As the Mariano Rivera farewell tour reached its inevitable conclusion in Houston during the final weekend of the regular season, Major League Baseball witnessed for the final time a man that has constantly redefined what it means to be dominant in every sense of the word. For almost two decades, Rivera has gracefully turned relief pitching into an art form while overwhelming hitters on a nightly basis with a single pitch that rarely eclipsed 95 miles per hour. In a career defined by consistency, postseason supremacy, historic records and an endless array of broken bats, Rivera has rightfully earned his iconic status as a professional athlete. However, his greatest assets have nothing to do with the game of baseball or sports for that matter.
Humility and selflessness are two words that eloquently define the true essence of Rivera. He is a man of deep faith with a passionate commitment to scripture and service. As he makes the often difficult transition into life after baseball, Rivera will immerse himself in various projects and initiatives that focus on the needs of others. Whether it’s building a Pentecostal church in New Rochelle or becoming a spiritual leader to a new generation of Christians, Rivera’s greatest achievements and contributions to society are on the horizon and not in his rearview mirror as a former celebrated athlete.
Unfortunately for the New York Yankees, Rivera’s retirement officially closed the chapter on a prolific era in the history of the franchise. As Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter walked to the mound to remove Rivera from his final game at Yankee Stadium, chills ran up and down your spine. The outpouring of genuine love from Rivera to both Pettitte and Jeter was palpable. As he warmly embraced both teammates for an extended period of time, the 48,675 fans in the ball park immediately realized what they were witnessing and began to struggle with their own emotions. The tears of joy quickly turned to tears of sadness as the grim reality of Rivera’s retirement was finally upon us.
Rivera was the epitome of class, stability and durability on five world championship ball clubs as well as an irreplaceable presence in the clubhouse. He preached the importance of accountability and responsibility, especially on the rare occasion when he couldn’t successfully complete the task of closing out a ball game. Rivera always stood in front of his locker and conducted himself in a professional and dignified manner. He completely understood the importance of being a role model as well as spreading a positive message that focused on honesty, a deep love of religion and family.
On August 5th, Major League Baseball officially announced that Alex Rodriguez had been suspended for 211 games based on the grounds of a “non-analytical positive” and his attempts to “obstruct and frustrate” the Biogenesis investigation. Within a matter of days, Rodriguez had appealed the historic suspension and began his aggressive retaliation against multiple parties through the media and the legal system. By the conclusion of the arbitration hearing’s first week in early October, Rodriguez had filed lawsuits against Major League Baseball, Dr. Chris Ahmad and New York Presbyterian / Columbia University Medical Center.
As a result of the arbitration hearing, Fredric Horowitz has become a household name throughout Major League Baseball. The Santa Monica, California arbitrator and mediator could become a historical baseball figure in the same manner as one of his predecessors, Peter Seitz. Seitz ruled in 1974 that a breach in contract had indeed existed between Oakland Athletics owner Charles Finley and Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter. Hunter was awarded free agency and the eventual abolishment of the reserve clause had officially begun. Horowitz, the appointed arbitrator for Major League Baseball, has been put in the uncomfortable position of reviewing Rodriguez’s appeal and either upholding a lengthy suspension or overruling it.
An uncertain future within the game of baseball weighs heavily on the mind of the tarnished three-time American League Most Valuable Player. Any severe and unprecedented suspension that is decided as a result of the arbitration hearing will be the final death knell in the career of a ball player who was once destined as a teenager to have a bronze plaque hanging in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Unlike his former teammate, Rivera’s enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame is essentially guaranteed and already viewed as a highly anticipated event during the summer of 2019. Rivera is the embodiment of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s criteria regarding sportsmanship, integrity and character while Rodriguez has unfortunately become the antithesis. In the opinion of many, Rivera could become the first unanimous selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
Rodriguez’s admitted usage of performance enhancing substances in February 2009 has raised many questions regarding the legitimacy of his career achievements. Much to the dismay of baseball fans, performance enhancing substances became a part of Rodriguez’s regimen throughout his three seasons with the Texas Rangers (2001 – 2003). During this time, Rodriguez had won the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award (2003) while hitting 156 home runs and eclipsing 1.000 in On Base Plus Slugging Percentage. Rodriguez had a combined WAR of 25.6 (an average of 8.53 per season) while playing for a ball club that had finished in last place each season that he was in Texas. Besides talking about the pressures to perform at an elite level on a daily basis, Rodriguez has always been quick to identify that performance enhancing substances were part of the “culture” within Major League Baseball during his years of indiscretion.
