Baseball Toaster Bronx Banter
Case Closed
2004-06-25 08:52
by Alex Belth

King of Chill

New York magazine features an excerpt from Buster Olney's forthcoming book about the Joe Torre Yankees ("The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty: The Game, The Team, and the Cost of Greatness") this week. The excerpt in question profiles Mariano Rivera. What makes Rivera so special? Olney writes:

Where other relievers are crushed after giving up a game-winning home run (the emotionally wrecked reliever is a baseball cliché), Rivera remains a cypher no matter what happens on the mound. Gossage sees Rivera’s stoicism as a weapon: Even if the hitters beat Rivera, he says, they never get to him. Rivera does not scream or throw his hat or kick over water coolers; he won’t give them the satisfaction. “And I never will,” Rivera says. “Never. You can’t let them get to you. You have to be the same, no matter what.”

Of course, Mo has good friend in the Big Guy upstairs:

Rivera believes in a higher power. Before Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against Arizona, Rivera surprised teammates by addressing them in a team meeting, and the words he chose confused some of them. After exhorting them to get him the ball, Rivera talked about faith and fate; no matter what happened, it was all in the hands of God. It didn’t sound like him, a veteran teammate said, because Rivera was all about confidence and control. But Rivera intended his words to be a comfort for his teammates, because they were comforting to him.

Hours later, the Diamondbacks scored twice in the bottom of the ninth against Rivera to beat the Yankees and win the World Series, the most notable failure of Rivera’s career. He made a throwing error, allowed two runs, and when it ended—when Luis Gonzalez blooped a broken-bat single over the Yankees’ drawn-in infield—Rivera turned and ambled off the mound, his stride and expression never changing. He looked and moved the same as if he had just completed an inning in a mostly meaningless game in May.

The Yankees’ victory parade in the city was canceled, and Enrique Wilson, the Yankees’ utility infielder, changed his flight back to the Dominican Republic. The plane Wilson was initially scheduled for—American Airlines Flight 587—crashed in Queens, killing all 260 passengers.

Wilson saw Rivera the next spring, and they talked about the twist of fate. If Rivera had closed out the Diamondbacks in the bottom of the ninth of Game 7, Wilson would have, in all likelihood, been on the plane that went down. For Rivera, this was further confirmation that he and his teammates were all subject to God’s will. “I’m glad we lost the World Series,” Rivera said, “because it means that I still have a friend.”

Built this way, Rivera’s psyche is all but indestructible. Most of his successes and failures belong to him, the rest to God. There is nothing ceded to his opponents.

Bill James thinks that Rivera is a dead-ringer for a young Henry Fonda; I think he looks like an illustration by comic book artist Frank Miller myself.

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