My first reaction to the news that Mariano Rivera was carted off the field in Kansas City after hurting himself while shagging foul balls in batting practice was “Why the hell does Joe Girardi allow his 42 year-old, future Hall-of-Famer closer shag foul balls?”
But I don’t like Joe Girardi so it’s easy to blame him for everything.
Mo is a grown man and I’m sure he makes his own decisions and I have to acknowledge that I can’t blame Girardi for everything. I’ve seen Rivera in the field at Fenway doing the same thing. I get it; it’s what he does. I also get that his injury (revealed to be a torn ACL) could have happened at any time but one would think he and the Yankees would be a little more concerned with keeping him healthy.
In any event, watching Rivera get injured was cringe-inducing but only slightly more so than all the follow up he’s so classy, this shouldn’t have happened to him, worst thing to happen to baseball in years, talk that permeated the Internet. When I first saw the video of the injury, on the Kansas City Royals broadcast last night, I felt terrible for Mo. He seems like a good enough guy and you hate to see anyone get injured, especially if it looks like a career-ending injury. (I should admit that if this happened to Alex Rodriguez I wouldn’t have batted an eye so I suppose “you hate to see anyone get injured” isn’t entirely true. I hate to see anyone I like get injured. Everyone else I’m just “meh” about the injury. Unless it’s Slappy. I’m not proud.)
Before the 2012 season began, Rivera told reporters that he had made a decision about retirement but didn’t tell them what it was. There is every reason to think he was going to retire when the season was over. If that’s the case, as I wrote to someone this morning, it seems the baseball gods just moved things along for him. If it isn’t the case, if he was planning to come back in 2013, well then this is a bump in the road, he has surgery, recovers and very possibly is closing games for the Yankees next season. While this is truly a lousy thing to have happen to him I find it difficult to categorize it as a “tragedy” the way so many already have.
And while I’ve always dug Mo (he will always get kudos from me for the way he reacted to the cheers at the World Series ring ceremony at Fenway in 2005) and I think that he’s probably a very nice person, the way folks are writing about him, making him almost saintly, is over the top and he hasn’t even been injured 24 hours. There are two visuals that immediately come to mind when I think of Rivera: One is him splayed out on the pitcher’s mound after Bill Mueller hit the single right up the middle that scored Dave Roberts in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. The other is of him yelling “Catch the ball” to Kenny Lofton in September of 2004 at Yankee Stadium (Lofton, in fact, did not “catch the ball”). Both memories are of Rivera showing us he was human (and hittable) but that second one showed that he could get frustrated and upset over the game just as much as anyone. Heck, if any other pitcher did that he’d be raked across the coals for not having his teammates backs.
He isn’t some angel he has more to him than just being “classy” (good Lord I hate that word, especially when used in sports). People are writing about him now the way they write about someone who has died…Mo isn’t dead, he just got some bad news and I think during a week when we lost an athlete to suicide and where another athlete, now paralyzed for life, gets symbolically signed by an NFL team, we could use some perspective. And I never tell people they need perspective. Usually I find it obvious to have perspective but in this case people are writing about Mariano Rivera like the guy just got a death sentence. He messed up his knee and it might shorten a career that very well might have been ending this season anyway. It’s a bummer but it isn’t a tragedy.
So I wish Mariano Rivera the best…I genuinely do. But last night on the Royals broadcast, one of the Kansas City announcers, after talking about Mo being injured, actually uttered the words, “What’s bad for the Yankees is bad for the game” and there is where my Yankee hate comes back because what’s bad for the Yankees is actually good for (at the very least) the American League East. It’s sad that Rivera most likely won’t play baseball again but I look forward to him and his cutter (and his strike zone) not being an almost automatic save for the Yankees any more.