"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Exit Light

For most of us, death will not announce itself with a blare of trumpets or a roar of cannons. It will come silently, one the soft paws of a cat. It will insinuate itself, rubbing against our ankle in the midst of an ordinary moment. An uneventful dinner. A drive home from work. A sofa pushed across a floor. A slight bend to retrieve a morning newspaper tossed into a bush. And then, a faint cry, an exhale of breath, a muffled slump.

Pat Jordan, “A Ridiculous Will”

All that remained in Mariano Rivera’s incomparable career as the finest short-inning closer in baseball history was an ending. Last night Rivera fell to the ground on the warning track in Kansas City before the game. He shagged fly balls, something he’s done his entire career–teammates and reporters have always said he’d be a smooth outfielder. He sprinted after a ball and jumped as he reached the warning track. Then he was on his back, his mouth open in pain.

But that isn’t the image that replayed in my mind this morning. What I remember most is watching Rivera being driven off the field in a cart and the smile on his face. Maybe he was embarrassed or maybe he wanted to reassure his teammates that he was okay. Or perhaps Rivera, a spiritual man who has always attributed the events in his career– from his accidental discovery on the cut fastball to losing the seventh game of the World Series–to an act of God believed this was just meant to be and who was he to question it? As if he’d been secretly waiting and now he had an answer.

Things fall apart. For everyone.

The loss for Yankee fans, and the team, isn’t just about Rivera’s production. It is emotional and aesthetic. Even looking at Rivera’s statistics, a parade of type-o’s, has an aesthetic beauty to it. When we talk about Rivera’s pitching motion, his mulish imperturbability, his athletic grace under pressure, we think of artists not ball players: Buster Keaton, Fred Astaire, Al Hirschfeld. His career was a reminded that athletic excellence is closer to art than science.

His career might be over. If so, the last out Rivera recorded was a ground ball to Derek Jeter which was turned into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game against the Orioles on Monday night. Rivera may decide to rehab his knee and pitch again. Nobody would blame him if he walked away. He has nothing left to prove. It is our loss. The beauty part of Rivera’s greatness is that he made us appreciate every performance, every pitch, in a way that kept us in the moment, aware that what we were watching was special.

And so I’ll remember the smile on his face as he was carted off the field. It was a smile of acceptance. And it made me feel better the way he always does. That peaceful, easy feeling. Knowing that he could be seriously hurt, that his season or his career could be over, only reinforced my gratitude. He’s given me more pleasure than any other athlete. For that, I can only give thanks.

Categories:  1: Featured  Baseball Musings  Yankees

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1 RagingTartabull   ~  May 4, 2012 8:41 am

Is this how it felt the morning after Gehrig took himself out of the lineup? Part of me thinks, it must be.

I'll just repeat what I said last night before setting off on a fitful and unsatisfying night of "sleep":

Does this suck? Of course it does, shit it's probably the worst I've felt as a Yankee fan in over a decade.

But we've been on borrowed time with Mo for a looooong time. Would any of us be half as shocked if he walked off the mound clutching his elbow? It's not that he got hurt, it's the way it happened.

Good teams find a way, and I don't doubt this one will too. The hurt is because we're watching a chapter of our lives as fans end. But that doesn't mean we're watching a season end.

2 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 8:45 am

Really good points, man. Right on.

3 bags   ~  May 4, 2012 8:45 am

you know, i've been avoiding the papers and almost didn't even come here. because I just didn't want to read about this. felt like such a downer. but I like what you wrote here alex. made me feel a little better.

well, just a little.

4 kenboyer made me cry   ~  May 4, 2012 8:51 am

Mo is a fighter and competitor. If able to play after recovery, I believe he will as to end his career on the field on his terms. It is said that Mariano is the primary reason for the Yankees success the last 15 years or so; ask Joe Torre. The greatest closer, a top 5 Yankee great of all time, a man of honor, worthy of everyone's respect. If this is the end, we should all be grateful to have witnessed his genius.

Our hearts are broken.

