He has been the centerpiece of a historic run for the New York Yankees. The man most associated with the five world championships they have won since his career began in 1995 saw his season, and quite possibly his career, end on the warning track in Kansas City while shagging fly balls.
I still can’t shake the image of Mariano Rivera lying on the ground and writhing in pain.
Whether or not he throws another pitch in a pinstripe uniform, his spot alongside the greatest names in New York Yankees lore is sealed. The names of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, and Mickey Mantle will forever have Mariano Rivera right next to them, both in print and in legend. He is certain to be a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, and I for one, plan to be in attendance for that event.
Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the game. The numbers bear it out. He has finished more games (892), and saved more games (608) than anyone who has ever played at the major league level. His lifetime ERA is 2.21 and his career WHIP is an incredible 0.998. Even more impressive are his post-season statistics. In 32 series – both playoffs and world series – he holds a 0.70 ERA with 42 saves. He is a 12-time all-star and was the 1999 World Series MVP.
As a New York Yankees fan, I can tell you that all the numbers and all the awards don’t even begin to give the complete picture of what Mariano Rivera means to our franchise.
What has set him apart from other relievers is the aura that he has developed over the years. He perfected the “cutter”, and used it with deadly precision to mow down opposing hitters. We always knew that when the door in the outfield wall swung open, and “Mo” stepped out, the game was won. We knew it, and more importantly, the New York Yankees opponents knew it. You could see it in their eyes. The three-pitch strikeout or broken-bat ground ball back to “The Sandman” was in their immediate future, and there was nothing that they could do about it. In baseball terms, Mariano Rivera was more certain than death and taxes.
He carried himself with a class and dignity rarely seen in sports these days. Rather than shameless self-promotion, he conducted his business with a quiet confidence. He wasn’t one to jump up and down, or pump his fist upon a New York Yankees victory. Instead, he’d calmly tip his cap, walk off the mound, and shake his teammates hands.
There is still hope that he may come back to take the mound again at Yankee Stadium. If you are a New York Yankees fan, you already know that Mariano Rivera is the team’s best athlete with an unequaled work ethic, and that the reason he was out there shagging flies along the warning track was that he enjoyed being out there. It was part of his regular routine. If anyone can work himself back into playing condition, it is our Mo.
The New York Yankees have been blessed for 17 wonderful years with the presence of Mariano Rivera. If he decides that it is time to hang up the spikes, we will understand. We have to appreciate all that he gave us, and realize that not every team, or every era, is fortunate enough to witness a talent like that of our closer. If this truly is the end, all we can do is say “Thank You Mariano”, you gave us baseball memories and joy that will last forever.