Mariano Rivera has now officially announced his retirement at the end of the 2013 season. Aside from being the best and my favorite relief pitcher of all time, he was also the subject of my first Struming on November 30, 2009. When I started Strumings, I was advised to write about topics that I was passionate about. Obviously I wanted to focus on marketing issues, however selecting the topic of the my Struming was easy–I wrote about Mariano Rivera, the best relief pitcher of all time. Mo, had just turned 40, and earlier in that same month had closed out the 6th game of the 2009 World Series, the 27th World Championship for my beloved Yankees. I was fortunate to have been at the game with equally passionate Yankee fan Carolyn Strum. Watching Mo walking out on the field was exhilarating. He pitched the 8th and 9th innings, as he has done many times in playoff games.
At that time I realized the end was near, but since that time Yankees fans have enjoyed two more terrific Mo seasons–2010, 2011–including the record setting 602nd save (see 602. Exit Light, Enter Night) . Last year we all saw Mo go down in a heap with an ACL injury while shagging flies. My heart dropped. He’s back for one last season, but “no mo Mo” after this year.
He’s a certain first round Hall-of-Famer and the classiest guy you’ll ever see. Here were my thoughts back in 2009, anticipating the end, but appreciating at that time that there were still some years left. Alas, we all know now there is but one season left. Here’s a reprise of the first Struming from November 30, 1999 titled Exit Sandman. (PS: I know it’s an obvious headline, but I am proud nonetheless that the NY Post & Newsday also used it)
In the wake of the New York Yankees 27th World Championship along with, yet again, several saves by their great reliever, Mariano Rivera, I thought it would be worthwhile to (thankfully, prematurely) reflect on the forthcoming end of his career. Mo recently turned 40 in late November and his current contract ends after the 2010 season. Although there are hopefully one or more contracts to come, and Mo says he wants to pitch 5 more years, his career is nonetheless far closer to the end than the beginning.
I am a Yankees partial season ticket holder and I do the 200 mile round trip trek to the Bronx 15+ times annually, combined with an occasional Baltimore trip to see the Bronx Bombers at Camden Yards. My passion and respect for Yankee greatness is limitless, and I’ve gone to games since 1960 (I have a signed baseball from that team in my office) so I’ve seen great players come and go. Nonetheless, I am very sad that I will soon see the end of an era when Mo retires. I cherish witnessing 50,000 Yankee fans on their feet as the bullpen door opens, Mo jogs to the mound and the opening guitar riff begins to Metallica’s Enter Sandman. By the time Rivera reaches the mound and begins his warm-up tosses, the lyrics begin with the crowd in a frenzy. It’s a sight to see Hassids and Hispanics, Black and White, people of all ages and ethnicities sing the chorus in unison:
take my hand
we’re off to never-never land
Yet I suspect that 99% of the Yankee crowd couldn’t name another Metallica song. (Answer: For Whom the Bell Tolls & many, many others).
My daughter, Carolyn, and I recently had the experience of a lifetime to witness first-hand this routine on November 4th in the 8th inning of game 6 of the recent World Series. There is nothing more comforting in sports than having a lead and seeing Mo run in from the bullpen and hearing Enter Sandman.
Mo’s entrance, followed within minutes by another Yankee victory is so close to automatic that it’s jarring to see a walk, hit or, gasp, a run. Yes, Mo is human and we recall the 1997 playoffs, game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and game 4 of the 2004 ALCS.
No, Mo is not perfect. He is just the best ever, and the best that will ever be. A few noteworthy stats: Mo has 532 career regular season saves (2nd lifetime—soon to be #1). More impressively he has 39 playoff saves, by far the most ever. His playoff ERA against presumably the best players & teams is 0.74 and a WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning) a mind-numbing .773 There have been many fine relievers throughout the history of baseball. And in any given year there is a reliever whose season is comparable to Mo’s—but then inevitably, the next year the same player fades. Mo is greatness—every year.
In the end, there’s no argument that Mariano Rivera isn’t the best ever. I respect greatness, not just in baseball, but in any field, and when you cut though the hype, it’s rare that you can truly call someone, without question, the “best ever”. But Mo is. What’s interesting about that statement as it relates to baseball, is that there isn’t any other position in baseball that you couldn’t make a credible argument among two or three players about who is the “best ever”, but try doing so with relievers.
Beyond his athletic greatness, Mo is a classy athlete. With Mo there is no arm pumping (sorry Joba), no histrionics, no over-the-top showmanship. Just a virtually unhittable cutter, another save, and another Yankee victory. He puts the opposition to sleep, Sinatra sings “New York, New York” as I exit making a mad dash to the car for the 100 mile drive home. However, I was in no rush to travel home after game 6 of the World Series after which I high-fived as many of my new 50,000 friends as I could, watched the players celebrate, and will remember spending that moment with my daughter, Carolyn, forever.
Thanks, Sandman. We’ll miss you when you exit—please not just yet.