5 Shaun P.   ~  May 4, 2012 8:52 am

[3] Gotta do it like Mo does, shake it off and move on. I'm not sure it will ever feel right, but it will feel better. Eventually. Some day.

[0] "He’s given me more pleasure than any other athlete. For that, I can only give thanks."

Indeed. Thanks be to Mo.

6 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  May 4, 2012 8:54 am

[3] Agreed. Well said, Alex. You and Hank in the previous post both captured it perfectly.

7 William Juliano   ~  May 4, 2012 8:55 am

[1] I agree with all of your points, but I am more interested in continuing to relive that chapter than worrying about the season. Quite frankly, watching Mo pitch is more important to me than seeing the Yankees win another World Series.

8 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 8:59 am

"...Watching Mo pitch is more important to me than seeing the Yankees win another World Series." That's really saying something and I don't necessarily disagree.

9 monkeypants   ~  May 4, 2012 9:02 am

[4] I believe he will as to end his career on the field on his terms...

Or he will end his career off the field on his own terms. As Alex wrote, he has nothing left to prove, and we all figured this was likely his last season. If he decides that he does not come back and play after a long rehab at age 43, that will be his decision and, to my mind, his own terms.

10 kenboyer made me cry   ~  May 4, 2012 9:05 am

[9] Of course.

I admit to selfish hopes.

11 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  May 4, 2012 9:07 am

Do you come back from injuries like those and compete again as an elite major league baseball player?

I dunno.

Do you come back from injuries like those and spend the rest of your life walking around, hiking and swimming with your kids, dancing with your wife?


With the examples of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson fresh in our minds, let's appreciate how much more forgiving "retirement due to injury" is in baseball than in other sports.

Over the years, we've grown to feel awe for Rivera the pitcher. But we've grown to feel love for Rivera the man. The man has plenty of life ahead of him, and the love goes on.

So if this is really it -- and I'd be as happy as anyone to see a miracle return -- I'll settle in and wait for two moments:

First, the day when we see Mariano on the mound again. Yes, in pinstripes. Yes, in the glow of a July afternoon. He'll pump a few cutters past Willie Randolph, Lou Piniella and Paul O'Neill... then later the camera will catch him in the dugout, teaching Whitey Ford a new grip.

Second, the day when I get a grandchild. So I can start talking about how I saw the Great Rivera with my own eyes. They'll have a faraway look, and they won't be dry.

12 RagingTartabull   ~  May 4, 2012 9:07 am

I've seen a lot of people saying, "it can't end this way" and I'm not so sure I agree.

Think about it, there are three ways for it to end with Mo: a dominant year with him walking away on top (ideal), a freak injury, or a slow fade into mediocrity or badness.

Obviously everyone wanted the first option, but it appears we probably won't get it. So in my mind it's better to just have it suddenly END (ala Koufax '66) then have him lose a step and give the Ian O'Connors and the Joel Shermans of the world the satisfaction of writing the hacky "He's Done!!" columns.

It's like getting Al Capone for tax evasion, or Sugar Ray beating LaMotta but never knocking him down.

13 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 9:28 am

After those first two outings, Mariano was throwing blue darts on every pitch. He was as good as ever, and if the YES gun is to be believed, throwing harder than he had in years.

I know he has nothing left to prove. I know he hinted at retirement. But every time a previous contract came up, he signed another one because 1) he was still clearly the best in the world at what he does 2) he still enjoyed it and 3) there's not a lot of other ways to make $15 million a year.

I'm not that optimistic, but it's possible that all three of those conditions (give or take 10 million or so on #3) will be in effect come 2013. I would not be shocked to see him back on the Yankees.

I had plans to go as often as possible this summer until my boys saw him pitch (they have seen him a few times, but I'm worried they were too young to remember).

14 rbj   ~  May 4, 2012 9:34 am

Still trying to come to grips with this.

15 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 9:42 am

11) I agree with you to an extent about Rivera the man. Our feelings go to who we see on TV in the locker room with reporters. We know how his teammates feel about him. But I can't say I know anything about him as a man. I know what he projects for the public. The rest is only assumption. He could be a genuine guy. I'm not saying he's not. I'm just careful to read too much into something that I'm not certain about.

