As if you were not already aware, Mariano Rivera was injured while shagging fly balls during batting practice before the Yankees game against the Royals. According to early reports (including Joe Girardi‘s press conference), the word is that Rivera tore his ACL and damaged part of his meniscus. Rivera is now done for the season, and he may even be done for his career. If so, the amount of grieving I did yesterday is nothing compared to what I shall experience at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Yes, I am a proud member of Cardinal Nation and have loved Cardinal baseball for as long as I can recall, but I am first and foremost a baseball fan. As such, there are certain things that I consider transcendent to my own personal bias in favor of a particular team. There are and have been things or people I have admired from afar simply because some things make team distinction seem like a trivial thing.
Mariano Rivera has always been one of them. My thoughts immediately go all the way back to 1996 when Rivera was actually the setup man for John Wetteland. One had a 2.83 ERA, a 1.178 WHIP, and 9.8 SO/9. The other had a 2.09 ERA, 0.994 WHIP, and 10.9 SO/9. That “other” guy was Rivera, and he was certainly better than Wetteland and perhaps more deserving of the closer’s job at the time. None of that seemed to matter to Rivera, because his focus was on being the team player. He didn’t want anything akin to a quarterback controversy, and he simply showed up for work ready to pitch.
The numbers speak for themselves. Rivera has a 2.21 ERA (206 ERA+) in 1219 2/3 innings over 18 years. His career WHIP is 0.998. That is basically the equivalent of saying that the opposing team is fortunate to even get 1 base runner in an inning against Mo. Look up the word “dominant” in a baseball dictionary, and it should be accompanied by a picture of Rivera. He is already the all-time leader in saves with 608, and I hope it stays that way. It’s not that records are not meant to be broken, but some should simply be such lofty goals that nobody even seriously talks about reaching them. It’s like hitting in 56 straight games or stealing 1406 stolen bases.
Rivera is as much a fixture in the world of the Yankees as Monument Park and the “roll call”. Derek Jeter may be the face of the franchise, but Rivera is the sturdy backbone. He was the rock upon which championships were built. In the playoffs, he was the closest thing to a “sure thing” there ever was. For a franchise that boasts more World Series titles than any other by far, that says a lot. He has already put himself in the company of Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, and Yogi Berra.
I will openly admit that I am not a big fan of the Yankees. I don’t “hate” them, but I don’t care a lot for them either. Rivera is the exception. I will happily switch to a Yankees game at the beginning of the 9th inning just to watch Rivera pitch. If Rivera is pitching at Yankee Stadium, I’ll switch even more quickly just to see him enter while Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blares through the stadium. It’s a moment worthy of goosebumps. It’s like seeing Ken Griffey Jr. track a ball in the direction of center field that he has just destroyed with one of the sweetest swings I have every seen. It’s like Ozzie Smith roaming behind the 3rd baseman and leaving his feat to loft a throw over to first base. At the same time, it’s Alex Rodriguez pushing Cal Ripken Jr. to shortstop in the All-Star Game (click here for a video of this on YouTube).
It’s all about one pitch and one pitcher who has reached the apex of his craft. Rivera’s cutter is a masterpiece in motion. It’s effects are undeniably consistent and efficient, yet the pitch and the man throwing the pitch are practically unerring and sublime. The thought that I may never get to see this take place again brings an unexpected degree of sadness. Time yields for no man, yet no man has ever made the passing of time seem so irrelevant.
Imagine working practically an entire career to perfect just one thing. That’s like Edison failing 2000 times to invent the incandescent bulb or Einstein waiting years to find supporting evidence for his theory that gravity bends light. It takes intolerable patience and a strength of mind wanting in most all of us. If only we all could be so fortunate as Rivera.
If he has indeed pitched his last 9th inning, then know that he will exit the game with the same class and grace that has defined him for 18 years. Sadly, we will all be that much poorer for his absence. If Rivera is done, then I humbly suggest that MLB consider retiring the save stat right along with Rivera. The stat itself is much maligned and practically meaningless to some people, so why not let the save record accompany Rivera as he exits stage right?
TIDBIT: I pointed this out yesterday, but it is worth mentioning again that Rivera injured himself while shagging fly balls. The man is 42 years old and a future Hall of Famer, and he was shagging flies. He could easily be excused from such a trivial exercise, but he wasn’t and never asked to be. That says as much about the man as anything else you will read during the next few days.
OTHER BITS OF TID: If you do a Google image search on Rivera, you will find literally hundreds of pictures of Mo smiling that big, light up the city smile. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition with his countenance on the mound.
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Some Wizard of Oz love for Cardinal Nation to enjoy…