'Bryzzo,' an oral history: The stories behind MLB's hilarious ad campaign

"Let's just say it's been a big year for the Bryzzo Souvenir Company."

Kris Bryant ain't lying. Life is good when Kyle Schwarber is vying to be your Employee of the Month. When David Ross is your desperate-to-please intern. When Eddie Vedder creates your jingle. When President Barack Obama plugs you during a White House visit, saying: "The Bryzzo Souvenir Company, which delivers baseballs to fans in all parts of the bleachers…"

And — oh, yes — when you connect with your co-CEO, Anthony Rizzo, for the final out of the 2016 World Series.

So how did "Bryzzo" become a thing? How did those hilarious Major League Baseball ads get made? And what's next?

"We're going global," Bryant promised.

Let's start small, with the origins.

In April 2015, MLB announced it had hired Anomaly, an ad agency based in New York, to create content for its "This Is Baseball" campaign. MLB's stated goal was to "provide a documentary-style, up-close look at the players, managers and fans, including behind-the-scenes footage."

Lance Gitlin, VP of brand advertising and marketing for MLB: Year 1 of the campaign focused on what was happening on the field. We wanted something different in 2016. Anomaly came to us with different ideas; one that stood out to us was the Bryzzo concept.

Chicago Tribune baseball columnist Paul Sullivan had asked in a column published on May 13, 2015: "Could Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo make 'Brizzo' the next catchphrase?"

In the piece, Bryant joked about Rizzo referring to the pair as the "Bash Brothers" — a reference to former A's sluggers Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire — and said, "We don't have big enough forearms" to do the smash.

Wrote Sullivan: "Personally, I prefer 'Brizzo,' a combination nickname like celebrity couples such as 'Brangelina,' 'Bennifer' and 'Kimye.' I can almost hear Len Kasper yelling 'Briiiiiiiiizo' after back-to-back homers."

Sullivan: I don't seek credit for "Bryzzo" nor do I expect any royalties, though a coffee mug would be nice since I was the first to coin the name.

Gitlin: I would definitely say Anomaly was the driving force for the Bryzzo Souvenir Company.

Bryant: I don't really know how it got started. Sully was taking a little credit there. I heard it somewhere, it had a nice ring to it and it took off.

Rizzo: I don't know (who came up with it). Someone on Twitter, I would say. We just kind of ran with it.

Sullivan: I think the ads are fine, though I believe I could write a funnier one if paid to do so.

Gitlin: We wanted to dimensionalize our players away from the field, get them in their natural environment, interacting with one another. The Bryzzo concept was special because it featured two young, up-and-coming stars, and there was a lot of hype for the Cubs (heading into 2016). Anthony and Kris are also really good friends, and we wanted to capitalize on their budding bromance. The Cubs loved the idea of giving exposure to two faces of their franchise. The Cubs rolled out the red carpet, and the agents for Kris and Anthony said they were all-in.

An MLB Productions crew headed to Mesa, Ariz.

Gitlin: We thought that would be special if we got them in front of the camera. Spring training provides a great opportunity. It's a looser environment.

The first 60-second spot opens with Bryant, eyes closed, bringing a baseball up to his nose and practically inhaling it.

Narrator: This is Kris Bryant. And this is Anthony Rizzo. As the muscle of the Chicago Cubs' lineup, they decided to go into business — the souvenir business.

Wearing Cubs jerseys and headsets, both are lounging in a poorly lit office.

Gitlin: We planned to shoot in a giant boardroom, but it looked too big for a start-up company. We were walking through the building and found an employee working in his office. We asked: "Would it be possible for us to film the commercial here?" He vacated the office, we put up Bryzzo signs and lights and filmed there for the day. Anthony and Kris were not given many lines; they were given direction, but they ad-libbed the majority. They were really just feeding off of each other, which was so refreshing.

Rizzo (in the ad): Bryzzo Souvenir Company, please hold.