16 BobbyB   ~  May 4, 2012 9:47 am

I'm glad I saw that last inning in Baltimore on TV. I'm grateful for all the years that I got to witness the greatest closer in the history of baseball. I'm not even sorry I bought tickets to the last home game this year, on the chance it might be the farewell game for Mo. He loved shagging flies so if this was how his career ends, I'm satisfied with it. Too bad no one gave him the chance to play center field for a game, though. He'd have been great. We know it.

17 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 9:47 am

I don't know much about the Surfer, but he seems a decent proxy for Mariano - especially in the contrast of form (simple, basic, sleek) and power (immense, cosmic).

On Avengers day, though, I prefer Mariano as the Vision. The Vision is a synthezoid, of the earth, but not human (the Silver Surfer is an alien). The Vision has less obvious power than the Surfer, but it's more interesting. The Vision can alter his density, from diamond-hard to ghost-like.

The Vision's best move is to pass a ghost hand into a villain's chest and then turn it solid. Instant cardiac arrest. For me, that's how Mariano's cutter works. It starts out one thing and turns deadly at the last moment.

18 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 9:52 am

And while the Vision develops a distinct set of human emotions over time, his pervasive calm and consistent logic provide the Avengers (notoriously a group of hotheads - Iron Man, Thor, Cap, Hawkeye, Wasp and Quicksilver are all known for their big personalities) an essential counterweight in their most trying times.

19 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 9:54 am

Yeah, I think Surfer suffers more than Mo. I just like how sleek he is.

20 Greg G   ~  May 4, 2012 10:01 am

I live in LA and have two young sons, so I watch 2-4 games a week on MLB. last night I was surprised that I had recorded a game, and turned it on late after my wife and I watched a few shows on the DVR. It opened with Mo on the ground during batting practice and my heart was in my throat.

Not for the Yankees season, but for a man who has been the antithesis of most modern athletes. Mariano is a man, who even the most casual observer, would describe as a beautiful human being.

In '97 when Alomar hit the homer ending the Yanks season, in 2001 when the Diamondbacks found a way to come back in game 7 and win it, and when the Red Sox finally tasted victory this century. He was there, and with grace and humility, and you felt awful that the Yanks lost, but moreso that Mariano wasn't victorious. We root for our team, but also we root for individuals and he was one who I rooted for more than any ever since '96.

What was so surprising about the rare moments mentioned above, was that he was almost automatic on the mound. When he would come in for the nint it was like coming in out of the cold and being wrapped in a soft dry blanket that just came out of the dryer. No flash, just broken bats and grown men walking back to the dugout shaking their heads or maybe turning around to peak at a man who in his demeanor was so mortal, but in his performance so other-worldly.

Thankfully, if this is the end of his career, we still have Mo with us. We should celebrate his accomplishments and not mourn his loss. I love how Alex puts it "He’s given me more pleasure than any other athlete. For that, I can only give thanks." I feel exactly the same way.

As a Yankee fan, I have enjoyed more than my fair share of watching them succeed, and no Yankee had more of a hand in that than Mo. He is so much more than a player on a team. He is a spiritual, thoughtful, wonderful human being. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to see him pitch, and hope his life is filled with joy beyond baseball. (If this is the end of his career).

Thanks so much for the beautiful writeup Al! Chin up Banterites. Mariano would want you to smile!

21 RagingTartabull   ~  May 4, 2012 10:01 am

(15) "Romeo"....

not saying that's a big deal to me, it isn't AT ALL, but I just remember that and it sticks in the back of my head.

22 Bronx Boy in NC   ~  May 4, 2012 10:08 am

[15] Character leaks out over time, even when people don't want it to. If the "real" Rivera were much different from the nice guy we think we all see, he'd have to be one of the most false and hypocritical people I've ever heard of.

Anyhow, the "dancing with his wife" / "better off than Seau" bit was my real point.

