Washington Nationals baseball boss Mike Rizzo grew up on Waveland Avenue and built a perennial playoff team in that image through old-school scouting more than sabermetrics, valuing guts and competitive nature and how those strong personalities would work together within a clubhouse.
This is the family business. The son of a longtime scout, Rizzo keeps his father, Phil, around as a senior advisor who still takes in games at Wrigley Field, tracks potential postseason opponents and watches prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon wasn’t surprised when Rizzo made the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins offers they couldn’t refuse, completely rebuilding the shaky Washington bullpen on the fly this summer by acquiring Sean Doolittle, Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler.
“Rizz and I go way back,” said Maddon, who managed the Class-A infielder in 1982 in Salem, Oregon, where the California Angels had a branch of their farm system. “There was also a really good urban legend about a player that was no longer heard from after Rizzo had been released in spring training. The guy that was chosen in front of him was no longer to be found right after that.”
That Godfather-style line drew laughter from the reporters gathered in the Wrigley Field interview room before Wednesday’s workout, Maddon just warming up for the national media he will love to see this October.
“So the next day, Rizzo was reinstated,” Maddon said. “So we’re trying to find him. If anybody knows where Dave Govea is living right now, please let us know.”
After years of shrewd draft picks (Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon), trades (Gio Gonzalez, Trea Turner) and free-agent signings (Max Scherzer, Daniel Murphy), Rizzo’s bullpen moves fixed the one glaring weakness for a 97-win team that heads into a best-of-five National League Division Series against the defending World Series champs on Friday night at Nationals Park.
Another lasting image of Rizzo, a University of Illinois graduate who signed future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas for the White Sox:
“Rizz started a tremendous fight that we had vs. the Bend, Oregon Phillies,” Maddon said. “A play at the plate ended up against the backstop, Rizz was right in the middle of the whole thing. That’s who he was. He was a gritty player.”