I have been fortunate to watch two ballplayers who are the best at what they do. The first is lead-off specialist and base-stealer extraordinary, Rickey Henderson. Rivera, probably the greatest relief pitcher, certainly the greatest “closer,” is the second. Two more different personalities could not be imagined. Henderson has rarely if ever been described as “a team player.” But baseball is an odd mix of teamwork and the individual talent. Rivera has always been team first. Mo is also a Panamanian gentleman of deep humility. Rickey…well, Rickey is Rickey.
I have also been fortunate to see the entire Rivera career unfold, as a fan, from the first-round playoff, second (the first was held on Yom Kippur, which I would not attend; I also came by a ticket on pure faith [that word again!] alone as I ordered two seats at a time in the season when the Yankees were a long shot to be playing at all thro October—a club for some fifteen years out of the playoffs picture) game in 1995, when a skinny kid, with a history of arm trouble and an unbelievable fast ball, was brought in by tyro-manager Buck Showalter to face a powerful Seattle Mariners lineup over the course of a few innings. It was long before Rivera’s ultimate role. (He had marked similarities to Ron Guidry, another lean athlete with a history of arm woes: another late bloomer with a single pitch that could not be hit.) Rivera pitched brilliantly that night. I never imagined I was watching the birth of the best.