23 RagingTartabull   ~  May 4, 2012 10:13 am

also, I think just mentally and emotionally we'll all handle this a hell of a lot better if Mo decides to spend the remainder of the season with the team.

Obviously he'll have to have his surgery and whatnot, but I kinda expect/hope to see a lot of him in the dugout going forward.

24 rbj   ~  May 4, 2012 10:17 am

[20] Mo really impressed me after the 2001 World Series. He came in for the save, something that would have been especially meaningful for New York. After he blew the save, he just walked off with calm grace. I got that he views that he's lucky to be able to play a game for a living, and in the grand scheme of things, losing a game is not the highest priority.

25 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 10:23 am

22) You are right. Didn't mean to be nitpicking.

24) Agreed.

26 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 4, 2012 10:30 am

I just can't even believe this.

27 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 4, 2012 10:32 am

[24] Grace and dignity.
I just can't even believe this.

28 Matt Blankman   ~  May 4, 2012 10:57 am

Whatever Mo wants to do is cool with me. The man doesn't owe us a thing. What a pleasure to have been watching him all these years.

29 Shaun P.   ~  May 4, 2012 11:16 am

[28] Yes, if anything, we all owe him.

[12] Sadly, some folks (not necessarily the two you mention, but maybe) have been writing those columns for a long time now, anytime Mo shows any signs of failure. I forget where I saw it, but someone did yeomen's work collecting all the NY papers who wrote over the years, "Is Mo Done?" The answer before was always, "No."

I also think that if Mo was losing it, he'd call it a career. But what do I know?

[27] I realized, when talking to a co-worker this morning, that I have literally been watching Mo pitch for over half my life (I was 17 and a half when he started, am 34 and a half now). That shocked me. Has it really been that long? Yep.

I am more not ready to deal with this than I thought I was.

30 Start Spreading the News   ~  May 4, 2012 12:02 pm

No ready for this. I was hoping for a year long good bye rather than this.

Hoping he comes back. But I am selfish and want more pleasure of watching broken bats and the slumped shoulder of the hitter as he watches the cutter break into the strike zone.

31 Branco   ~  May 4, 2012 12:05 pm

I was at the game Monday. It's crazy to think that I may have seen the last pitch he'll ever throw with my own eyes.

32 Dimelo   ~  May 4, 2012 12:20 pm

#42 will only be seen worn again on Jackie Robinson day, once a year, from now till forever, but when I see the Yankees on that day, I won't think about Jackie...sorry Miss Robinson. I'll always think of 25 Mariano Rivera's playing for the Yankees that day.

33 rbj   ~  May 4, 2012 12:26 pm

I think I figured out how I'm feeling -- it's like having your security blanket ripped away. We knew that the birthday was coming up in November where we'd have to put it away, but now it's been snatched violently away.

And even though Mo has a smooth delivery, how much more work can a 43 year old surgically repaired right knee stand up to, and would it make Mo change his delivery. They do say in show business, leave them wanting more.

34 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 12:34 pm

So the Yankees lost two OFs to injury. First they dicked around with the roster and carried 13 pitchers. Then they lost a utility guy, and they finally brought up a position player. But they dicked around again, and instead of just bringing up another OF, they brought up a super utitlity infielder. The super-utility infielder hit a long fly ball in BP and our fricking favorite player (possibly) ended his career tracking it down.

I'm not above thinking like this. If the Yankees didn't dick around with the roster, Mariano would be fine.

35 Dimelo   ~  May 4, 2012 12:38 pm

[34] What if it was Jeter/ARod/Tex who hit that fly-ball? This really is a freak thing, to try and figure it all out and assign blame just seems like an incredibly frustrating exercise because no one is to blame. Sometimes shit just happens.

36 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 12:40 pm

[35] Why introduce the hypothetical? The dude who shouldn't have been on the team hit the fly ball that hurt him.

Just because it was a "freak" thing doesn't mean there wasn't a cause.

37 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 12:44 pm

[35] It's like if I left my wallet at work, and then on my way back to retrieve it, I break my leg crossing the street. The stupid mistake sparked a chain of events with much bigger consequences than could have been imagined by the stupid mistake, but the root of those consequences was the stupid mistake.

