Heading into the 2013 campaign, and coming off of a lost 2012 season thanks to a knee injury, Mariano Rivera announced this one would be his last.
At 43 years old, and after a long and storied career, he certainly earned the privilege to announce this before the season and enjoy the anticipated send-offs from Yankee opponents throughout the season. And he has.
Incredibly, the seemingly ageless Mo is still a well above average closer. If you looked at his season blindly, not knowing it was Mo or that this was his swan song, you’d expect to have the same player back on your team next year. So it was just a matter of time before someone within the Yankees publicly stated they wanted to convince Rivera to return.
That someone would be Joe Girardi, the Yankees skipper. And I can’t say I blame Joe for voicing those thoughts. Rivera is statistically the best closer-ever. And it’s not even close. You could argue that closers were worked harder back in the day, before the save became an officially recorded stat in 1969
If I were Gerardi, I would be voicing the same sentiments. You have a player, regardless of age, who is still performing among the best in the business. He’s your anchor. More often than not, when you hand Mo the ball in the 9th inning, in a save situation, you go home with the win. Wanting a player of that caliber to remain a contributing member of your ball club is just logical.
However, it really is time for Mo to go. Don’t get me wrong, I am not pushing the man out, far from it. Rather, I give Rivera tons of credit for exiting largely on his own terms. In spite of a knee injury at age 42 that might have ended many a career, he gutted it out, rehabbed and came back, determined to go out on his terms. But, you can at times clearly see his age, and the 2013 version of Mo has lost at least a little luster when compared to Rivera in his prime. But that’s what happens. He is 43 years old. He’s thrown a lot of hard strikes over the years, on the way to accumulating 649 saves (and counting). But even though he’s clearly not the young, dominant stud from the Yankee dynasty peak, he is still performing admirably. But he decided to walk away while he has something left, and that is admirable. Far too often we see players hang on way too long, to a point where they are a mere shell of their former selves. In those cases, it’s somewhat sad to see. But there will be no such sadness for Mariano’s exit.
He will leave baseball the career saves leader and a Yankee legend-great company for sure, and virtually ensuring his baseball immortality. As much as I understand a manager wanting his All Star closer to stick around for one more campaign, the reality is plain to see. Mariano Rivera has done everything there is to be done in the majors. He has nothing left to prove, nothing left to accomplish. He has put the career save record so far out of reach, it’s a good bet it will be a long time before any other pitcher even comes close to threatening it. His legacy is secure. As with most of his 9th inning appearances, Mo is taking the ball and taking control. Walking away, head held high, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind just how dominant he has been. Enjoy him while you still can.