The New York Yankees have always been great at honoring their own. They have a long history of pomp and circumstance and that was never more evident than it was on Thursday night. Baseball’s greatest closer, Mariano Rivera, made his final appearance at Yankee Stadium one to remember. Just like Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech, Babe Ruth’s final appearance, and Mickey Mantle Day in 1968, this one will be one for the ages.
Rivera, who announced in the pre-season that 2013 would be his final year as a big-leaguer, entered last night’s 4-0 loss to Tampa Bay in the eighth inning, with two on and just one out. In typical Rivera style, he proceeded to retire the Rays one after the other for the 465th perfect outing of his great career. When he stood on the mound with two out in the top of the 9th inning, teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came to the mound to take him out of the game. He gave Pettitte who is also retiring after this season, a long bear hug. He was overcome with emotion as he also bear-hugged Jeter. Those three, Rivera, Pettitte, and Jeter, came up together with the Yankees in 1995, and as they come to the ends of their careers, they have five World Series Championship rings. During the entire scene at Yankee Stadium, members of the Tampa Bay Rays stood outside the visiting dugout and applauded. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
All season long as the Yankees floundered away in the AL East, failing to make the playoffs, it was Mariano Rivera’s farewell tour around the league that kept people’s interest. In each city, Rivera chose to meet with the groundskeepers, bat boys, and other stadium personnel, rather than front office big-whigs and other well-known baseball people. Just as the great Rivera handled himself during his 19-year career, his farewell tour was low-key.
As the record book closes with the end of the regular season this weekend, Rivera has 652 career saves, the most ever. He also has more post-season saves than any other relief pitcher (42). He has 15 seasons with 30 or more saves, also a big league record. When he becomes eligible for Hall of Fame consideration in five years, he will be a definite first-ballot inductee.
When he hangs up his number 42 jersey for the final time, no other player in the Major Leagues will ever wear it again; not for Rivera, but in honor of the late Jackie Robinson. For almost two full decades, Mariano Rivera has been the class act in a classy organization.
Being a long-time country music fan, I am more familiar with Merle Haggard than the rock group Metallica. I knew that Mo Rivera was also known as “The Sandman” but I didn’t know why until a couple of years ago. That’s when I learned that when he made his way into a game from the bullpen at Yankee Stadium, Metallica’s, “Enter Sandman” blared over the public address system. I’ve come to like the song now simply because of its ties to Rivera. I always thought he was referred to as “The Sandman” because of the way he put batters to sleep in the ninth inning.
Rivera was also known as a pitcher who broke more bats in the batters' hands as they flailed away at his cut-fastball than actual batters he faced in games. He is simply the greatest closer in baseball history.
Being a long-time Yankee and Mariano Rivera fan, I am quite sad that it is coming to an end for him. After getting cold chills as I watched his many entrances into games through the years, it’s nothing compared to watching the “Sandman’s” final exit into Major League Baseball glory!
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).