If Mariano Rivera really is retiring, he’ll only be remembered as the perfect baseball player

Mariano Rivera’s legacy will be that he was the perfect baseball player. He did his job better than anyone ever has. He was at his best when the games meant the most, appearing in 96 postseason games and getting the final out of the World Series four times. Even better, he performed with dignity, with class. He was beloved by fans and respected by teammates.

He’ll be forever linked with Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte, with Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada and Joe Torre. These Yankees won championships and were always in contention, and we’ll remember that part of the deal for sure because that’s what the franchise stands for.

When we think back on these great teams, we’ll also think of something else. We’ll think about how they did the pinstripes proud. They stood for something beyond winning. They carried themselves the way dads tell their kids to carry themselves. There was a calmness about them.

Try as you might, it was tough to hate these Yankees. Seriously, who could hate Bernie Williams or Andy Pettitte? I mean, that’s just about impossible.

Torre and Pettitte and Williams are gone now, and on Monday, Rivera hinted strongly that 2012 will be his last season. He has flirted with retirement talk in the past, only to change his mind. This time, he says his decision is “irrevocable,” and we’ll see about that.

There was a time when we thought of closers as fire-breathing, flame-throwing crazy men. Rivera–and Trevor Hoffman, too–put a new face on closers. They were low key and confident, did their jobs, shook a few hands and walked off the mound. They were not into hysterics.

Our everlasting image of Rivera will be just that: working methodically, breaking bats with that cutter, saving 603 games with a pitch that has been one of the single best weapons in the history of major league baseball.

Rivera’s 603 saves are the most all-time. He’s a 12-time All-Star and finished in the top three of Cy Young Award voting four times. As impressive as those numbers are, they’re only part of the story.

He never embarrassed the franchise. He always attempted to do the right thing. He was always gracious, always appreciative of both the fans who loved him and the gifts God gave him.

One of the best parts of being a baseball fan is that you either root for the Yankees, or you love to hate the Yankees. This generation of Yankees has ruined all that. Rivera won’t be remembered as the greatest Yankee of them all, only the Yankees who did his job better than any of the others and who made the greatness of the pinstripes even greater. As legacies go, they don’t get much better than that.

2 Comments

“Tough to hate these Yankees.” So true.

Fast forward to 2017.

Over 500 BBWAA will get their HOF ballots.

Thereupon listed will be, as you mentioned, a player whose career was as perfect as John Cazale’s. A player with a body of work that only rivals the likes of Harmon Dobson.

But this Rivera’s perfection will not be acknowledged by a perfect vote.

That will be as mysterious as Dolly Parton’s marriage to her beloved Carl. It’s Carl, right?

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