This year, I plan on witnessing my own little slice of history during the season. I don’t know exactly when it will occur and to be honest, I can’t guarantee it will occur, but I’m going to try my hardest to see it. This season, I plan on going to Yankee Stadium and watching Mariano Rivera nail down a save for the New York Yankees.
Sure, I’ve seen it before. Most of us probably have. If not at a Yankee game than maybe as Mets fans during a Subway Series game. Yes, I go to Yankees games. I have friends that are Yankees fans and I love hanging out and watching baseball. It’s only fair, since some of them have been to Shea or Citi with me. But when I’ve seen Rivera saves in the past, I regarded it as a common happenstance. The Yankees win, Rivera gets the save. What else is new?
But this time, I’ll pay a little more attention. I’ll save my ticket stub. I might even purchase a program and keep score in that, instead of printing off a bootleg scorecard I created in MS Word that I take to all the games I attend. Because this time, it will be the last time I’ll ever see it.
Saturday morning, Rivera announced his retirement subsequent to the 2013 season. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but I guess it was required to make it official. And therefore, I feel I owe it to myself to witness the scene one last time: the clean guitar intro, the E minor-based riff and the jog in from the pen holding his glove in his right hand.
See, the beauty of baseball is that there are no right or wrong answers to any of the subjective questions. Was Willie or Mickey the best position player of all time? How would Babe Ruth have fared in this era? Did Barry Bonds have enough talent to be the best without “help”? Where would a healthy Ken Griffey, Jr. rank? Where does Tom Seaver rank in the pantheon of pitchers? But Rivera ruins the curve. There is a certain right and wrong answer to the question of who the best relief pitcher of all time is. Rivera is the right answer and anyone else is the wrong one.
Besides having the most regular season saves of all time and the plethora of postseason records – of which I won’t waste your time and mine listing – there are two factoids about Rivera that astound me. The first is his career WHIP. Get this: there are three men in the history of major league baseball with a minimum of 1,000 innings pitched to compile a career WHIP under 1.00! Mariano Rivera is second behind Addie Joss of the Cleveland Bronchos/Naps and ahead of Big Ed Walsh of the White Sox. For historical perspective, Addie Joss died in 1911 and Big Ed retired after the 1917 season. Neither of them pitched in the live ball era, let alone the steroid era.
As magnificent as the WHIP is, this next one is truly astounding. There have been more men to walk on the moon (12) then there have been men to score an earned run off Rivera in the postseason (11).
Let that simmer.
And it’s not as if Rivera has only had a handful of opportunities. He leads the universe in playoff appearances and innings pitched for a relief pitcher. His ERA is 0.70 in the postseason.
It’s because of all that I owe it to myself to revel in Rivera’s ubiquitous dominance one last time, and to savor and remember it this time. It’s because I can watch Rivera warm up to Metallica, saw bats in half and cut-fastball his way to baseball royalty. And unlike those who had witnessed Willie and Mickey in their prime, I can say without even a shadow of doubt, I witnessed the best ever.