By: James Smith
Late last week, baseball fans of all stripes were alarmed when Mariano Rivera, legendary closer for the New York Yankees, collapsed while shagging flies in the outfield; one truism of sports medicine that has trickled outward to the general public is that non-contact injuries are often the most devastating. That was the case with Rivera, who turned out to have torn both his ACL and his meniscus during the batting practice session. The injury will require at least one season-ending surgery, and it is possible that Rivera may never pitch in the Majors again.
The seemingly ageless Rivera has spent eighteen seasons on the Yankees roster, and – whatever the growing distaste for the Save statistic – it’s hard to dispute the impact he’s had on the franchise and on big league ball. Rivera was one of the rocks that the modern Yankees dynasty was built on, his looming, ominous presence at the back of the bullpen tantamount to a late-inning guarantee. He made the occasional misstep, of course – most famously with his blown save in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, and even more disastrously in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series – but the fact is that the only reason that those incidents are so memorable is that they were collectively so rare. In a role where many pitchers are only able to deliver two or three good years before they fall apart, Rivera dominated year after year after year, and did so with only one pitch, a cutter that, paired with his pinpoint control, has become one of the most feared pitches in the game.
Along the way, Rivera has racked up enough accolades to virtually guarantee a spot in the Hall of Fame as perhaps the greatest relief pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. His 608 saves are the most all-time, seven ahead of Trevor Hoffman. Almost as impressive are his 42 postseason saves, also the most all-time and perhaps an even better indication of how crucial he was to those World Series-winning Yankees teams. He was named to the All-Star team twelve times, was named the MVP of the 1999 World Series, and has the lowest career ERA (2.21) since the 1920s.
Publically, Rivera has all but guaranteed a comeback, of course, and it would be a great story if he did make it back, both for the Yankees and for the sport. If not – there’s a Hall of Fame plaque waiting for him in Cooperstown. They say that it’s not about winning or losing, but about how you play the game; but Rivera won well. That’s the most you can ever ask of a player.
[Pic via Wikimedia – Keith Allison]