In a sport that has been marred in recent years by steroids investigations and doping scandals, there are still some shining lights. However, perhaps the brightest star in baseball had his black dwarf moment Thursday night. After coming into the game during the 8th inning, with 2 on and 1 out, Mariano Rivera quickly mowed through the next 4 batters. At that moment, Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte approached the mound, and Rivera knew that his career at Yankee Stadium was over.
As Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, approached the mound, he seemingly stated "It's time to go." A fitting statement to end the career of a reliever who approached the game with a humble simplicity and respect that everyone admired.
Pettitte then told Rivera, "It's been an honor to play alongside you." And that was it for Mariano. After 19 years of playing professional baseball for the New York Yankees, he could no longer control his emotions: "I was bombarded with emotions and feeling that I couldn't describe. Everything hit at that time. I knew that was the last time. Period. I never felt like that before."
And neither had Yankees's fans, baseball fans, or the general populace. It's a safe bet to assume there was not a dry-eye in Yankee Stadium that night, nor for anyone who watches the video of Rivera's exit.
There is good reason for this catharsis. Rivera is, without a shadow of doubt, the best reliever baseball has ever seen. Period. Over his 19 year career, Rivera racked up 652 saves. The next active baseball player on the list has 339 saves, 313 behind Rivera. The "Sandman" (Rivera's moniker derived from the music he plays while entering games - "Enter Sandman") also accumulated 42 postseason saves, with an ERA of 0.7. Despite the immense pressure surrounding playoff games (especially for the Yankees), Rivera's numbers are equivalent to what most top-notch relievers average over the course of an entire regular season.
Rivera's all-time ERA is 2.21, making him 13th all-time. While that figure may not seem terribly impressive, Rivera leads the category for pitchers from the modern era of baseball (the 12 preceding him on the list were all born in the 18th century).
Today's professional athlete is constantly lambasted for making millions of dollars per year to simply play a game, and doing so without understanding how fortunate they are. Thursday night's moment at Yankee Stadium was so heart-wrenching because it was obvious how much Rivera truly cared for and appreciated the game. His embrace of Pettitte is one of the most genuine human reactions that has ever been recorded - that of utter devastation of losing something one holds so dear. Regardless of one's feelings towards the Yankees or baseball, one cannot help but be moved by the genuine outpourings of emotions from Rivera, his fellow baseball players, and the fans in Yankee Stadium. Rivera may not play professional baseball ever again, but hopefully his legacy of professional and respectful dominance carries on.
tl;dr - Watch the damn video and be prepared to cry.
Image via Wikimedia Commons