The conclusion of the 2000 season can be identified as the clear line of demarcation in Rodriguez’s turbulent career. In some ways, it symbolizes the end of authenticity. At season’s end, Rodriguez was a 25 year old free agent on the cusp of extraordinary wealth and fame. He was already a five-time American League all-star that had achieved a .309 career batting average over 3,100 at bats at the major league level with an On Base Plus Slugging Percentage of .934. In his final season with the Seattle Mariners (2000), Rodriguez had the second highest Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in all of Major League Baseball at 10.3. To put it in perspective, only five position players since 1975 have had a higher single season WAR than Rodriguez in 2000: three Hall of Famers in Robin Yount (10.5 – 1982), Joe Morgan (11.0 – 1975) and Cal Ripken, Jr. (11.5 – 1991), Barry Bonds (10.6 – 2004, 11.8 – 2002 and 11.9 – 2001) and Mike Trout (10.9 – 2012). Sammy Sosa also had achieved a WAR of 10.3 (2001).
Besides finishing second to the American League Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez (11.7) in terms of WAR, he was once hailed as baseball’s future home run king. Bonds’ eventual ascension to the zenith of prolific home run hitters would only be temporary. At season’s end in 2000, Rodriguez was hitting a home run every 13.51 at bats. He was also projected to be a perennial candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award as he embarked upon free agency.
After seven seasons with the Seattle Mariners, Rodriguez had accumulated 189 home runs. To put it in a historical context, Hank Aaron had hit 179 home runs by the age of 25 while Babe Ruth only had 103. Even Bonds only had 117 home runs by the time he was 25. The moment Bonds had broken Aaron’s home run record on August 7, 2007, you knew that Rodriguez wasn’t too far behind and that he would use his pursuit of the record as another opportunity to accumulate extraordinary wealth through lucrative milestone incentives.
Regrettably for the Yankees, they had given Rodriguez 30 million reasons to become baseball’s all-time leader in career home runs. If Rodriguez hits another six home runs, he will tie Willie Mays (660) and earn an additional $6 million. The five home run milestone incentives (660, 714, 755, 762, and 763) initially made sense to the Yankees in 2007 since they knew the monetary value of Rodriguez becoming the undisputed all-time leader in career home runs while wearing pinstripes. Also, the prestige of having a member of the New York Yankees once again reclaim the hallowed record was quite attractive to the franchise. Sadly, Rodriguez is also only 61 hits away from 3,000 as well.
Any semblance of authenticity regarding Rodriguez and his career achievements ended on October 1, 2000 when he went 1 for 4 with a home run in his final game with the Mariners. Who would have thought that Rodriguez’s 189th career home run in the fourth inning off of pitcher Mark Petkovsek of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim would be his final major league hit untainted by the stain of performance enhancing substances? Former pitcher and current ESPN baseball analyst Curt Schilling has stated that he doubts the legitimacy of every statistic that Rodriguez had accumulated during his 19 seasons in the major leagues.
The unadulterated adoration for Rivera throughout his magnificent career was heartfelt and genuine. As the fans serenaded the iconic closer as he was officially saying goodbye to Yankee Stadium, you got the sense that Rodriguez was the loneliest man in the ball park that evening. It must have dawned on him that he will never receive a grand sendoff or will be held in high regard by the Yankees or Major League Baseball. Rivera treated every day that he wore a Yankees uniform as if it were a privilege while Rodriguez still views it as a sense of entitlement. For a man that has everything that money can buy, Rodriguez will never obtain the one thing that Rivera has in bushels: love.