SCOTTSDALE, Arizona -- I watched the news conference Saturday morning where Yankees closer Mariano Rivera announced he'll be retiring after the 2013 season, and thought, "We might never see anyone like him pass our way again."
It's not just Rivera's fantastic performance on the field -- and he was even better in the postseason, baseball's biggest stage, than he was during the regular season -- but it's his goodness, his humanity, that we should celebrate as he leaves the game.
Rivera thanked his family and his teammates, of course, and the fact that every single one of his teammates showed up at the news conference tells you how much respect this man engenders from everyone in the game. But he also talked about being the last player to wear No. 42, and what that meant to him, being the last active player to honor the legacy of Jackie Robinson. You could tell he meant every word, and understands exactly what it means to be that last No. 42 in baseball. It happened by happy accident -- Rivera was assigned the number when he first came to the major leagues in 1995, two years before MLB retired the number for all teams -- but they couldn't have chosen anyone better if they had done it on purpose.
Better still, Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo announced that Rivera wants to take time at each stop the Yankees make this season to thank someone connected with baseball -- and it doesn't have to be a player. Zillo mentioned the possibility of thanking a longtime usher, or even a family that drives three hours to see a game just because they love baseball. Rivera wants to give back something to the game that has given him so much, and acknowledge that it's all of us, not just those you see on a national stage, who make the game what it is.
He said he probably would have retired at the end of 2012 if not for the torn ACL that ruined last year for him. He says he's done after this year -- no coming back as his teammate (and, as he said, "member of my family") Andy Pettitte did. That brought laughs from the assembled crowd and big smiles from Pettitte and Derek Jeter, who Rivera also said was like family to him. He said he'd like his last pitch to be one that wins the World Series; given the Yankees' injury and age issues, that isn't likely to happen, but wherever Rivera's last pitch happens this season (with this year's new year-round interleague schedule, it could be, of all places, in Houston, where New York concludes the regular season against the Astros), he'll get a hero's sendoff, well deserved, not just for his play, but for the class he showed in the way he has lived his life.
There are plenty of good people in baseball, many who work as hard as Rivera has, though not many who have produced the career he has. Not only is he one of the best players ever, he's one of the best human beings to have been associated with the game.
Rivera pitched just four times against the Cubs in his career, twice in Wrigley Field (June 6, 2003 and June 18, 2011) and twice in New York (June 17, 2005 and June 19, 2005); he posted saves in all four of those games and the only Cub to score a run off him was Reed Johnson, who homered leading off the ninth inning of that 2011 game. The Cubs actually got the tying run on base when Reed's homer was followed with a single by Rivera's former Yankee teammate Alfonso Soriano. But Mo induced Geovany Soto to hit into a double play and struck out Jeff Baker to end it. I feel privileged to have seen him pitch, so, from this Cubs fan, a salute to this fine man who will undoubtedly be standing at a dais in Cooperstown on a sunny summer Sunday in July 2019.
The Yankees make their only 2013 visit to Chicago August 5, 6 and 7 to take on the White Sox at the Cell. Might be worth a visit there, to see one of the greatest ever for the last time.