We knew the end of an era — perhaps the most significant era in Cubs history — was imminent long before this week even began.
And specifically, we’ve known for weeks that Bryzzo was headed toward the same achy split that befell Bennifer, Brangelina and Kimye before them.
But when the Cubs actually traded Anthony Rizzo to the Yankees on Thursday, it sent a shiver up the spine of franchise history.
The first cornerstone piece of the roster that would win baseball’s holy-grail championship — the man who caught the throw for the final out of the 2016 title and became so beloved in Chicago they named a breakfast cereal after him — might be the most significant player the franchise has ever traded away.
At least for a few hours, until they trade Bryzzo partner Kris Bryant — who took a personal moment of silence in the dugout after Thursday’s game to gaze out at Wrigley Field and soak in what almost certainly was his final moment in the stadium as a Cub.
“Bryant and Rizzo are my favorites and to see them get split up or go, it just won’t be the same,” said Jeff Osterberg, who drove in from Belvidere to take his granddaughter, Miah, to her first Cubs game Thursday — only to find out Bryant and Rizzo were out of the lineup.
“It’s Bryzzo, you know?” Osterberg said. “It just won’t be the same.”
Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio was the most famously rued trade in Cubs history, but only after Brock became an established player and star in St. Louis. He didn’t get the opportunity in Chicago for anyone to care much at the time.
And while Sammy Sosa might have been the biggest star the Cubs ever traded while still at the height of his fame, his star had fallen dramatically by the time they dumped him on the Orioles after a 2004 season that ended with an early departure from the final game and a falling out with the team.
On the day Rizzo was traded in a move that shocked and rocked Chicago’s baseball world — if only because it happened with little warning and before Bryant or closer Craig Kimbrel were traded — Javy Báez, Bryant and especially Rizzo jerseys seemed in more abundance than usual in the Wrigley Field seating sections.
Maybe it’s because Thursday’s game against the Reds was the Cubs’ final home game before Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
“Almost every shirt you look at is ‘Rizzo,’ ‘Rizzo,’" said Lou Indovina, a North Side native, who went Thursday with his wife, Janet, and their daughter and grandkids.
The lifelong Cubs fan who remembers the Ernie Banks-Billy Williams-Ron Santo Cubs as fondly as the Ryne Sandberg-Rick Sutcliffe-Jody Davis era, seems to have little tolerance for the breakup of this core.
“It’s like when I was watching the Bulls,” Indovina said. “When Jordan and them left, I stopped watching basketball.”
Rizzo is no Michael Jordan. And whatever comes next for this club, a lot of fans will probably keep watching.
But this dismantled core won’t likely be forgotten, either.
Perhaps least of all Rizzo, the definitive member of the core, who in nearly a decade with the club climbed many of its career statistical charts, earned three All-Star selections and four Gold Gloves, impacted the lives of countless kids and families through his work for pediatric cancer patients, rarely stopped smiling or acting like the biggest kid on the field while playing the kids game they actually paid him to play, and who in 2020 grew into the kind of clubhouse leader he and team officials long envisioned.
Acquired by the Cubs from San Diego in Theo Epstein’s and Jed Hoyer’s third trade after taking over the baseball operations department in the winter of 2011-12, Rizzo — who had fought cancer as a minor-leaguer in Epstein’s and Hoyer’s Red Sox system — signed a seven-year contract before he’d played a full season in the majors and became the left-handed slugger the Cubs built their lineup around.
His signature moments since then include taking on the entire Reds dugout in Cincinnati in a game late in 2014 that many in the organization consider the symbolic, competitive turning point for the six-year run of success that followed.
In late September 2019, he returned from a four-week ankle injury in four days to limp onto the field as a late addition to the lineup and homer against the Cardinals in an effort to help the Cubs’ last-gasp effort to make the playoffs.
And in his final homestand as a Cub, he went 8-for-22 (.364) with three homers and a 1.280 OPS in six games, then stuck around and walked the expanse of the ballpark with his parents, wife and dog Kevin one final time — while Bryant and other former teammates headed to the airport for the next road trip.
“This city will be ingrained in my heart the rest of my life,” said Rizzo, just before getting cheered one last time by the dozens of fans who remained outside the park when he left Thursday.
Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber left during the off-season. John Lackey, Miguel Montero, Dexter Fowler and other key members of the championship before them. Jake Arrieta left and came back. David Ross retired and came back as manager.
But Rizzo? He said even into his final days as a Cub that he held out hope of being a Cub for life. Even at 31, that briefly looked possible as he and the club talked about an extension at one point this year.
But sources say the Cubs consider this a final divorce, with no plans to revisit talks when Rizzo becomes a free agent.
If watching the Cubs trade the face of the franchise Thursday seemed disorienting, let that one sink in.
For what it’s worth, Bryant seems to know it’ll be the same with him. Báez may stay through the deadline, but then the clock will start again on his final days until free agency in October — unless the Cubs can get an extension done with him.
Whatever’s next for this club, whatever this “not a rebuild” the Cubs claim to be navigating is going to look like, whatever the next core looks like, it all started in no uncertain terms Thursday.
With the end of an era. With an end that seemed strangely sudden for all the warnings and notice we got that it was coming. With an end that still has a few hours to roll into Friday’s deadline.
“Those guys shaped that [competitive] culture here,” said teammate Ian Happ, who debuted in 2017 during the Cubs’ title defense. “It’s pretty special, and no matter what happens this year, how this next couple of days, or the year, concludes, the impact that every single one of those guys have had can’t be overstated.”
“Forever Chicago legends, no matter what happens,” said Josie Gery.
Gery, 18, attended Thursday’s game with older brother Dominic and younger brother Anthony hoping to get a last look at their favorite players — each wearing a different jersey of the Big Three core players.
“These are the baseball players we’ll be telling our kids about,” said Anthony, who wore a Rizzo jersey.
“Same way my mom always talked about Ryne Sandberg,” Josie said, “these will be our people.”