Whenever Mariano Rivera takes the mound it’s a special occasion. But few occasions in his long and illustrious career matched the emotion attached to his eighth inning appearance in the 84th All-Star game Tuesday night at CitiField in New York. It wasn’t Rivera’s home field, but it was his adopted home city and the New Yorkers let him know how they felt about him when he came to the mound.
One of the coolest sights we’ll ever see on a field occurred when Rivera’s American League teammates stayed back by the dugout as he took the field, giving him the entire stage by his lonesome as the 45,000 fans on hand roared and feted him with a standing ovation. Even more impressive as a gesture of respect and homage was the way the players on both teams, AL and National League alike, stood and applauded right long with the fans in acknowledgement of his greatness.
Rivera, 43, of Panama, has announced that this will be his final season as he rides off into retirement. Man oh man do his New York Yankees wish that he would reconsider. Rivera may be 20 years older than a prospect, but he is pitching as well as he did in his 20s. This was no courtesy selection to the All-Star team for a 13th time. Rivera earned it. At the moment he has 638 saves, which is the all-time record, and every time he pitches an inning he is a threat to break it.
No matter how good they are, even the best baseball broadcasters have been known to slip into hyperbole on occasion when something notable happens on the diamond. But when Joe Buck called Rivera “the best in the business” no one could be found to disagree. It would have been a very short debate. In a sport where many things are subjective beyond the numbers (and even those are open to interpretation) it’s unanimous that Rivera is the greatest closer of all time.
Much more subjective and extremely debatable was a comment made by Buck’s broadcast partner Tim McCarver. He referred to Miguel Cabrera as one of the top ten hitters of all-time. Really? Was my hearing OK? Cabrera is a terrific player and he is in the middle of an awesome two-year run, but there are so many Hall of Fame hitters with longer superb resumes Cabrera isn’t even in the discussion for the top ten. Yet. If he keeps this up he could be, but until then Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Jimmie Foxx and a host of others might get in the way of such a proclamation.
Overall, the 84th All-Star game was good theatre. It moved at a good clip and AL pitching surprisingly and thoroughly strangled NL bats. The victory gave the American League pennant winner home field advantage in the World Series and that may be useful since it was mentioned that 22 out of the last 27 times the Series has been played the team with home field advantage won.
Victories in the All-Star game always raise the issue of league supremacy. Does this mean the American League is better because it defeated the National League Tuesday? One game does not a reputation make, so it’s really hard to make such a claim. It was a pretty good ball game, whoever won, but nothing can top the Mariano Rivera Moment.
With the spotlight and all eyes on him as he came to the mound Rivera waved his cap in thanks to the adulation pouring down upon him. Few players ever have such a prideful public moment–the equivalent of being carried off the field in triumph. Afterwards, during his TV interview, Rivera seemed to be choking back tears.
Neither the ovation nor the tears were hokey. They were as special as the man at the center of attention. Down the road people may forget who won this All-Star game, who the winning and losing pitchers were, who had the biggest hit. But fans will never forget the tribute paid to the game’s greatest relief pitcher and the classy way he handled it.