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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.

I Love Stealing Players from the Yankees

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Nats-Yankees

I’ll admit to being an intermittent Yankee fan through the years. It’s what happens when your own hometown doesn’t have a baseball team for over three decades. But now that we have this very cool ball club called the Washington Nationals, it was outrageously wonderful to learn yesterday that we had stolen last year’s closer for the Bronx Bombers.

That’s right, Rafael Soriano, the guy who stepped up for the great and injured Mariano Rivera last season is now going to be wearing a curly W on his hat. Analysts have been writing that the Nationals sent a statement by agreeing to pay so much money for the best free agent relief pitcher on the market. The statement being, basically, “Screw All of You.”

See, the traditional baseball world made up of general managers, managers, owners and ornery old scouts who still spit tobacco products- doesn’t like the Washington ball club very much. They think we were crazy to sit Stephen Strasburg just to protect the young kid’s arm a year after Tommy John surgery. They see arrogance in Washington GM, Mike Rizzo’s approach because shutting down your star pitcher implies you’re keeping him healthy for all the future division titles, playoffs and World Series wins you’re going to be piling up.

Many in the traditional baseball world are also just plain crazy jealous. In Strasburg and Bryce Harper, the Nats lucked into two of the most remarkable players to come down the pike in about 20 years. The baseball establishment liked the Nats better when they were a doormat; a sorry little team from a rich but fickle market that used to have to pay a King’s ransom for any marquis talent (see Jason Werth).

But after a 98-win season and the realization that 87-year-old Nationals owner Ted Lerner is, in fact, one of the richest men in the world and certainly the wealthiest owner in the sport, suddenly old DC doesn’t looks so bad as a destination for premier talent.

But the fun part about stealing a Yankee is that back in our old insecure days, that’s what we beleaguered Washington fans thought was surely going to be the fate for our diamonds in the rough. That sometime in 2016 or 2017, Bryce Harper was going to be wearing pin stripes instead of the curly W- that it would be just a matter of time before Stephen Strasburg would someday be the opening day pitcher for the Yankees.

And now we have the Yankee closer- a decision that no doubt was actually made shortly after a chilly October night at Nationals Park when young relief ace, Drew Storen, picked the worst possible moment in the world to collapse. Blowing a six run lead in the deciding game of a playoff series is something you remember. And vow to never repeat.

Drew will get his chances in 2013, but it will be the Yankee closer, the 33-year old veteran Rafael Soriano who will be shutting the door on most nights. Young Drew will learn. But right now, it’s time for the formerly forlorn Nationals to rule the baseball world. And to their detractors: here’s a little tobacco juice in your eye.