Mariano Rivera is universally regarded as the best relief pitcher in the history of baseball. Some people believe that he has even made a compelling argument for the title of the sport’s most dominant pitcher. At 43 years old, age has not been a factor in his effectiveness this season as he has converted 31 of 33 save opportunities with an ERA well below his career mark of 2.20. Despite the fact that Rivera is still among the best pitchers in the game today, this will be his last season.
Rivera has won five World Series Championships and earned the honors of the World Series most valuable player in 1999. The 13-time All-Star holds the denotation as the league’s all-time leader in saves (641 and counting). The closest active player to Rivera’s record is Joe Nathan, the 38-year-old closer for the Texas Rangers, who has roughly half as many.
The 19-year veteran has embraced what will be his final season in the MLB with a "Farewell Tour" that has celebrated his career in a number of cities the New York Yankees have played in this year. Gifts have ranged from an honorary plaque from the Detroit Tigers to a customized rocking chair made out of broken bats known as the “Chair of Broken Dreams”. A number of donations have been made to Mariano Rivera’s Foundation, which annually distributes $500,000 to underprivileged children in the U.S. and his native country of Panama.
Many times, a professional athlete is forced into retirement through injuries or poor performance, so it is rare that they can enjoy a farewell tour while performing at the top of their game. When Rivera tore his ACL last season, many feared that it may be a career-ending injury because of the grueling rehab process required to return to form. Rivera vowed that he would not retire from the fluky injury and has decided to exit the game on his own terms. It has proven to be a wise decision.
Most recently, Chipper Jones celebrated his exit from the game with a Farewell Tour after he announced he would retire prior to the 2012 season. As Chipper road off into the sunset, MLB teams throughout the league honored his services through a variety of gestures. To the surprise of many fans, the New York Mets honored Chipper Jones by designating a “Chipper Jones Day” on their schedule and presented him with a commemorative painting in their final series. In fact, some of the New York community embraced his success when Foley’s Pub & Restaurant, a New York pub, changed their name to Chipper’s for the duration of the final weekend series against the Mets.
Cal Ripken Jr. one of the game’s legends had a similar farewell tour as a number of teams honored him, including the Chicago White Sox, who celebrated Ripken’s last series in Chicago with “Cal Ripken Jr. Tribute Day”. The Iron Man who made his imprint in the league by breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak had a pleasant end to a long career. In Ripken’s final All-Star Game in 2001, he earned the game’s MVP award, just like Mariano Rivera.
Rivera’s "Farewell Tour" is a testament to his classy personality and his service to the game. It is very rare that an athlete has the opportunity to conclude a Hall of Fame career at the top of their game while embracing their exit. When he retires, he will be the last major league player to wear the number 42.