Mariano Rivera is the greatest relief pitcher we have ever seen, and that’s only half of the makeup of a truly great man. Rivera is universally respected, loved, idolized and he’s as nice a person as you could hope to come across. In any walk of life you rarely get to come in contact with someone so talented and so humble at the same time. Mariano is baseball’s Michael Jordan with the heart and mind of a humanitarian.
By nature professional athletes tend to be full of ego and bluster, it’s what makes them who they are. The supreme confidence in themselves is what catapulted them to the a plateau a majority of society only dreams of and they are treated like gods and in turn they often think they are God-like. Each newspaper clipping praising them adds to the lore of millions of adoring fans.
Amazingly, Rivera has never once showed himself to be full of himself in a world full of ego. Rivera is without a peer when it comes to closing games. Sure there have been great closers like Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Lee Smith and Goose Gossage, but none of them were ever as dominant as Mariano. Rivera only pitches one inning per game, but it’s hard to under score how much he has impacted the sport of baseball and the historic New York Yankees franchise.
The closer position, more than any other position in any sport requires a short memory and supreme confidence in one’s ability to get the next man out. Sure Rivera has blown saves, but he bounces back in such a manner that it sometimes seems like he is a robot. In November 2001 on the precipice of history, Rivera had a bad inning when he absolutely couldn’t afford one and it cost his team and his city dearly.
Rivera blew a save against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. When Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single hit the grass in short left field, the world watched in shock as the great Rivera wasn’t able to finish another World Series championship off. A victory in Game 7 would have given that dominant Yankees team four straight championships and five out of six. A lesser pitcher would have been crushed by such a failure on baseball’s biggest stage, but not Rivera.
He came back the next season as dominant as he was the season before. He’s 43 now and has 30 saves at the All-Star Break. Think about that for a second — he’s as good or better at his craft in the final year of his career as he has ever been. To be honest, Rivera could close games in the Bronx for the next five years if he wanted. He gets to ride off into the sunset — what’s better than that for any professional athlete?
Rivera has 638 regular season saves and 42 more in the postseason. With the Yankees roster in dire straights, Rivera could end his career with 42 postseason saves, which would be perfect. Rivera is the only player left wearing Jackie Robinson’s No. 42, which has been retired by every team in Major League Baseball. Rivera’s grace is something Robinson would have admired.
During his final season, Rivera has had heartfelt goodbyes with each visiting team’s fans and employees in a way only Rivera could. From city to city, Mariano has greeted employees of teams that no one ever acknowledges. From the janitors to the grounds crew to the clubhouse maintenance staff, Rivera has gone out of his way to talk to these people, because that’s who Rivera is. He’s unlike any athlete we have seen in that his incredible exploits as a relief pitcher doesn’t define him.
During Tuesday’s All-Star Game the nation finally got to see what Rivera’s contemporaries think about him — it was one of the great All-Star game moments. When Rivera entered the game prior to the bottom of the eighth inning, Rivera entered to his customary song — Enter Sandman by Metallica. Along with a raucous ovation from the Citi Field, no players from either the American or National League came on to the field while Rivera threw his warm up pitches. It was the ultimate sign of respect.
In a few months, Rivera will retire and baseball will lose its greatest symbol of what a baseball player can be. We need to cherish these final games.