I understand there must be great disappointment felt by Mariano Rivera that his career, the likes of which have never been seen by a reliever, would end so abruptly and in such an anticlimactic way.
He was supposed to throw his last pitch in October, not finish his career tripping before a Kansas City game in May.
So he said with great bravado that he will come back, at age 43, from an ACL injury.
I don’t mean to be a jerk, and I have no reason to doubt Mariano’s sincerity. But why?
What would be the purpose of coming back?
Most All Star relievers flame out after 5 or 6 seasons. Very few remain oustanding for a decade.
Rivera went from 1996, when he was the set up man for John Wetteland to last year as an elite and dominating force from the bullpen.
He has more saves than anyone in history, has clinched more post season series than anyone and is widely considered to be the greatest reliever in baseball history.
His post season stats are super human and his regular season dominance has made him peerless.
So what exactly does he have to prove?
What milestone needs to be met?
All Individual marks have been achieved.
And the elusive title to redeem the failures in 2001 and 2004 came in 2009. That year every other closer for every other playoff team lost a critical game in the post season, except Rivera who was on the mound to clinch number 27.
It can’t be money. He’s earned over $140 million in his career.
Is it because he wanted a send off worthy of his career?
Other great relievers didn’t have the dramatic ending either.
Rich Gossage was also 42 in 1994. He had bounced around between 1998 and 1994, even going to Japan. He got a 3 inning save on August 8, 1994 for the Mariners in Texas. The players went on strike that week and Gossage never pitched another game. His career ended on the picket line.
At age 38, Rollie Fingers pitched his last game on September 17, 1985. It was a meaningless game between Baltimore and Milwaukee. Fingers faced two batters. One of them, Gary Roenicke, homered. After striking out Rick Dempsey, he never pitched again.
So what is it?
I’ll tell you what it is.
It’s the Yankee culture.
The Yankees can’t let go. The Yankees organization, their fans, the players, the bat boys… nobody can let go of the past and they can’t ever say good bye.
I’ve written about this before and even created a 25 man roster to illustrate my point, but the recent Yankee years have been a parade of former players having curtain calls and coming back two or even three times.
The Yankees are addicted to the rush of bringing a hero back either from injury, retirement or exile on another team. And part of that sensation is the assumption that when the player comes back, it will be just like old times.
Remember Billy Martin returning during an Old Timers Day in 1979… then in 1983… and 1985… and 1988.
Remember Clemens in the suite? Or the return of Tino?
Or now having Andy Pettitte prepare for his third tour of duty with the Yankees (once he gets out of his suit he had to wear to court.)
Of course Rivera is going to come back. That’s the Yankee script. It makes no sense for him to come back. He owes the Yankees, their fans and baseball absolutely nothing. And in a way, if he comes back a shell of his former self, he would have been better off not coming back at all.
And Yankee fans will never admit the POSSIBILITY that Rivera would be anything less than a Hall of Famer in his inevitable return.
Mr. Rivera, you have nothing left to prove and save for that initial standing ovation you will get when Enter Sandman plays one more time.
Your career already has a fabulous ending: The speech at Cooperstown.
Isn’t that better than an ill advised comeback?