The Rundown: Cubs Have a Secret Weapon, Anthony Rizzo Played a Naked Italian Stallion, Other Untold World Series Tales

Turns out that between all the geniuses in the front office and the uber-talented roster, the Cubs’ secret weapon is the catching coach. Because of course it is. Although I guess there’s nothing mysterious or covert at this point about Theo Epstein or Anthony Rizzo or any one of a number of highly publicized members of the organization.

Mike Borzello, though, that’s a dude who flies under the radar. Well, he did. I’ve got a feeling this post is going to change all that. Or, you know, maybe Patrick Mooney’s piece from Tuesday will get a little traction too.

A quick look at the man’s track record — Borzello’s, not Mooney’s — and you wonder how he’s not more well known outside baseball’s inner circle. He’s Joe Torre’s godson, served as the Yankees’ bullpen catcher through four World Series runs, knows how to play the right way from his time in the Cardinals system, and is at least partially responsible for more than one Cy Young candidacy.

Who got Clayton Kershaw to add a slider? Borzello. And who suggested Kyle Hendricks lean more heavily on the curve and four-seamer? Yep, you guessed it. Well, unless you guessed Dick Pole, because that would be wrong.

Borzello came to Chicago from the Dodgers as part of Dale Sveum’s staff and he’s become a permanent fixture despite a couple managerial changes since. Why?

“Borz is just a great baseball rat (who) knows how to break that video down and get people out,” Sveum said. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen at it.

“He was a bullpen catcher. But, s—, all you do is talk about baseball every day and you know right away that a guy has an innate ability to break down hitters or break down swings, why this pitch is going to work on that guy: If you do it…the guy’s got no chance.”

“The kicker to it all is getting through to the pitchers,” Sveum said. “Obviously, I know Travis (Wood), and talking to Jason Hammel, they’re going to miss him, because he’s got a knack at telling you, straight-up, ‘if you f— this up, this is your fault.’ Because ‘Borz’ doesn’t care who you are, how much money you’re making, he’s going to freaking tell you.

“Some guys think he’s abrasive, but he’s just brutally honest. He’s not going to beat around the bush.”

Yeah, I can see how you’d like to have a guy like that around. He’s kinda like the on-field version of Jason McLeod, an incredibly important part of the Cubs’ success who’s content to remain more or less behind the scenes. It does make you wonder, though, whether and when these guys will move on to bigger roles. Or maybe they just know the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the outfield wall.

Just as long as Borzello continues to feel that way for, like, a long time to come.

Amazing stories from the World Series

Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci has a new book coming out March 28 called The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the CurseIn it, he shares all the behind-the-scenes stuff we never got the chance to grasp while reaping the whirlwind of the title run taking place around us. As the publishing date draws nigh, has been putting out excerpts from book, a couple of which are shared below.

*Anthony Rizzo reenacted Rocky…naked*

I’m not sure if Rizzo just misunderstood popular home run parlance or what, but he definitely took terms like “dinger” and “dong” to a new level. Believe me, reading this will give you an image you can’t unsee. Unless you don’t want to, in which case, knock yourself out.

An hour before Game 5, Rizzo had broken out his pregame inspirational and comedic presentation, quoting motivational lines from movies with no clothes on. The Cubs won, so Rizzo did it before Game 6, too. They won again, so he did it before Game 7 as well.

An hour before the seventh game of the World Series, Rizzo stripped off all his clothes, cranked the theme from Rocky on the clubhouse stereo one more time, jumped on top of a coffee table, and began quoting lines from the movie and throwing his best shadow-boxing punches. Pitcher Hector Rondon, joining in on the hijinks, picked up an aerosol can of shoe cleaner and sprayed it in the direction of Rizzo’s groin.

*The true story of Matt Szczur’s lucky bat*

Remember how Rizzo credited his teammate’s bat for helping him break out of a postseason funk? At the time, Rizzo said Szczur’s bat was similar in size to his own and that the change was simply a matter of shaking things up and getting a good-luck vibe. Turns out the truth was much more calculated and evocative of a strategy Ted Williams employed late in his career.

Rizzo made a confession to me, but only after he made me promise it was off the record until the World Series was over. I agreed. Szczur’s bat was significantly smaller than his own: one inch shorter and two ounces lighter. Rizzo switched bats not for luck, but as a concession to losing strength and bat speed.

“It allowed me to free up my hands and not have to use my body,” he said. “Because at the end of the year I was so beat, I guess. In the beginning of the playoffs I was missing fastballs. I kept asking myself, why? My swing is good. It could be psychological, but I think not. But I think taking the extra inch off and lightening my bat, I started to get to those pitches again.”

Rizzo knew that because of the way he struggled early in the playoffs, scouting reports on him would say that his bat was slow and that he could be beaten with fastballs. Meanwhile, with Szczur’s bat, he actually was much quicker to the ball. It was a secret he enjoyed for the final 10 postseason games, during which he hit .432.

Dooch’s book will hit shelves at most major outlets March 28 and there’s always the Amazon route. Or you can do what I did and pre-order a signed copy for 40% off the standard price of $28.00 (that’s $16.80). I just hope this isn’t like one of those comedies where all the funny parts are in the trailer. Knowing this team, I’m sure there’s plenty more in store for readers.

More news and notes

  • Best contract ever? Manny Ramirez gets unlimited sushi and can practice when he wants for the Kochi Island Fighting Dogs
    • The Fighting dogs are an independent team, not part of NPB
    • The contract also calls for a chauffeured Mercedes and a suite for road games
  • Chicago-area native Jason Kipnis has been out two weeks with a strained rotator cuff and may miss the start of the season
  • Joe Maddon’s Hazleton Integration Project is raising money through an online bracket pool. First prize: 4 Cubs tickets with accompanying field passes to any game, home or away, this season
  • If you’re not watching the World Baseball Classic, please rectify the situation; notable exceptions for the following
    • People who prefer their baseball quiet and staid
    • People who want to get to bed early
    • People who don’t want to hear play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian refer to players as “Team X’s property
  • Cubs Insider is considering changing formats and dedicating all posts and social media content to Javy Baez coverage

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