I was born in 1975 and have been a Yankees fan since birth thanks to my mother who grew up in Comack, New York. My entire life can be broken down into three distinct time frames and they’re all based on the Yankees. My infancy was the Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson years – when the Yankees were routinely in the playoffs and winning the World Series. Then came my youth and the Don Mattingly years when the Yankees never made the playoffs (until 1995) and even though they won the most games in MLB in the 1980s, they were routinely in the middle or the bottom of the division. Then came my adult life (starting around 20 years old or maybe even at 18 if you count when Bernie Williams started playing) with the Jeter/Rivera/Pettite/Posada years and all the championships and glory that came along with those players. It is very rare that a team gets to see this many truly great players all come of age at the same time, let alone produce at such a high level for almost 20 years each.
Jorge Posada retired before the start of the 2012 season, but his time as a Yankee was great. He was a great player and will go down in Yankees history as a top-4 catcher in their history. Andy Pettitte was a Yankee, then an Astro, then retired, and then a Yankee again and pitched admirably this season but is retiring at the end of the season. Pettitte is the best “homegrown” starting pitcher the Yankees have had since Ron Guidry wore the pinstripes and is a borderline Hall of Famer (even if you discount the admitted HGH use, he’s still borderline).
Derek Jeter is one of baseball’s all-time great players (defense is overrated, offense is underrated, but his numbers are great). Derek is on his last legs (literally and figuratively). I counted Jeter out several years ago and was proven wrong and that might happen again, however, Father Time and injuries are finally catching up to him (if he’s not caught already) and he’s got one, maybe two more years as the Captain left (he may play longer than that, but I doubt it will be for the Yankees).
I know I’m getting old when the players I admired in my adulthood are now retiring and/or are shells of their former selfs. This of course isn’t counting Mariano Rivera. While almost every other professional athlete has given in to Father Time (there have been some exceptions), Rivera has looked Father Time in the face and said “on my time and at my choosing will I let you catch me.” Rivera started the 2013 season on a tear and then hit a wall in August and was never the same old “Sandman” that we have watched all these many years – he finally started to falter on the mound. Yes, over the years, Rivera has faltered on the mound at key times – 1997, 2001, 2004 – but never over a whole month like he did in August and September. With the way he was pitching from April through July, I thought he had another two or three years still in him, but then, even the great Rivera showed that Father Time always wins.
I do not think what Rivera has meant to the Yankees can ever be truly appreciated. Fans and analysts fall into two categories – one that thinks closers are too specialized and anyone can pitch one inning at a time so they give more importance to starters or every day players, and then you have the others who realize that being a closer takes a certain mentality and they realize that many closers have tremendous years but most fall back to Earth after two or three seasons so what Rivera did over his 19 years in the Bronx is truly remarkable.
Yes, Rivera pitched one inning at a time, but he did it in the most high pressure city in the world, under the brightest lights, and did it better than anyone in history with just one pitch. That one pitch is arguably the best single pitch in baseball history – the Rivera Cutter. His cutter was more dominating and intimidating than any Nolan Ryan fastball, Randy Johnson slider, or Pedro Martinez changeup. Even though every single hitter that faced Rivera knew what was coming, they simply couldn’t beat it (with rare exception).
Mariano is going to finish his regular season career with an ERA+ of 205 (50 points better than the next closes pitcher – Pedro Martinez) and a WHIP either at 1.000 or just under (depending on what he does over the last days of this season). No pitcher since the deadball days of baseball has finished with over 1,000 innings pitched and a WHIP under 1.000 – that means he allowed less than one baserunner an inning throughout his entire career!
It’s also good to remember, that while almost every other single closer playing at the time of Rivera pitched only one inning, Rivera was routinely brought in in the 8th inning against a tough hitter to maintain a lead or was asked to pitch into extra innings to keep the game tied (2003 ALCS Game 7 where he pitched three scoreless innings until Aaron Boone’s leadoff HR in the bottom of the 11th got the Yankees to the World Series).
It was in October when Rivera truly shined and became arguably the greatest post-season pitcher in MLB history. His post-season numbers make him the real Mr. October (no offense to Reggie Jackson). Outside of 1997, 2001, and 2003, Rivera was untouchable in October. He routinely got 4+ outs in the post-season and Joe Torre and Joe Girardi both knew that in October, they only had to manage for eight innings, then simply give the ball to Rivera.
I personally have Rivera ranked higher in Yankee history ahead of Jeter – mainly for one reason; if Jeter failed in a game, chances are the other eight guys in the lineup could pick him up and the Yankees could still win but if Rivera failed, it meant the game was over. There was no one else waiting in the bullpen or on the bench to bail out Mariano – Joe Torre and Joe Girardi both knew the game was over when Mariano was in the game – win or lose, it was all on his shoulders.
Rivera is what you every professional athlete to be – humble, modest, and nearly perfect. You never heard a single negative thing about Rivera on or off the field. He spent this past season on his “Farewell Tour” meeting with the “little people” at each ballpark – ushers, kitchen staff, security, disabled fans – just so he could thank them personally and listen to his stories. You very rarely saw Rivera have any emotion on the field – not after giving up the homerun in 1997 to Sandy Alomar Jr. or when he would get a save on just a couple pitches.
I can only remember two times seeing Rivera show any emotion on the mound (and I’m not talking aobut raising his hands in victory after saving yet another Yankees World Series championship) – in 2003 after he pitched those scoreless innings in Game 7 of the ALCS and the Yankees won, Rivera went to the mound and knelt in exhaustion and kissed the rubber, and then on the night of September 26, 2013.
That night was his final night pitching in Yankee Stadium and when Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came out to pull him from the game, he hugged Andy Pettitte and you could finally see 19 years of being the best in the game’s history finally being released in tears. I do not believe there was a dry eye anywhere watching that seen – Yankees fans and non-Yankees fans alike.
Courtesy of G4MarchMadnessHD
Mariano Rivera, was signed for $3,500 basically as an afterthought by the Yankees (they were scouting his cousin). He was the son of a Panamanian fisherman and became the greatest closer in MLB history for one of sports’ most storied franchises, and one day soon will travel to Cooperstown, New York as a first-ballot Hall of Famer and be inducted among the other baseball immortals.
Thank you Mariano for everything over the last 19 years. I am 38 years old and you have been the Yankees closer for almost half my life. Watching Dave Robertson or someone else come out in the 9th innning just won’t be the same. You brought five World Series titles back to the Bronx and you brought joy to Yankees fans around the world. Even non-Yankees fans have to admire what you have done throughout your career, not just as a pitcher, but as a person. Major League Baseball just won’t be the same without you in it.