If Mariano Rivera has truly thrown his last pitch, May 3, 2012 will be remembered as a truly sad day for all baseball fans. The fluke injury he suffered on this day has already ended the great closer’s season, and threatens his career as a whole.
This sadness is not reserved for New York Yankees fans, but for the sports world as a whole, as it has lost one of its most universally admired and respected figures.
This fact is not only due to his on-field accomplishments, though they certainly are a big part of the story.
Rivera’s 608 career regular-season saves are the most in major league history, as are his 42 postseason saves. His 89 percent save conversion rate is also the best all time, as is his 0.70 postseason ERA.
Going further, his minuscule 0.9978 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is the second-best in major league history, and he also has the best adjusted ERA+ of all time (Baseball-Reference.com). Frankly, one could go on for an incredibly long time listing the records set by the great Rivera.
And while we can debate to no end the best players at almost all positions in sports, closer is not one of them.
Who is the greatest starting pitcher of all time? Spahn? Koufax? Ryan? What about quarterback in football? Is it Marino, Montana, Elway, Manning, Brady or someone else? Arguments could go on for months with valid points made for all.
But who is the best closer of all time? It starts and ends with Rivera.
Still, on its own, greatness on the field is not why Rivera is so revered. Look at some of the greatest home-run hitters of all time, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. Unquestionably great players, yet they were also the target of ferocious vitriol from many baseball fans for their perceived egos (even before their respective steroid allegations).
Thus, it is Rivera’s tremendous performances plus a humility and grace rare in elite athletes that make Rivera so widely admired. As humble in his many victories as in his rare defeats, Mariano has been a consummate pro throughout the entirety of his 18-year career, always deferring credit bestowed on him to his teammates.
It would be unimaginable to see Rivera imitate the antics of fellow closers Jose Valverde and Francisco Rodriguez, who can barely hold a candle to the Yankees legend. While he has more than earned the right to such demonstrative celebrations, you will not see one from Rivera, who maintains his cool and class regardless of the circumstances.
It is for these reasons that "Mo" is perhaps the most respected athlete in sports today.
One anecdote among many proves why this point is nearly indisputable. In 2011, on a sunny Opening Day at Fenway Park, Boston Red Sox fans were predictably showering the hated Yankees with a chorus of boos as the rosters were being announced. Suddenly, this stopped, as one player’s name was announced.
“Number 42, Mariano Rivera.”
Suddenly, all of Fenway, the bastion of everything anti-Yankee, gave one of the rival organization’s greatest players a standing ovation.
Rivera is so great that even Red Sox fans can put aside their fervent hate for the Yankees to recognize this greatness.
Tearing an ACL shagging batting practice fly balls is not the proper way for a man who has recorded the final out in countless big games to end his career. It is almost not fair.
It goes without saying that all sports fans, and not just those of the Yankees, hope this is not the case, and we can see Mariano saving games with the class we admire in the future.