It’s funny to see how fans react in the final month of the regular season.
- For some, it feels like Travis is finally grabbing the gun from momma to put Old Yeller out of his misery (Astros).
- Others saw their season of surprising promise turn into sludge in the final months (Diamondbacks).
- The elite are counting down the days when the calendar and their dream of a World Series will continue (Braves).
- A select group is still jockeying for positioning as they hope to fight for one more day (Rays, Indians, Rangers).
- And the final group is the cast that just didn’t have enough gas. They gave their fans a good run, but just fell short (Nationals, Royals, Yankees).
As you lick your chops in anticipation of the photo finishes, there’s one guy in that one group that is changing the feel on an individual level (with apologies to Todd Helton).
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Add this story to the other one billion about Mariano Rivera’s final season. Add Sunday’s final appearance at Yankee Stadium to highlight reel that’ll last longer than Pete Rose Jr.’s MLB career. But soak this one in because there are some important questions you need to answer at the end.
From my perspective as a ultra-sappy, sentimental person that loves baseball and the New York Yankees—in that order—Mariano Rivera’s retirement feels like a sadder day than my college graduation. I feel like Vitamin C and Green Day should be played on loop during Rivera’s final appearance. There’s very few times that baseball fans feel collectively bummed out by a player retiring.
Last year, we saw Chipper Jones take his tour around the league, but I don’t think he had the cache of Mariano Rivera, Jamie Shoemaker may disagree. Ken Griffey Jr. bounced around and the report of him falling asleep in the clubhouse caused a few people to pop off their rose-colored glasses. There are a few other names that you can throw in there that are Hall-of-Fame worthy, but not on the level of Rivera. We have to go back to 2001 when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn said their goodbyes.
They both took their tour around the league with Ripken Jr. being voted to the All-Star team where he hit a homer in his final game. It also gave us the only endearing moment of Alex Rodriguez’s career when he forced Ripken Jr. to shortstop one last time.
Quick tangent: I’m still upset by the way Gwynn was treated. The All-Star Game was an even more useless exhibition back in 2001 and Gwynn was not placed on that team by the fans, coaches or MLB. That was a huge oversight that still bugs me today.
Which brings me back to the bon voyage of Rivera and how we need to enjoy his final moments of greatness. The “we’ll never see another as good as him” argument is dumb to me because we don’t know what’s in store. That’s the beauty of sports. But we do know greatness in front of us and while we’ve had the year to reflect on what Mariano Rivera truly meant to baseball, pitching and his position the argument has just begun on his true place in history.
It’s fair to say that Rivera’s place is set in stone as the greatest relief pitcher ever, but the argument for greatest pitcher is still one that is back-and-forth. How about arguing for greatest player ever? Seems crazy, right?
I’d agree that a pitcher of any variety can’t be the greatest of baseball player ever. But if the Hall of Fame is the standard-bearer, then by percentage of votes, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan are the greatest players who ever laced up the spikes. At 98.8 percent of the vote, these two garnered the highest vote percentage with Ryan receiving 491 to Seavers’ 425. Ripken’s 537 votes out of a potential 545 place his 98.5 percent as the greatest position player of all time. With all due respect, that’s not a name that would come up when talk about the G.O.A.T.
So now how do you think the all-time leader in saves, a guy with a 0.70 career post-season ERA, 16 series clinching finishes and five World Series rings stacks up when it comes to the notoriously crotchety voters? Could he be the first player with 100 percent of the votes? Or will another writer find this as an opportunity to “make a statement” and not vote for him because nobody is perfect in the eyes of the baseball gods?
Whatever the outcome, I look forward to that argument and ensuing media meltdown. But don’t rush it. Enjoy this last week of his career because there will be no Ray Lewis-esque swansong. Our last moment of the greatest post-season pitcher ever doing what he does best was nearly three years ago. At that point in time we had no idea that that was the end, but this week we can soak in greatness of a person and player truly deserving to be the last to wear No. 42.