For the first six weeks or so of the 2023 campaign, Anthony Rizzo was a bona fide slugger, posting a 146 wRC+. That mark was the same as crosstown cornerstone Pete Alonso, and Rizzo was a much-needed Robin to Aaron Judge’s Batman. Even in the early stretches of 2023, it was clear the Yankees were going to struggle to score, but at least we had those two.
And then, Fernando Tatís Jr.’s wayward hip collided with the side of Rizzo’s head and the first baseman wasn’t the same. He played in 46 games and was just about the worst player in baseball, with negative fWAR and a horrid 44 wRC+. Even his usual sparkling defense took a hit. By the time he was finally shut down on August 4th, we had all clued in that Rizzo had been dealing with a concussion, and the lingering symptoms ended up dooming his season.
2023 Statistics: 99 games, 421 PA, .244/.328/.378, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 100 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Under contract through 2024
I’m not involved in youth sports, so maybe a reader that is can enlighten me. I wonder if kids today, especially kids playing competitive or travel sports, are being taught to listen to their bodies more, to advocate for themselves and are given the space and safety to put their hands up and say “Hey, coach, I can’t go today”.
Such measures were uncommon when I was growing up, and the same goes for more competitive athletes. Players are taught to chew through concrete if it’s what helps the team win, and we’ve even seen that attitude in recent Yankee campaigns with Greg Bird or Aaron Judge playing through obvious injury. They’ll talk about there being a difference between “playing injured” and “playing hurt” because everyone goes through various nicks and bruises throughout a long season, but both teams and players can struggle with the fine line that indicates time off is necessary.
So Rizzo is in a system that does not reward you speaking up or taking yourself out of the lineup, but one of the benefits of being a veteran and I think a real leader on the team is that he was able to speak his mind. It took him awhile to get a handle on the situation, but when he told the Yankees that something was wrong, and it seems the team didn’t do much to assuage him.
Anthony Rizzo complained about fogginess this past weekend and proceeded to play three games. @GaryHPhillips asked if there was any consideration in not playing him.— Chris Kirschner (@ChrisKirschner) August 4, 2023
“No,” Boone said.
Kirschner’s reporting in The Athletic followed up on this, revealing that Rizzo had been waking up groggy, forgetting the count in certain at-bats, and in general feeling neurologically “off” for almost two months. Now I don’t know how the reporting structure works for injuries or illnesses but if you’re employee is telling you something’s wrong with their brain, you should be doing more than what the Yankees did for two months.
Perhaps Rizzo ties everything up in a bow himself. The pressure to grit your teeth and get on the field, the frustration of a lost summer, and the growing realization that everyone in Rizzo’s circle, except seemingly his boss, was figuring out what was wrong with him.
Concussions are a funny thing. They can linger, post-concussion symptoms can pop up at seemingly random times, they can go away and never be felt until you strike your head again. I’m hoping that this summer was the worst of it for Rizzo and he can start 2024 with a clean neurological slate. I believe he’s still a good-to-great hitter when he’s not half-blind with post-concussion issues, and good lord does this team need some offensive depth.