playoffs, I saw the same thing happening with Rizzo. So did Albert Almora, a rookie center fielder during that memorable championship year for the Cubs.

“I remember watching Konerko growing up, and Anthony is a lot like that,” Almora said. “I never played with Paul, but Anthony, off the field, on the field, he's a definite leader. You look up to him and try to learn from him. It's great being his teammate.”

Nine times out of 10, the best leaders are also big-time producers. Like Konerko, Rizzo checks that box.

The senior-ranking member of the Cubs is eighth in franchise history with 217 home runs and he's No. 14 with 720 RBI.

Rizzo is also the Cubs' first left-handed hitter to have four seasons with 100 or more RBI, he's had 25 or more homers in a year six times and he won his third Gold Glove in 2019.

Enjoy Rizzo while he lasts.

Under contract this season after the Cubs picked up his $16.5 million salary, Rizzo has another club option for 2021 at the same price.

After that, he's a free agent.

There have been extension talks, but the No. 4 finisher in National League MVP voting in 2015 and '16 is perplexed that no new deal has been struck.

“It's a business,” Rizzo said. “I've stated how much I love this place. This is like home to me and my wife and my family. But this is a business. This is as cutthroat as ever now. We're talking about trading the MVP of the league a couple years ago (Kris Bryant), who has done a lot for this franchise. It's just a whole different ballgame we're looking at now.”

While he is still wearing a Cubs uniform, Rizzo is going to continue doing what he does best. Hit, apparently in the No. 2 hole this season behind Bryant, field, and hopefully lead the Cubs back to October after a one-year absence.

“Not making the playoffs last year was not fun,” Rizzo said. “It's not easy to win, but we have the right people to do it. It's on us to get the culture back, get the winning mentality back.”

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