(CAPTION: He doesn't always bat, but when he does...)
To be quite honest, I’m not one hundred percent sure why I’m writing this right now. Everything that could possibly be said about the man has already been said a hundred times, and by better writers than myself.
And in a week where Mariano Rivera’s 500th save will be getting coverage from every sports network in the known universe, the odds are long that I’ll have an original take on the story.
But I’ve been watching the guy for fifteen years now—fifteen years we’ve been given the opportunity to watch this magnificent bastard work his magic—and I’ve got a few things to say.
First, I’d like to tell you about the first time I ever saw him pitch, because Mariano Rivera was the first blown call of my career.
It was June 11, 1995 at Yankee Stadium, we were playing Seattle, and a new guy I’d never heard of was starting for us. Here’s how the game started off: single by Joey Cora, single by Alex Diaz, home run by Edgar Martinez. No outs, three runs. Rivera was gone in the top of the third, and his performance prompted me to shake my head in disgust and remark to my father, “That guy will be back in the minors very soon, and will never be back.”
I was wrong. Just a little bit. And every time I hear “Enter Sandman” I thank God I was.
Over the last fifteen years, Mariano Rivera has been called everything from “illegal” (Tom Kelly, former manager of the Twins) to “alien” (Eric Neel of ESPN), to the greatest postseason closer in history (no need for quotations there, everyone's said that at least once).
But on an occasion where they’ll be trying to put the greatness of Mariano Rivera into one complete thought, I’d like to submit this one:
On Sunday night, a friend of mine compared him to the guy in the Dos-Equis commercials – The World’s Most Interesting Man.
The more I think about it, the more if fits – this aging Spaniard who’s got all these goofy, ridiculous, amazing, Chuck Norris-sounding legends surrounding him and he’s just sitting there, acting cool, taking it easy, because he knows he’s the Spanish Chuck Norris and doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone. (And he doesn’t always drink beer. But when he does…well, you’ve seen the commercials.)
Mariano Rivera has saved 500 regular season games. He has a lifetime ERA of 2.30 and will likely strike out his 1,000th batter - an unheard-of milestone for a reliever - some time this season. He has saved 34 postseason games and has an October ERA of 0.77. And of course, with numbers like that come four World Series rings for his Yankees.
He's the greatest of all time. And he's probably the only person in the world of sports who hasn't said so this week.
You’ll never see a cooler guy than Mariano. He’s a quieter version of Derek Jeter. And he’s the one guy I’ve ever heard sound genuine when he says he’s been blessed to have his career. His favorite thing about Sunday night is being able to jokingly brag about his first career RBI.
He knows he doesn’t have to prove himself, because he’s the Chuck Norris of closers, and surely we’ll spread his legend without him having to say anything at all. We have so far.
So on this occasion I say, stay thirsty, Mariano. And congratulations.
We’re all blessed to have seen you.