When it comes time to vote on Rivera for Cooperstown, there will be no debate. He’ll likely go in on the first ballot, wearing the pinstripes he proudly wore his entire career.
The clock to that won’t start ticking until the end of this season, one Rivera didn’t even expect to be playing. He wanted to retire after last season, but wasn’t going to go out, with the last vision fans having of him writhing in pain after tearing his ACL while shagging fly balls during batting practice in Kansas City.
In typical Rivera fashion, he was more concerned about his team after that game than himself.
“You feel like you let your team down,” he said the night he was injured.
No, Rivera didn’t let his team down. He never did, even if he occasionally failed, most memorably in the 2001 World Series when manager Joe Torre put him in for a rare two-inning save in Game 7 and he allowed the tying and winning runs to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Mostly, though, he was routinely brilliant in a game where brilliance is so terribly hard to sustain. He was even better once the postseason began, once pitching 33 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings on his way to 42 postseason saves and five World Series titles.
Rivera was MVP of the 1999 World Series, a year he finished with 43 straight scoreless innings, though he was never MVP of the American League. Incredibly, he has never won a Cy Young Award, either, a reflection more of the bias of voters to starters than the amazing stats he put up season after season.
Fittingly, Rivera’s first inning of work this spring came on same day Derek Jeter came back from his broken ankle to single in his spring training debut.
Along with Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, they were the core of the Yankee teams that won four World Series in five years as baseball entered a new century.
Their era is coming to an end, as all eras eventually do. The Yankees of 2013 are an uncertain collection of aging and injured veterans, not the swaggering Yankees of a few years back. There’s likely some rebuilding to be done before they are a World Series threat once again.
Rivera refused Saturday to call himself the greatest closer of all time, and that’s fine. We’ll do it for him, and we’ll miss him when he’s gone.
Before that happens, though, we have one more season to celebrate everything about Mariano Rivera and his remarkable career.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg