Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy 40th, Mo

Today is Mariano Rivera’s big 4-0. As I write this, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how thankful the Yankees should be of being able to count on him for all these years and how easily they could’ve lost him.

Originally a shortstop, he stepped into his future pitching role in 1989, at an amateur league game in his native Panama, offering to take over on the mound, following a poor performance by one of his teammates. Mo was on his way, but some lucky breaks and the hand of fate would make it interesting.

While a class A player in 1992, elbow surgery sidelined Rivera. His rehabilitation coincided with that year's expansion draft, which was to fill out the rosters for the newly incorporated Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies. The Yankees did not protect him from being drafted outright yet no one chose to do so. Then, prior to the 1996 season, there were talks of trading Mariano to the Seattle Mariners for Felix Fermin, due to the Yankees perceived wavering confidence in starting rookie Derek Jeter at shortstop. The trade never came to fruition, of course. And the rest, as you know, is history.

The man who many consider the greatest closer in baseball history has a slew of MLB records under his wing, among them: lowest career ERA in the modern era (2.25), most saves in American League history (526), and most consecutive seasons with at least 25 saves (13). But it is in the postseason that Mo is heads above all: lowest career ERA (0.74), most saves (39), most consecutive scoreless innings pitched (34 1/3), and most appearances (88). And he’s done it all with one pitch. (All hail the "cutter"!)

A five-time World Champion, 10-time All-Star, sure-thing first ballot Hall of Famer—I predict he will be the highest vote getter in MLB history—and one of the greatest Yankees of any era, we will one day be able to tell the kids we saw the other great no. 42 make all that magic. This past season he was his usual spectacular self, but how he showed leadership on a team managed by a former teammate—and former battery mate—and rounded out by a host of talented newcomers that not only wanted to play for the Yankees but in fact be Yankees, says everything about this humble giant and man of deep faith.

Like many Yankee fans I am in denial about the day when Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” will no longer accompany Mo’s familiar trot to the mound and the almost assured outcome. In the meantime, I'd like to wish Mo a very happy fortieth birthday. Y gracias por todo, caballero.

[Cover photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated]

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