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Mariano’s Moment

(Photo by the great Bob Leverone)

(Photo by the great Bob Leverone)

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the New York Yankees have produced the best players in baseball through the decades and the All-Star game sendoff last night for retiring closer, Mariano Rivera, produced one of the single, most iconic moments in the history of the sport.

When the best reliever to ever play the game was brought in to pitch the 8th inning he did not know there was a conspiracy afoot. The players on the American League squad had worked it all out. With the exception of the catcher, they would not take their places in the field until after the standing ovation from the New York crowd. And so the Panamanian-born Rivera stood alone, by himself, on the pitcher’s mound, his eyes welling up with tears. His fellow All-Stars from both leagues lined up in front of their dugouts, applauding.

As he was showered with love and respect from the players and fans and umpires, Rivera, as he has throughout his career, epitomized dignity and grace. And sheer talent. You don’t see too many 43 year-olds playing this game. But this is no ordinary player. He wasn’t selected for the All-Star game for the sentimental value. He got selected because he’s still earning it. He has an ERA under 2.00. He has 30 saves. He is a living legend and we are all fortunate to have seen such a talent sometime in our lives.

I am old enough to have seen Mickey Mantle, but at the time he was just a shadow of what he’d been. It was maybe five years ago when my friend from ABC News, Jeff Fitzgerald, invited me to a Yankee game back when I was living in the Big Apple. I distinctly remember Mariano coming into the game in the 9th for the save and Jeff saying, “You know, that’s the greatest closer of all time.” And everyone has known it for damn near two decades now.

So just for the record:

– 638 saves, already a major league record with about 20 more to go for the season at his current rate.

– A win/loss record of 77-60 and a career earned run average of 2.20.

– 13 All-Star games

– 5 World Series rings

– 1 World Series MVP award

– 1 ALCS MVP award

– 3-time League leader in saves

Not goodbye quite yet, Mr. Rivera, but that was one magic moment last night. Baseball fans from every nook and corner of the world, no matter what team they root for, will always remember him for his skill, that unhittable cut fastball and for being one of the class acts in the history of the game.

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