Always classy, Mariano Rivera makes retirement official
Mariano Rivera’s journey to the greatest closer of all time began as a skinny shortstop in Panama, who converted to a pitcher and was signed to a $3,000 signing bonus in 1990.
It will officially end at the conclusion of this season after Rivera officially announced that 2013 will be the final season of a 19-year career that has seen him become the all-time saves leader and a five-time World Series champion.
After joking about getting a two-year contract extension from the Yankees, Rivera began the 35-minute press conference by expressing gratitude for everything and everyone associated with his career.
“It’s not too easy when you come to a decision like this, but I would love to say it’s been a privilege and honor to wear the pinstripes uniform that I have proudly wore for so many years in good times, in great times and times of learning process,” Rivera said. “It has been wonderful, I love to tell you guys that after this year I will be retired. I’m retiring from the game that I love and have passion for for so many years and I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you before but I want you guys to hear it from my mouth and not from other one. It’s official now. After this year, I will be retired.
“It has been wonderful. It has been a great journey and I had the pleasure to play with so many great players and coaches and God has inspired me for so many years. I have to thank all my teammates and coaches and owner and managers for that, for making me better.”
Rivera, 43, was joined at the podium by his wife Clara and two sons Jafet and Jaziel. The entire Yankee team in full uniform also attended the press conference along with general manager Brian Cashman, owner Hal Steinbrenner, Executive Vice President Felix Lopez, assistant general manager Jean Afterman and several others from the front office.
“Now is the time,” Rivera said. “I have given everything and the tank is almost empty. The little gas that I have left is everything for this year and after that I empty everything. There’s nothing left. I did everything and I’m proud of it.
“It’s been a journey and one thing that I will say is that I will never stop missing the game or the action in the field and my teammates but besides that, there’s nothing else. There’s just traveling and hotels and all that, there’s no more in me. I’ll just do what I have to do next.”
Spring training began with Rivera saying he made a decision but that he would wait until an appropriate time to make it public. He also hinted in spring training that 2012 might have been his last but after tearing his right ACL in Kansas City on May 3, Rivera vowed to return.
“If I would have finished the season last year, I would have retired last year, definitely but I didn’t want to leave like that,” Rivera said. “I felt like I wanted to give everything and I still have something left and this year I knew what I wanted to do. I don’t want to leave home. I want to stay home but I know that I have a job to do and I’m here to do the best to my organization, to my teammates and to represent the organization the way I have done it for 23 years.”
Rivera enters this season with 608 saves after breaking Trevor Hoffman’s record on Sept. 19, 2011 against Minnesota. He also has a 2.21 ERA and a 0.098 WHIP over 1,219 2/3 innings pitched in a career that began on May 23, 1995 in a spot start for an injury-depleted Yankee rotation.
In those innings, Rivera accumulated 1,119 strikeouts while issuing just 277 walks. He also led the American League in saves three times while totaling at least 40 eight times. Additionally he was a 12-time All-Star and finished in the top three for Cy Young Award voting four times.
However, it’s the postseason where Rivera leaves his biggest imprint. In 96 playoff games, he recorded 42 saves with 11 in the World Series and a 0.70 ERA. He also pitched three scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against Boston, allowing Aaron Boone to hit the series-clinching home run.
Most of it has been done with the precision of a cut fastball, which Rivera discovered midway through the 1997 season after being unable to throw his four-seam fastball straight while warming up with Ramiro Mendoza.
The combination of a lethal cutter and astounding numbers have led virtually everyone in the game to call him the greatest closer of all time in an area that has featured high turnover among other teams. Rivera, in keeping with his humble personality, deferred the credit to others.
“I don’t feel myself the greatest of all time,” Rivera said. “The reason I say that is I’m a team player and if it wasn’t for my teammates, I would have never had the opportunity but I will love to be remembered as the player who was always there for others, trying to make others better and didn’t think about himself at all. That’s the legacy that I want to leave, that I was there for others.
The last regular-season game for Rivera at Yankee Stadium will be Sept. 26 against Tampa Bay but he is hoping his last appearance on the mound will be a few weeks after that point.
“The last game I hope will be throwing the last pitch in the World Series,” Rivera said.
After this year, Rivera said that he will take a long vacation with his family. Once that concludes, he hinted at coming back to work with minor leaguers in some capacity either as a coach or a spring training instructor.
“I definitely will be involved in the game in some way, in some aspect of the game. I love to work with the minor leaguers. It’s a passion that I have. It’s a respect that I got for the game and giving back to the organization or to the game of baseball is just giving the knowledge or the experience that I have within the game of baseball and working with the minor leaguers, it’s a lot of things that go on from the rookie league and to the big leagues and I’ve been through that, so I want to be able to work with those kids.”
Rivera thanked his teammates, many of whom attended the announcement, calling long-time teammates like Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter “family” as opposed to just teammates.
“There is only one Mariano Rivera,” said former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who was Rivera’s teammate for 17 years, in a statement. “There won’t be another person who will come along and do what he did. No one does it like him. It was an honor to catch him and play alongside him for as long as I did. He made my job as a catcher so much easier.”
“He’s meant great things,” Steinbrenner said. “Anytime you have a player who spends his entire career in pinstripes, that’s a special thing. We’re proud of it and in addition to that, that player exhibits all the traits you would expect to see out of all the great Yankees in history, that’s very special and that’s Mo.”
After Rivera throws his last cutter, he will be the last to wear No. 42. Jackie Robinson’s old number was retired in baseball on April 15, 1997 at a ceremony at Shea Stadium marking the 50th anniversary of the color line being broken but any active player with the number was allowed to keep it.
At the time, Rivera was a week into his first season as closer but recently Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie, said she was very proud Rivera was wearing the number.
“Being the last person to wear No. 42, I carry the legacy of Mr. Jackie for all these years and I tried to do my best to wear No. 42 and do it with class and honor,” Rivera said. “That’s what I’ve been doing and that’s what I’ve been trying my best to carry the legacy of No. 42 and I will continue doing that to the end and hopefully the Lord will give me the strength to continue doing it because what Mr. Jackie Robinson did for us as a minority was tremendous.
“He gave us an opportunity to come here and play. He opened doors for us and being the last player to wear No. 42 is a privilege and an honor.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.