I was going to wait until the absolute end of the season to make this post. I had pictures I was going to put up, and thoughts I was going to try to collect, and all that stuff that I normally do to be as thoughtful and thorough as possible when writing. I had a bunch of pictures I had taken of Rivera’ s last game on Seattle soil, but I am lacking the storage space and time at the moment. So it’s time to do it. Today is the right day.
Mariano Rivera is leaving baseball. Not because of injury, not just for the offseason, and not because he’s been let go by New York and is waiting to get picked up by another team; he is retiring. He’s done. Last night was his final game. He was met on the field by Andy Pettite and Derek Jeter, two other Yankee greats, and led off the field in a very emotional sendoff, which you can watch at this link here. That is a little over four minutes of hugging, cheering, and yes, even grown men crying, and if you are a baseball fan and find yourelf with absolutely no emotional response watching that clip, then you, pardon my language, are a hard motherfucker. It’s beautiful, even though I feel like he deserved even more than that. I don’t know what else the team and fans could have possibly done, it just feels like it should have been longer. I am glad that it was Pettite and Jeter who met him on the hill, and I am further glad that Alex Rodriguez was nowhere to be found. Alex Rodriguez doesn’t deserve to so much as lick the dirt off Rivera’s cleats.
Joe Posnanski has an excellent article that I feel a lot of baseball players need to read and take to heart. It should be required reading for anyone called up to the majors. Mariano Rivera is exemplary of how every player should conduct themselves. It makes me immensely sad to think that maybe he is a dying breed.
Mariano Rivera averaged 34.3 saves a year every year he played baseball. In seven of those seasons, he had 40 or just over 40 saves. In 2004, he racked up 54 saves. His next largest number prior to that was 50 in 2001, the fateful year that saw the Yankees topple the Mariners in the playoffs, after a history-high 116 wins for Seattle. I am mentioning this because when JJ Putz had 40 saves back in 2007, I thought it was a pretty big deal; it was, after all, part of what got me invested emotionally in closers, and in baseball itself. In his 19-year career, Rivera never once had negative WAR. Some years lower than others, but never negative. With my vague understanding of WAR and from what I’ve seen from position players, that’s an accomplishment. Maybe for pitchers not so much, but still it’s worth recognition, in my humble opinion.
This is one of those things, though, that is far more emotional for me than it is scientific. I have a lot of words in my vocabulary, but none can truly do this any justice. I find myself wishing I’d paid more attention to Rivera over the last few years. I find myself wishing that the sinking feeling I’ve had in my stomach when Rivera stepped onto the hill in Safeco was maybe replaced by more of a reverence – I had respect, I had awe, but I don’t feel ever had the amount of either of those things that I probably should have had for this player. He was amazing to watch. When Ichiro homered off of him a few years ago, I was well aware that that was something to be celebrated. Mariano Rivera was and is something special.
Rivera is, to me, the perfect closer and yet there was something not quite closer-y about him. He isn’t weird like a lot of them are; he didn’t tilt his cap or grow crazy facial hair, or make strange comments to the press. He doesn’t have a lot of visible tattoos (if any – sorry Yanks fans, I really don’t know), he doesn’t give an air or indicate that he is anything but a human gun firing a baseball bullet; but truthfully, that’s kind of all you need to know about him. His demeanor on the hill was that of a blank slate. An amazing, terrifying, serious, wonderful blank slate that made the top, middle, and bottom of any batting order cower in fear. Always expressionless, mostly always flawless, and always there for the purpose of getting the game done and over and securing a Yankees win. There was no flair, not a lot of stress as far as I could ever tell. He was there to do a job, and he did it very very well for 19 years.
I really don’t know what else to say. I can’t rattle off stats or incidents in Rivera’s history that I might have fond memories of. In his career, my fandom is but a blip on a radar somewhere; and even that might be giving me too much credit, as I have never been a Yankees fan. All I know is that baseball is a worser place for his departure. The season isn’t even over yet, and early on when his retirement was announced, it made me feel as if there was a massive hole in 2013. And if this is the way I feel, I can’t even imagine how Yankees fans must feel. It has to be devastating. This is the one instance that I will absolutely not poke fun at or make light of a Yankee loss. I feel for all of you, totally. You, after all, have my Ichiro.
So goodbye, Mariano Rivera. You can leave baseball knowing that you were the classiest act, a master of your craft, and feared and respected by batters and fans alike. I will miss you, Sandman.