Where Mariano Rivera's Send-off Ranks Among MLB's Best Farewell Moments
As the Yankee Stadium crowd saluted Mariano Rivera one last time on Thursday evening, the send-off in the Bronx will be remembered for years as one of the most memorable moments in baseball history.
From the decision to have Rivera exit the game before recording the last out, to Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter removing him from the game, to tears in the dugout, to Alex Rodriguez pushing Mo back on the field for one last curtain call—it was perfect.
Of course, it wasn't the first farewell of its kind in baseball history. In the long and rich history of baseball, some of the best players in the sport have had the chance to go out on their terms, allowing their fans to salute them one final time. Yet, due to the unpredictable nature of career length, injury or sudden ineffectiveness, these instances are very rare.
The following is an attempt to rank Rivera's send-off among Major League Baseball's best farewell moments.
7. Nike's salute to Ken Griffey Jr.
Unfortunately, the legendary center fielder didn't have the chance to go out on his own terms. In 2010, a 40-year-old Junior, far removed from his days as 'The Kid,' returned to the Mariners roster for one last season. By May, a .184 average made it quite clear that the future Hall of Famer needed to head home before forcing the Mariners franchise into a difficult decision with his roster spot.
Due to the abrupt nature of his departure, Griffey didn't receive an on-field moment like Mariano Rivera, but Nike took it upon itself to say goodbye to the Junior that baseball fans grew to adore in the early '90s.
6. Biggio's final weekend
Despite falling short in his initial chance for Hall of Fame induction, Craig Biggio will soon have a plaque residing in the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, New York. As the years pass, Biggio's talents and versatility have become underrated when his candidacy comes up each winter. Reliving his farewell weekend in Houston could change some minds.
The All-Star catcher turned All-Star second baseman made one of the rarest positional shifts in baseball history. Along the way, he racked up hit after hit on the path to 3,060 career knocks.
During his farewell weekend as a Houston Astro, the team allowed him to suit up at catcher one last time. Not surprisingly, he found a way to deliver one last hit. Wherever Biggio was placed in the field ceased to matter when he was in the batter's box.
5. Chipper Jones' final All-Star Game
The seeing-eye single that dribbled into right field wasn't indicative of the offensive prowess Jones possessed during his Hall of Fame career, but the ovation, admiration and respect shown to the long-time Atlanta Braves star was overwhelming during the 2012 All-Star Game.
As the Kauffman Stadium crowd saluted Jones, one of the greatest switch-hitters in the history of the sport said goodbye to the baseball world one final time.
Within five years, Cooperstown will welcome Chipper as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
4. Rodriguez swaps positions with Ripken in Seattle
Alex Rodriguez can be described using many colorful adjectives and phrases. His legacy in baseball will forever be sullied, and fans would have to think long and hard before finding positive things to say about his personality.
Regardless of your stance on A-Rod, here's an indisputable fact: He is very aware of the game's history and considers the greats of the past to be among his role models and heroes.
That's why A-Rod's decision, first relayed to his future manager, Joe Torre, prior to the 2001 All-Star Game, felt so genuine. When A-Rod, the best shortstop in the world, asked Cal Ripken to switch positions with him, allowing Cal, the former best shortstop in the world, the chance to play shortstop one more time, a great baseball memory was made.
Ripken's last moment on a national stage was where it belonged: at shortstop.
3. Ted Williams' final at-bat
Of all the great players in baseball history that came before my time, Ted Williams is the one that I regret missing the most. His scientific approach to hitting, greatness before and after serving the U.S. military in World War II and dominance on a yearly basis made him a unique baseball star.
Fittingly, Williams went out a hitter. In 1960, at the age of 41, Williams posted a .316/.451/.645 slash line with 29 home runs and 34 more walks than strikeouts. His 190 OPS+ is higher than any hitter in 2013. Yes, that includes Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout and Chris Davis.
On the final day of that 1960 season, Williams left the Fenway Park crowd with one last memory: a home run in his last career at-bat.
Most of this list consists of artificial or enhanced send-off moments, but Williams provided his own fireworks with the crack of his bat.
2. Mariano Rivera's last Yankee Stadium appearance
It was perfect.
Due to the creativity of Joe Girardi, the true friendship of Rivera, Jeter and Pettitte and a crowd totally into the angle of Rivera's goodbye, the Yankees changed the narrative from elimination to jubilation in the matter of 24 hours with the touching tribute to Mo on Thursday night.
For a franchise so focused and stoic on the task of winning on a yearly and daily basis, the moment served as a retrospective to the end of an era. Ironically, Thursday evening's Yankees-Rays game doubled as the first meaningless game in the Bronx since the final day of the 1993 season.
Since Rivera hadn't yet debuted in the Bronx at that juncture of his career, the game was the first meaningless one the great closer ever participated in while wearing pinstripes.
By the end of the night, it was anything but meaningless.
1. Lou Gehrig's speech
July 4, 1939, wasn't just a day for baseball in New York. It was a day to say goodbye, forever, to one of the greatest players the game has ever seen. More than that, though, it was an inspiration for millions who would watch Lou Gehrig's speech in the future.
Illness, in this case ALS, trumps anything else on this list. The fact that it happened to the "Iron Horse," taking the most durable player in history out of the lineup due to uncontrollable factors, hit home when listening.
Yet, the speech isn't about baseball or sports or competition. It's about appreciating life and looking at it through the prism of what there is to be grateful for at all moments.
Gehrig told Yankee Stadium that he was the luckiest man on Earth. All these years later, we're lucky that it's available to relive at the click of a button.
What was the most memorable baseball farewell you can remember?
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