Grace and dignity…
Unfortunately, this day was inevitable. Father Time catches up with everyone, including the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball.
Saturday, the great Mariano Rivera confirmed the speculation of the last few days. The 2013 season will be his final one as the champion of the 9th inning at Yankee Stadium.
Mo has been my favorite Yankee since the time he was the “lights-out” set up guy for closer John Wetteland in the 1996 season. Wetteland was effective, but there were always a few anxious moments. Rivera, on the other hand, completely dominated the hitters prior to turning the ball over to Wetteland. There were so many times that I had wished manager Joe Torre would have stayed with Rivera rather than pulling him for Wetteland. While it was Rivera’s talent and ability that caught my attention, it was his character…full of grace, dignity, and professionalism…that has made me an enduring fan all these years.
Rivera has taught so many over the years how to forget life’s failures and how to enjoy its successes without gloating or antagonizing opponents. He has always respected the game and never once in his career has he placed himself above the game or above others.
Relievers have had their struggles gaining acceptance into the Hall of Fame, but in my mind, Rivera should be a first ballot entry.
It was appropriate that Mo wore the number #42. As the final active player to wear the number after it was retired league-wide, he has upheld the legacy of Jackie Robinson…perhaps better than anyone else could have. Jackie endured far more challenges and difficulties than I’ll ever be able to fully comprehend, but he paved the path for others including Mariano Rivera to succeed. Mo embodies the depth of character that Jackie Robinson had and it is tremendous that #42 hanging in Memorial Park will stand for two of the greatest men in baseball’s long history.
It has been a privilege to call Mo my favorite player for so many years. As I think back upon my life as a Yankees fan, it was Jim “Catfish” Hunter who first attracted me to the Yankees when he signed as a free agent in 1974, along with my high regard for the legendary Lou Gehrig. Once a Yankees fan, my favorite player quickly changed to the heart and soul of the team…catcher Thurman Munson. I have always loved to see passion in doing what you enjoy, and Thurman was certainly as fiery and passionate as they come. The 1976 World Series still stands out to me. Although the Yankees were swept by the Cincinnati Reds, it wasn’t because of Munson, who hit over .500 in the series. If the rest of the team could have matched Munson’s intensity that year, they would have defeated the Big Red Machine.
After Thurman’s untimely death in 1979 (a day that I will always vividly remember, like so many Yankee fans), Rich “Goose” Gossage became my favorite player. After a few years, he had moved on to the San Diego Padres as a free agent. But by that time, Don Mattingly had become my favorite player. Donnie Baseball was one of the great ones and it’s unfortunate that back problems caused the premature end of his production and subsequently career. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’d be in the Hall of Fame if he had been able to sustain his production for a few more years. Donnie Baseball will always be a favorite and he’s the reason that I consider the Los Angeles Dodgers to be my favorite NL team. When Mattingly retired after the 1995 play-off loss to the Seattle Mariners, I became a Mariano Rivera fan.
As I look to life beyond 2013, I cannot say that any one player stands out as a potential favorite player. But as history has proven to me, the door will open for the next great Yankees superstar to take the stage.
None of this is meant to knock Derek Jeter. He has been a terrific player for so many years and can match Rivera in depth and quality of character stride for stride. He’ll be taking his place in Cooperstown one day, but for me, this day is about Mariano Rivera. Enter the Sandman…Exit the Legend.
I look forward to watching Mo for one more season. Regardless of the outcome, he is a champion…