The news last night that the Yankees had agreed to a two year deal worth $30 million was received with both glee and gloom. On the one hand, the thought of the regal Rivera hunching over the mound as he starts his delivery has become one of the true joys of baseball life. On the other hand, the pitcher is over 40 and no matter how automatic he has appeared, he has to fall victim to age sooner or later. The thoughts of an ineffective Rivera getting boxed around repeatedly is nightmarish and scary.
We want all of our heroes to ride into the sunset like Gary Cooper. Unbeaten, unchallenged, we want heroes to go out on top after one more defining moment. For many of us, that moment was the 2009 World Series when Rivera was again the King of the Closers sealing his fifth ring in a triumphant career. That would have been a good moment to get on the horse, say goodbye to the kid and ride off. But that didn't happen. The hero stayed another season and it was another good one. Five hundred notches were written from his gun. A milestone like that would have been another good time to ride away.
But Rivera won't ride away. And why should he as long as people are willing to pay him $15 million a year to pitch 60 to 70 innings? Some sources indicated that he was offered a three year deal for more money by another team and that's why the Yankees closed the deal so fast. That's possible. But that would have been like Rivera joining forces with the miners instead of the ranchers. So he took less money and two years from the Yankees and for an aging hero, there is risk ahead.
We already know that closers are vastly overrated. Oh, Rivera is worth his salary based on his performance. But there is the lingering thought that another good arm could do nearly as well. But Rivera has gone beyond what we all know intrinsically and has become a legend. His legend will live on for many years to come and it is perfectly likely that he will be elected to the Hall of Fame. But no one who loves the legend and the hero behind it wants the legend to gain some bullet holes in it.
Sure, some say that the 2001 World Series was his fault. Geez, a bloop, broken-bat single over a drawn in infield? Please. Some say the legend was dinged again by the 2004 Red Sox. On the contrary, the legend made the Red Sox story that much more compelling and dramatic. The legend is intact. For now.
But Rivera is moving into Trevor Hoffman territory. It was painful to watch Hoffman's struggles last year for the Brewers. Hoffman actually had a good second half, so the story was at least palatable by the end, but Hoffman throws more than one pitch. Mariano Rivera throws one pitch. That one pitch combined with Rivera's uncanny ability to repeat his delivery, hit his spots and break bats has carried him all these years. If the pitch fails him, what does he turn to?
There was sadness in the boy's face when Gary Cooper rode away. The boy didn't want Cooper to leave. But Cooper leaving when he did was what kept him a legend in that boy's mind forever. The same would have happened if Rivera had ridden away after never faltering through all these years. This boy doesn't want him to leave. His grace, carriage and class teaches us each time he takes the mound. But so help this Fan, this writer won't be able to watch if Rivera stops being effective and can no longer dominate. That would be much too painful.