By PRIYAN GANDHI, ’14
The value of the closer position is often subject to debate among baseball fans. But when Mariano Rivera’s name is mentioned, few will question the impact he has had on his ballclub and on the game of baseball. Apart from his stellar career achievements, his passionate dedication to his career, genuine friendliness, and wholesome personality all contribute to his grand reputation. 2013 will be the last season for the all-time saves leader. Let us take a moment to reflect upon Rivera’s career and how he became the prominent figure he is today.
Rivera’s career began in his hometown, Panama City, where a scout for the New York Yankees noticed his baseball talent. Arriving in the United States in 1990, Rivera gradually became a notable name in the Yankees’ minor league system. Just barely avoiding major surgery for a severely injured elbow in 1992, Rivera did not lose sight of the ultimate goal and eventually became the Yankees’ top prospect. Rivera defied all odds by completely rehabilitating from his elbow injury and moving up through the Yankees’ minor league ranks; he finally made his MLB debut in 1995. Although he initially faced much criticism from those who complained about his bland style and his lack of pitch variety, Rivera remained unaffected. Within a year, he was able to make an immediate impact in baseball by becoming the Yankee closer. Rivera rose to fame early in his career, dazzling opponents with his cut fastball. The “magic pitch,” as some called it, was unbelievably simple. But on top of that, it was unbelievably unhittable. Rivera would go on to save hundreds of games and have his share of historical moments, the most notable being five World Series championships. He broke numerous records, including the one for most saves of all-time. As of April 21, he stands at 613 career saves, with the rest of the season ahead of him to build upon this record.
One of Rivera’s greatest characteristics is that his legacy does not lie in records. His legacy is greatly strengthened by how he was able to survive nearly untouched during a notoriously difficult time for baseball players. Among some of the ravaging talks of performance-enhancing drug usage and the cheating scandals that emerged at the time, Rivera remained pure and persistent. Instead of tarnishing his own career through scandals and media exposure, Rivera achieved legendary feats that fortified his fame. With polished mechanics and a phenomenal array of pitches, he contributed greatly to the four World Series championships won by the New York Yankees in a five-year span. He revolutionized the closer’s role and earned a great deal of respect for the position.
As he enters his final season, the 43-year old Rivera has all eyes looking upon him. He is making his final marks on the sport that has brought him great success. Now a veteran in the league in which he has spent nearly half of his life, Rivera remains a reliable relief pitcher for a team that is one of the world’s most prominent global brands.
Mariano Rivera was able to take on passion and turn it into a worthwhile, long-lasting, commendable, and lucrative career. The game of baseball these days has evolved to reduce and even eliminate the need for good relief pitchers. Still, Rivera has proven his critics wrong by going on to become the most successful relief pitcher of all time. Yankee fan or not, his pitching and personality are admired by all. So, here’s to the very best: may the King of Closers and future Hall-of-Famer Mariano Rivera have a memorable close to his storied career.