For the first time in the extensive (three week) history of our Ballin’ or Bawlin’ feature, I’ve decided to deviate from the traditional format, throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in my sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Plagiarize. Sorry I’m not sorry, Mr. Twain.
Nevertheless, it requires a special athlete to qualify as a Baller and a Bawler. However, I’m confident this week’s hybrid ba(w)ller is more than satisfactory. In fact, he already made an appearance a few weeks back. Enter Sandman, New York Yankees reliever, Mariano Rivera.
The New York Yankees 2013 season ended on Sunday, without a postseason bid, thus ending Rivera’s 19 year career. One might wonder, where was the fanfare? The fireworks? The gesture? The gesture, we, as sports fans, imagine we’ll witness and suddenly we’ll feel ready to say good-bye? It will dignify this individual. It will dignify the often irrational emotions we’ve invested in this individual. It will reassure us our team will persevere sans this individual. It will never, really, properly, happen.
All too often, headline athletes boasting historical careers retire and gradually recede into the past of their sport. Sure, the fanfare and fireworks existed while they were in the midst of their career, but rarely do they seem to exist at the end. It’s a strange and common phenomenon. For example, consider Larry Bird, Brett Favre, and Michael Jordan. Even consider someone like Patrick Ewing, who was never lucky enough to win a title, but was still hugely successful at his craft. He practically patented the mid-range turnaround jump shot. The manner in which these athletes careers ended, was certainly not indicative of the overall success they were hugely responsible for throughout their respective tenures.
But, back to our honoree Ba(w)ller. Rivera was honored with a gift by twenty different ball clubs throughout the MLB during his final season. Most occurred during his last appearance at each club’s ball park. He was honored at the 2013 All-Star Game. He was honored, of course, at his own ball park on Sunday, the 22th of September. Baseball, like all sports, is cyclical. As the most decorated franchise in the history of American sports, the Yankees appear to have mastered the cycle. Though they are perennial contenders, injuries and a competitive AL East stood in their way this season, as they fell 85-win victims to the happenings of a baseball season. Thus, the 2013 Yankees season quietly ended, and so did Rivera’s career. By the way, 2013 was only the second time the Yankees have missed the playoffs since 1995.
With the retirement of Rivera, comes another significant milestone in the history of baseball. Rivera was, and will be, the last player to ever wear the symbolic number 42, which belonged to Jackie Robinson. The MLB mandated a league-wide retirement of the number in 1997, although players wearing the number at the time were grandfathered. Rivera happened to be the last active player to don what is certainly the most significant uniform number in the history of baseball, and maybe even in the history of American sports. Rivera ended his career with the all-time record for saves, 652. He was a 13 time All-Star and won 5 World Series (including the World Series MVP in 1999).
Disclaimer: If you’re uncomfortable crying in your current setting, reconsider watching…
Hopefully it’s clear why Rivera is a ba(w)ller, now. In retrospect, Rivera undoubtedly made his way through his final season in reverent style, yet it still feels like an unsuitable end to a once-in-a-lifetime career. After all, it was only the second time the Yankees did not make the playoffs in his entire career. While Rivera may never physically stand out on the mound in traditional pin stripes again, a rookie pitcher will walk into the bull pen at Fenway Park to be greeted by:
(Mariano Rivera, Last to wear #42, thank you for everything)
A perpetual reminder of the greatest relief pitcher baseball has ever seen. The way the Yankees handled Rivera’s last stand on the mound at Yankee Stadium may very well have qualified as the gesture for many Yankees and baseball fans, alike. If it didn’t, well then you’ll just have to settle for the future. Future baseball games will become present baseball games, present baseball games will become wins and losses, and these wins and losses will become titles and draft picks. An announcer, hopefully Vin Scully if he’s still kicking, will note that Brian Wilson just recorded his 300th save (he currently has 171). “Wilson has recorded his 300th save! Not even halfway to Rivera’s all-time record of 652!” Keep in mind Wilson is already most likely halfway through his career, if he can stay healthy. And so, It is in this future continuum of games, strikeouts, home runs, walks, ninth innings, and failed attempts at simulating Rivera’s infamous cutter, that the fanfare truly exists. All too often, headline athletes boasting historical careers retire and gradually recede into the past of their sport. But, very rarely, headline athletes boasting historical careers retire and gradually recede into the future of their sport, as they have single-handedly changed the game forever.