As is very well known at this point, Mariano Rivera suffered a knee injury shagging fly balls in batting practice yesterday. He went back for a ball when his ACL snapped, sending him to the ground in a heap. Later, he tearfully addressed the New York media.
In a moment, one of the more remarkable careers in baseball history may have come to a crashing end. And its tragic, as much and more so as the tenure of a 42-year-old relief pitcher could possibly be.
It’s not just that a career may be over. It’s that the greatest career may be over. Rivera, from his switch to the bullpen until yesterday, was the fantastic constant in baseball. He was good for 30 to 50 saves a season, with a WHIP under 1.000 and the most miniscule of ERAs.
And the way he carried himself pulled it all together. He was quiet, professional and, without scowl or howl, completely terrifying. His cut fastball was a weapon that, despite losing a few miles per hour in velocity, continued to baffle batters on both sides of the plate. He was so well respected within the game, by his peers, the fans and the media, that he earned near universal praise. He was and is routinely cheered by Red Sox fans at Fenway Park, an honor unthinkable for another Yankee.
He has been a player unlike any we’ve seen. Year in and year out, he was a force to be reckoned with, a presence in the ninth inning that was the nail in the coffin of so many failed rallies against New York. And with every game closed, he did it with a slight nod, no theatrics.
Bernie Williams, among others, used to profess that Rivera was actually the best defensive center fielder on the Yankees. There were always whispers about possibly letting Rivera spend an inning in center, allowing him to live out one dream at the big league level.
Even if he returns in a year for a proper farewell tour, that likely won’t happen now. If anyone ever deserved that bit of indulgence, certainly it was Rivera. He will be a first-ticket hall of famer some day. He’s won five World Series. He is, without question, the greatest relief pitcher the game has ever seen, and likely one of the greatest pitchers of any respect. He earned every accolade and wish of good will that has come his way in his 18 seasons in the majors.
But he didn’t deserve this.