Since the end of the 1995 season I have had the privilege of seeing Mariano Rivera pitch. For most of my adult life Mariano Rivera has been a constant presence at the end of Yankees games.
Last night Mariano Rivera was injured doing something he’s done since he was 20 years old. Rivera was going through his usual pre-game routine – shagging fly balls in the outfield during batting practice – when suddenly his foot got caught between the edge of the grass and the warning track. Just like that, in an instant, Mariano went down in a heap and was carted off the field.
The initial diagnosis was a twisted knee but I knew it was much worse. I held out hope that it wasn’t the worst case scenario but in the pit of my stomach I knew it was as bad as it looked.
The harsh reality of the situation set in during the post-game coverage on the YES Network. For the first time that I can remember, Mariano Rivera looked human. He stood at his locker and spoke to reporters while his eyes filled with tears. He did his best not to cry as he responded to reporters.
Does this freak injury mean the end of the line for baseball’s greatest closer?
“At this point, I don’t know,” Rivera said. “We have to face this first. … All that depends on how the rehab is going to happen. From there, we’ll see. I want to think and pray a little bit before I make decisions of whatever happens.”
For all of the people who want me to point fingers and place blame on Joe Girardi or other people within the Yankees organization, just stop it! Those thoughts, ideas, and assumptions have no merit on the situation. Forget about the fact that Rivera has shagged fly balls during pre-game warm-ups every day for the last 20 years. This is about a man loving every aspect of what he does. Shagging fly balls was as important to Rivera’s conditioning and preparation before each game as bullpen sessions are to other pitchers. Think about it, for all of the idiotic things that professional athletes do away from the field such as riding a motorcycle without a helmet or shooting yourself in the leg or even engaging in a pickup basketball game knowing full well your contract prohibits it. Mariano Rivera would never even think about doing any of those stupid things that would have jeopardized his career or the well-being of his teammates. Simply put, Rivera was injured or something he loved and something that was a crucial to his daily preparation.
It wasn’t just Mariano’s physical ability to throw a baseball that set him apart from others. Mariano had a grace and an elegance about him that was so special and nothing short of genuine.There are countless examples of this from Rivera over the years but perhaps none greater than his message to the critics who say he shouldn’t have been allowed to shag fly balls in the outfield given his advanced age.
“I don’t want to have it any other way. If it’s going to happen like that, it happened doing what I love to do. Shagging, I love to do it. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again with no hesitation. There are reasons why it happened, so you have to take the way it is and fight through it. Now we just have to fight.”
And there you have it… a message straight from the man himself. ” if I had to do it again I would do it with no hesitation.”
Even still, is this how the career of a first ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest closer ever play the game is going to end?
It can’t, at least not like this.
He deserves something more, if not a victory lap around the majors, at least a better exit than riding out on the back of a cart in Kansas City. He faces an uncertain future – who knows if his 42-year-old body can recover from major knee surgery – but he owes it to himself to try. This is too cruel an exit. It doesn’t matter if you love the Yankees or hate them, it doesn’t matter if you have a passing interest in baseball or live and die with the sport, there’s no way else to put this.
What happened yesterday stinks. Maybe you have a more eloquent way to put that, but I don’t. It was cruel. It was unfair. Mariano Rivera was shagging fly balls during batting practice like he’s done hundreds – thousands? – of times before. He takes one awkward step on the warning track and crumbles to the ground, grabbing his knee immediately and writhing in pain.
I try and take a step back and look at what this means for the Yankees today in the short term but I can’t. This is about today.
Athletes rarely get to go out on their own terms, but it sure looked like the Yankees closer was on his way. He had set the all-time saves record and was padding his lead, looking as good in his early 40s as he did in his 20s. He didn’t directly say that this would be his last season when he answered the inevitable questions in spring training, but he everything else he said seemed to make that clear. Rivera had talked about the pull of spending time with his family, about accomplishing everything he wanted to in the sport.
Just as I did earlier on my Facebook and twitter page, I don’t believe this will be the end for Mariano Rivera. I believe in my heart that he will not go out like this. Sure,the rehab won’t be easy. He’ll be 43 by the time spring training rolls around again. There are no guarantees that he’d recover to be the dominant closer he’s been in the Bronx for 15 years.
Still -Mariano Rivera owes it to himself to try. After 1,051 appearances, 608 saves, five championships and one unmatched legacy, it would be wrong for it to end this way. Love the Yankees or hate them, that’s one thing everyone should agree on.
Tell me what you think. In the wake of the knee injury suffered by New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, do you think he’ll return next season?