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Exit Sandman.

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:

exit light

enter night

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 unhitable 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.

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4 Comments

  1. Mark says:

    Mo is remarkable. So is Jeter. I only hope we have 2-3 more years to enjoy their talents — and class. Go Yanks! Go Lonny!

  2. Mo is in my Yankees “Dream Team”. Starting pitcher is Whitey Ford. Lou Gehrig is my first baseman, Yogi Berra catching, Alex Rodriguez on 3rd., Derrick is my shortstop and the outfielders are Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio and Babe Ruth. As DH I have Reggie Jackson and/or Roger Marris. I have a problem with my second baseman. Who do you think it should be, Willy Randolph, Billy Martin, Alfonso Sorriano, Robinson Cano, etc.? Great article Lonny!

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