38 NYYfan22   ~  May 4, 2012 12:49 pm

[34] I thought that, too. So silly, right?

But if Mo didn't track down that fly ball and blow out his wheel, he'd have slipped on the steps heading back to the clubhouse and ended up with the same injury.

39 Jon DeRosa   ~  May 4, 2012 12:54 pm

[38] yeah it's silly. searching for the root of the accident doesn't teach us anything and doesn't provide a scapegoat. but it ratchets up the frustration unbearably knowing how easliy this could have been avoided.

but i don't think he would have gotten hurt otherwise. of course we'll never know for sure.

40 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 1:26 pm

Feels worse, not better, as the day goes on.

41 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 1:47 pm

SI Photo Gallery: http://bit.ly/qXtbLA

42 rbj   ~  May 4, 2012 2:03 pm

Currently, we're down to only Jeter of the 5 (still include Bernie.)

43 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 4, 2012 2:11 pm

[40] I was just about to say the same thing.

I just feel despondent.

44 weeping for brunnhilde   ~  May 4, 2012 2:12 pm

[42] At least Andy's coming back, a fact now made all the more poignant and for which I'll be all the more grateful.

45 Shaun P.   ~  May 4, 2012 2:29 pm

[40] Its starting to sink in a little bit, which is making it worse, for me at least. We may never hear "Enter Sandman" played during a regular season or postseason game at the Stadium ever again. Its all this little stuff that I keep thinking of . . . just when I think "Its OK", it starts all over again . . .

Cripes. So not ready for this.

46 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 3:07 pm
47 lroibal   ~  May 4, 2012 3:33 pm

Nice post Alex.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Mo.

48 Alex Belth   ~  May 4, 2012 3:50 pm

Mattingly on Mo (via Tyler K): http://nyti.ms/JjPZ6U

49 OldYanksFan   ~  May 4, 2012 4:05 pm

In his interview, Mo was pretty cool, considering the circumstances. But when he was asked if he has thrown his last pitch... he choked up.

Considering his age, and the nature of this injury, it would have been VERY easy for Mo to say...
Yeah... it looks that way.
Yeah... some things are out of my hand.

But instead he fought back tears.
To me, it says.... Mo is not ready to retire.
Not like this.
Even if he was planning to retire after this year,
I don't believe this is the way he's ready to wrap it up.

So here's my opinion.
The mind wants to come back.
But what about the body? I think it's up to the prognosis. If he is told that even with a difficult rehab, the odds are against a successful return,that Mo may surrender to God, and accept his fate.
If, however, he is told that with a dedicated rehab, he should be able to come back 100% (or close), then he will see this as a challenge, and come back (or try to come back).

Mo is a modest man. But he is aware of his legacy, the fans desire to 'send him out' right, how his teammates feel. I believe he has a sense of closure, and that this was not what anybody had in mind.

I think it comes down to how badly he's injured, how he heals, and if he can be 100% (or pretty damn close).

The man I saw on film did not look like he is ready to go down quietly.

50 Greg G   ~  May 4, 2012 4:36 pm

49) I think Mo would have a hard time leaving this game even if it was after a ticker tape parade celebrating another world series. It is tough to move on, and that is the reason you see Pettite back out there. I am 43 myslef, and while I dream of hitting the lottery and retiring, it would be very strange to not work.

Baseball is a game/work, and that probably makes retiring that much harder. He has played since he was a kid, and no one wants to go out like this, and in fact, most athletes don't want to go out at all.

Mo is a very religious man, and I think he trusts that there is an underlying plan for his life. I think his emotion yesterday was natural given that it was just so shocking to think that he would never do what he loved again, but eventually the day was going to come.

I hope he doesn't retire, and I hope we get to see him victorious on the field again, but Mo is a winner no matter what happens from here on out.

Just think of the many players who put on that uniform and had a mere fraction of that success. Think of Don Mattingly who is still chasing a ring after so many years.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver