Saying Goodbye to Number 42

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

Mariano Rivera delivers his cutter.

At 24, I haven’t seen too many down years for the New York Yankees.  I know how lucky I am for that.  And if you want to know why I’ve been blessed to see so many World Series wins, look no further than the last man to wear the number 42, Mariano Rivera.

The greatest closer in baseball is hanging them up after the season if over, which will be Sunday unless the bombers get a lot of help the final week of the regular season.  After 19 years in the majors, 23 as a member of the Yankees organization, Rivera is ready to leave the game he loves so much behind.  And it’s a game that loves him maybe even more right back.

After announcing his retirement prior to the start of the 2013 season, Major League Baseball vowed to send him out the right way.  And they held up that promise.  Every road team the Yankees visited this year, in his final game of the year there, those teams presented Rivera with gifts.  Gifts to say thank you for being such a class act and a legend among men.

Some of the more memorable gifts include a sandcastle from the Rays, playing off Rivera’s nickname the “Sandman.”   Or how about the chair presented by the Minnesota Twins made entirely of broken bats, something Mo’s cutter did to hundreds of hitters over the years?  In his last trip to Fenway, the arch rival Red Sox paid tribute by presenting Rivera the visitors bullpen rubber, and the 42 used on the Green Monster when he entered games.  Of all the gifts, I bet Rivera appreciated the check presented by each team to his foundation, because if there is one thing Mo loves more than baseball, it’s giving back to those around him.

Then there’s what the Yankees did for their beloved closer Sunday in the Bronx.  For years Rivera came out to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” so why not have the band set up on the field and have number 42 walk out to it live? Add to that retiring his number in monument park, a check for $100k to his foundation, a crystal replica of his glove, another chair made of bats and a retired number for his wall at home, the Yankees made sure they told Mo thanks in the best way they knew how.  It all happened in front of a packed stadium crowd, as well as many of Rivera’s former teammates including the man who caught more than half his saves, Jorge Posada.

Why so much fan fare?  How could you not honor a man who has done nothing but produce consistent excellent play for nearly 2 decades, while being an upstanding ambassador of the game.  The 43-year-old is the Major League leader in saves, a 5-time World Series winner and is the only man to throw the final pitch of more than 2 World Series, doing so in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.

Jorge Posada by far has caught more of Rivera’s 652** career saves, being apart of 379 of them, with 22 catchers total on the receiving end of a final pitch from Mo.  Other numbers that scream first ballot Hall-of-Famer: Rivera’s 2.21 ERA, way less than a hit per inning, and a WHIP of 1.  71 homers in almost 1,283 innings, or 1 every 18.  44 saves in 2013 mark the most in the final season of a closer’s career, this despite blowing a career high 7 games this year.  With 5 games left, Rivera carries an 82-60 record into retirement.

But as good as Rivera was in the regular season, no man shined brighter in the postseason.  In the Yankees most recent World Series run in 09, of the 8 teams to make it to the playoffs, 7 blew saves, 1 did not.  That’s right, Rivera was perfect en route to winning their 27th championship.  According to Sports Illustrated,  Rivera’s postseason records include most games pitched (96), most saves (42) and lowest ERA (0.70, minimum 30 innings pitched).  Not too shabby for a guy who used an orange carton as a mitt as a kid in Panama.

What are some of personal favorite memories?  I will never forget him collapsing on the mound as Aaron Boone rounded the bases during his walk-off homer in the 2003 ALCS against Boston.  Or his 500th save against the Mets.  How about the one two break the record, passing Trevor Hoffman with 602 saves.  I think my favorite though was his first and only career RBI, a bases loaded walk of all things against the Mets.  The smile on his face when he went to first was priceless.

So as the season winds down (5 regular season games to go), the story of Mariano Rivera the baseball player comes to an end.  But while stars fade, legends never die.  Rivera will forever be in the annuls of Major League Baseball history.   As the last man to wear the number 42 (which was retired across baseball in honor of Jackie Robinson), Rivera’s number will reside in Monument Park for ever.  No man will ever fill his shoes.  The Yankees must move on, and it will be difficult.  You have to be encouraged by a guy like David Robertson, who can strikeout any one at any time, and more importantly has the mental makeup to be a closer.  Like Rivera, he doesn’t bad outings affect him, and rarely does he put back-to-back bad outings up.  He has the nickname “Houdini” for being known to create jams for himself, but he usually gets out of them.  Gone are the days of having a security blanket like Rivera, but that doesn’t mean whoever comes in next for New York, whether it’s Robertson or someone else, that they can’t be effective.  It just won’t be the Sandman.

I will always be grateful for being able to see Rivera pitch.  And I can’t even say in his prime, because he is still a  top flight pitcher.  I will tell my children and my grandchildren that I saw number 42 pitch.  He will forever be Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in Yankees and Major League history.

Thanks for the memories Mo.  Enjoy life after baseball.

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