Bryant (in the ad): We founded Bryzzo Souvenir Company to get you the home run balls you deserve.

Rizzo (in the ad): Are we shipping to St. Louis? (Bryant shakes his head.) That's why we're best friends.

Bryant rings the bell after a sale and salutes the sky. Rizzo dances with his hands out near his hips.

Bryant: "It was super easy to shoot because it's just like a conversation between us. It was natural. They threw some ideas our way. We felt pretty creative doing it."

Rizzo: I wouldn't say (acting) is easy. But when you have fun with something, it's easy to play a role.

The spot concludes with Bryant and Rizzo saying: "We put the ding in dinger." And then manager Joe Maddon, wearing a collar-up white polo and shades, waltzes in and says: "They ain't lying!"

Maddon: I was just minding my own business and I'm walking out on the practice field and they have the shot set up. They call me in, ask me to jump in front of the camera. I had no opposition. I wanted to help the boys out.

Gitlin: We got such a great response from the fans on social media and a great pickup from all the media entities, so we knew we had something special. And throughout 2016, the Cubs really embraced it. They used the GIFs of Anthony and Kris that we provided from the blooper reel on social media. And we were able to capitalize, luckily, on the success of the Cubs. They win the World Series and when they go to visit President Obama at the White House, he mentions the Bryzzo Souvenir Company in his speech. So at that point, we know we did something really special. We sit down with Anomaly and ask: What's the plan for 2017? How can we make this bigger and better and get their teammates involved?

Bryant: This year was great because we got more people involved.

The primary 2017 ad opens with the Bryzzo Souvenir Company in fancier digs — nameplates, better lighting, a plant.

Bryant, narrating: Let's just say it's been a big year for the Bryzzo Souvenir Company.

Rizzo (in the ad): Demand is off the charts. That's another sale! (Rizzo rises from his chair and dances.)

Bryant (in the ad): More home runs means one thing — expansion.

Addison Russell and Javier Baez are in cubicles, hawking balls.

Baez (in the ad): Fifty to Puerto Rico? I'll get you 100 to Puerto Rico; that's how much I like you.

Baez: I wanted to come up with something for (my native) Puerto Rico. Maybe (acting) is in my future. For now I'll stick to baseball.

Gitlin: We told (Baez): "You can talk in English, you can talk in Spanish." We gave lot of players freedom to do their own lines. It's easier for them to ad-lib than to repeat a line a certain way. The best stuff you get from the players is when they're comfortable. The Puerto Rico line was definitely his contribution.

Rizzo (in the ad): What do you think about foul balls?

Bryant (in the ad): It's an OK idea.

Rizzo (in the ad): We're looking for any and all opportunities for growth.

Ben Zobrist stands by a presentation board. He excitedly flips to a piece of paper revealing: BRYZZOBRIST. Then he shrugs.

Zobrist: It's funny to think of those guys sitting there, making decisions for their company. And I'm coming in to try to convince them of something. A funny concept.

Gitlin: We set up Zobrist so that Anthony and Kris did not know what he'd be flipping over. He pitches changing the name to Bryzzobrist, and Anthony says: "That's genius."

Rizzo (in the ad): We need a jingle.

The next scene opens with Bryant and Rizzo facing a man wearing a backward Cubs catcher's helmet.

Eddie Vedder (in the ad): All right, I'm nervous but I've got something.

Vedder strums his guitar and sings: "Long gone home run, this one's gonna go. Kiss it goodbye, that ball was Bryzzo'd!"

Gitlin: We were able to connect (with Vedder), and his manager just said when and where. He flew down from Seattle and was with us for the entire day. He came prepared with a couple of different jingles.

Rizzo: I was told he was coming, but you hear a lot of things.

Bryant: He's a cool, down-to-earth dude. You'd never know he's a rock star for one of the best bands of all time, has made all this money and traveled around the world. It's fun to be around him.

