Mariano Rivera: The greatest closer of all time

Published as: Exit Sandman: Baseball bids adieu to Mariano Rivera

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Mariano Rivera, the all-time saves leader, will be the last major leaguer to regularly wear No. 42.Chuck Solomon/SI


This story originally appeared in the Sept. 23, 2013 issue of Sports Illustrated.

One of the most iconic careers in major league history is ending: Mariano Rivera, two months from turning 44, 23 years removed from his start in professional baseball, will throw his last pitch. Goodbye to the alltime leader in regular-season and postseason saves. Goodbye to his cut fastball, which belongs with Carl Hubbell's screwball, Sandy Koufax's curveball and Nolan Ryan's fastball on the Mount Rushmore of greatest pitches. And goodbye to that trim, tailored figure who could work the noisiest room the way Astaire or Sinatra could, with a preternatural, unhurried cool and a lightness of being that made the difficult look easy. Only the tuxedo was missing.

The son of a Panamanian fisherman became baseball royalty, though it was a hegemony hard-earned, not given. Rivera signed with the Yankees in 1990 at age 20 for just $3,000 and promptly made the first airplane trip of his life to report to spring training in Tampa. He injured his elbow in '92 and had ligament-repair surgery. He was left unprotected by the Yankees in the expansion draft later that year but went unclaimed by the Rockies and the Marlins, nearly was traded to the Tigers in '95 for lefthander David Wells and in '96 to the Mariners for shortstop Felix Fermin, and washed out as a major league starting pitcher with a 5.94 ERA in 10 chances in '95. Only then and in the bullpen, especially in October, did Rivera make his indelible mark.

The end to his career, however, is hardly the end of his imprint. Rivera's personage is so humble, godly even, that his legacy will go on. Few players in any sport have retired with more reverence from his peers. "Probably not since Koufax have we seen anyone leave the game with so much respect," says Joe Torre, Rivera's manager with the Yankees for four of his five World Series championships.

Like Koufax, Rivera has become an enduring ideal, a template of what it means to be a pitcher, a teammate and a friend. But the oral history of Rivera has only begun. This is the story so far, from some of the lives he has touched.

Glenn Sherlock, Diamondbacks bullpen coach, Rivera's first pro manager: This is in the Gulf Coast League, 1990. Mariano was a reliever on the Tampa Yankees. He was a very athletic kid. Very competitive. Threw a lot of strikes. Quiet. Although the pitchers didn't hit, Hoyt Wilhelm, our pitching coach, used to play a game with them. Mo was one of our best hitters and outfielders.

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