Mariano Rivera says goodbye and yes, the great Yankee closer reminds us that there is crying in baseball.
by rick olivares
I want to believe Tom Hanks.
In that beautiful, timeless, funny, and loveable baseball film, Penny Marshall’s “A League of Their Own” that has been deemed by the US Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”, there’s that seminal line from Hanks.
“There’s no crying in baseball!” was rated as 54th by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest film quotes of all time.
I love that line too as spoken by Hanks’ “A League of Their Own” character, Jimmy Dugan.
Unfortunately, the New York Yankees are some of the biggest sobbers in baseball. Here are some of those tearjerker moments in the Bronx Bombers’ history.
There was Lou Gehrig and his “luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech after he was diagnosed with the disease that would not only be named after him but would soon claim his life.
There was Babe Ruth, stricken by throat cancer, and like Gehrig before him, giving a short speech that was barely audible.
There was Mickey Mantle Day on June 8, 1969 when the voice of the Yankees, the late Mel Allen said, “Ladies and gentlemen, a magnificent Yankee, the great number seven… Mickey Mantle.” And what followed was a 10-minute standing ovation. Imagine that!
The first three I only saw much later when I was older. What I did catch as a youngster was the game after Yankee captain Thurman Munson died that I caught on television. That was the third time I cried after watching something on television (the first was after watching ‘Brian’s Song’ the film – starring James Caan and Billy Dee Williams -- about the late Chicago Bears running back Brian Piccolo who died of cancer while the second was the last game played by football great Pele on October 1, 1977 at Giants Stadium in New Jersey where the Brazilian played one half for the New York Cosmos and the other for Santos; yes it was televised locally).
That night was special. The Yankees buried their captain then flew back to New York where they played the Baltimore Orioles. They famously came from behind to win largely because of Munson’s best friend, the late Bobby Murcer who knocked in all five runs in 5-4 win including the last two in the ninth inning.
There was the 1996 World Series where New York lost the first two games before blitzing the Atlanta Braves in the next four. It was an emotional season where first year skipper Joe Torre was lambasted early on by the media as “Clueless Joe”. David Cone was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his arm. Dwight Gooden was a reclamation project. And Torre’s older brother Frank underwent heart transplant surgery on the day of Game 5 of the World Series.
There was the highly emotional post-season of 2001 after the September 11 attacks. There was the Paul O’Neill chant in Game 5 of that 2001 World Series. In his final game at Yankee Stadium, the home team was losing, 2-0, to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Thinking they might get another chance to thank him, the fans began chanting his name the entire top of the ninth inning. Hearing the chant of “Paul O-Neill! Paul O-Neill!” gave me goosebumps. Who didn’t shed a tear during that chant and when Paulie acknowledged the crowd? Even members of the Diamondbacks found it such a classy move.
After the third out, O’Neill trotted over to the dugout and doffed his cap to the fans. The Yankees rallied to tie the game and win it in 12 innings.
And now, there’s Mariano Rivera’s last home game. After retiring four batters, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi sent Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter to take Rivera out of the game. Rivera recognized the uniqueness of the moment when he saw his two old teammates come to get him out. When he hugged Pettitte and let flow a dam of emotions that had everyone and myself reaching for the Kleenex box.
The final result of this game, a 4-0 loss by New York to Tampa Bay that remained a game ahead of the Cleveland Indians and the Texas Rangers for one of the wild cards berths, will be forgotten as it has been a bittersweet season filled with highs and lows. It will, however, be remembered as the last home game by one of baseball’s all-time greats.
It was an emotional moment made even classier by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays team who all lined up outside their dugout and applauded. Even Joe Girardi’s eyes were red! Watching the whole thing unfold, I too got misty-eyed.
So forgive us, Tom Hanks. There is crying in baseball.
Why all the outpouring of love and appreciation for Rivera? Because he played the game the right way – respectful of the game, its traditions, and opposing teams. Off the field, he was a terrific family man and a God-fearing one. He helped the poor and his native Panama with his earnings from the Yankees.
On field, Rivera was very dependable and durable for the Yankees. From the moment he took over John Wetteland’s spot after the 1996 World Series, he was a picture of consistency. Plus, he’s the game’s greatest closer and will be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
I count myself fortunate to have watched Rivera and the Yankees live for several seasons. Saw some great games and teeth gnashing defeats. But all in all, it has been a great career.
He will be going out this season with another of the Yankees’ Core Four (that includes Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter) when Andy Pettitte retires for a second time. He’s finally scratched the last of his baseball itches.
The four, along with Bernie Williams were homegrown stars who led New York to an era of greatness unseen since the great Cincinnati Reds teams of the 1970s. If Williams were around for the 2009 title, they would have been called the ‘Core Five’ but he had retired by then.
And now that core is down to one… the captain… Derek Jeter. And for sure, that’s going to be another emotional send-off.
There are two moments in a Yankee game where I would get goosebumps. The first was when Paul O’Neill would leave the on deck circle to go to the batter’s box with The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” blaring in the background. And there’s Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” that would play when Rivera jogged out from the bullpen onto the pitcher’s mound.