He would never admit it, but the gods are unjust.
If you haven’t heard, the Yankees’ 42-year-old closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging batting practice fly balls in Kansas City on Thursday night. The most pointless thing in the least significant place.
Rivera always claimed that his cutter—the most effective single pitch in baseball history—was a gift from God. Now the same chaotic power that gifted him his career has seen fit to rob him of the graceful exit from the game he so richly deserved.
The son of a fisherman from Panama City, Rivera rose from complete obscurity to become an icon in New York City and the paragon of a certain kind of baseball iconography. He was DiMaggio without the standoffishness, Mantle without the vices, and Jeter without the whispers that maybe he wasn't actually so great.
At times like this, it’s tempting to try to put a career in perspective. Rivera has recorded more saves than anyone in history. His career ERA of 2.21 is the best among all active pitchers, as is his career WHIP of .998, according to Baseball Reference. His post-season ERA (0.70) is the best ever.
At one point, Rivera threw 34.1 scoreless innings in a row in the playoffs. This spring, it was casually mentioned that he hadn’t allowed a run in Spring Training since 2008 … until he gave up one run in his last spring appearance of 2012.
His legend was built day-by-day, with a maddening consistency and focus that’s the true measure of his greatness. Just look at how often he threw the ball down the middle. Almost never.
But Rivera is the rare athlete who truly won’t be remembered by his numbers. For 16 years, there was nothing more automatic than a win when Rivera entered the game. Joe Torre and Joe Girardi found an innings-worth of solace from the pressure of winning in New York when they called on Mo.
For millions of Yankee fans, his entrance music, “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, was more like a lullaby than a heavy-metal anthem.
For those of us who grew up rooting for the Yankee dynasty of the late 90s, the end of Rivera’s career will truly be the end of innocence. Personally speaking, he's the only athlete whose name I ever displayed on my back, and the only Yankee I'm absolutely positive will make me cry like a fool when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As good as David Robertson has been these last two years, he can’t replace Rivera on or off the field. No one can. That’s what it means to be the best ever.
Maybe the gods gave Mo everything he ever had, but today they took something away from baseball fans everywhere.