Gitlin: He brought great energy to the room. And at the end of the shoot, he gave everyone guitar picks. And he gave nice gifts to Anthony and Kris — ukuleles.

The ad continues with Kyle Schwarber facing a wall featuring Employee of the Month plaques. Bryant and Rizzo are the only winners. And then Schwarber sees his own and polishes it.

Schwarber (in the ad): Finally.

Schwarber: They set it up to where it would be lot of fun for us, just to make some jokes here and there.

Rizzo, narrating: But the truth is, only one thing can get us where we need to be — hard work, big homers…

Bryant, narrating: And interns.

David Ross puts a BRYZZO sticker on a cardboard box set to be shipped. He goes to stamp it but presses down too hard near the taped section, and the box comes apart. He is dejected, saying: "Ohhhhh, David."

Ross: They said: "Here's the scenario: When you mess up, I want you to be so disappointed in yourself." I said, "David," and they loved that.

Gitlin: David was fantastic. He had a really packed schedule but was adamant about participating in this. He flew in from Florida, took two flights (Jacksonville to Atlanta to Phoenix), was in Arizona for no more than three hours and then took two flights back. He really got into it. Saying "David" under his breath, that was all him.

Ross: I'm connected to that team and to those guys for life. It was a cool opportunity and I said: "However I have to fly, I'll get there." I left super early, like 5 in the morning.

Ross wore khaki pants Cubs President Theo Epstein had given him after he retired and became a special assistant to baseball operations.

Ross: Theo bought me pair of Lululemon khakis as a welcome-to-the-front-office (gift). When you're a player, you joke about the front-office guys being the suits or wearing khakis or collared shirts. Every time I'm in the locker room now, I always tuck in my shirt, which I never used to do. For sure they're the only real khakis I own. I wore those with the Bryzzo shirt, and they were super tight and just so interny. I wore my white golf belt. It was funny.

In a Ross-themed 30-second ad, he carries coffees and muffins into the Bryant/Rizzo office.

Ross (in the ad): Who's got the white mocha?

Bryant (in the ad): I did. Thanks, kid.

Bryant, grinning: It was nice to kind of boss him around because he bossed us around his two years he was here.

Ross: My favorite part is when I'm bringing in the coffee and pastries as the errand boy.

Ross (in the ad): They were out of raspberry scones. I got you a vegan zucchini muffin.

Rizzo (in the ad): Did you get the milkshake?

Ross (in the ad): No, sir, the coffee shop didn't have milkshakes.

Ross: That took like 10 takes. I couldn't say, "Vegan zucchini muffin." And I couldn't stop laughing. Kris said: "I can't be serious and boss you around."

The outtakes video reveals Ross cracking up during the "vegan zucchini muffin" line. He says to himself: "Lock in. Here we go. Bottom of the ninth."

Another outtake contains this jingle from Vedder: "Rizzo and Kris don't sign no autographs. They really hit the ball, then sign them with the bats!" And they all crack up.

The final outtake has Bryant and Rizzo saying: "We put the ding in dingers." But Bryant, looking up, whiffs on the bell.

Bryant: "It's the cheesiest (line) … the best or the worst."

Gitlin: The agency was going for a tag like in one of those local commercials. Building off of that, we produced Bryzzo-branded bells and they were given to all the players in the clubhouse.

Were they?

"No, I need something," Ross said. "I have a picture from the shoot with my Bryzzo collared shirt on. I need to get that printed out. I have a spot for it on my wall where I frame a lot of pictures."

Said Zobrist: "No, I got something for my time (a check) but nothing from the Bryzzo Souvenir Company. Maybe I need to go ask them about that. At least I could have gotten a pen that says Bryzzo on it."

What's next for Bryzzo?

"We're together (at least) for four more years," Bryant said, "so maybe we can expand. We're going global."

Said Ross: "Everything these guys touch turns to gold. They started a Grandpa Rossy account on Instagram, and next thing you know, it's got 400,000 followers. The sky is the limit, baby!"

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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