Tag Archives: New York Yankees

Jeter Walks Off; Yankee Pantheon Expands

1 October 2014

Right to the end, he rose to the occasion. That last game at Yankee Stadium and the improbably slim chance of coming to the plate again—walk-off base hit. Ending it all at Fenway Park—after years of boos raining down, this time with the crowd chanting his name to mimic the Bleacher Creatures in New York—legging out an RBI single. Twenty years in the limelight and Derek Jeter has always known how to deliver.

What's this? His millionth press conference? Yet he still looks fresh.

What’s this? His millionth press conference? Yet he still looks fresh.

It’s easy for a diehard Yankee fan like myself to eulogize Jeter, but I’ll spare you the gushing praise. That’s easily enough found, particularly from his peers and other baseball insiders. I shall content myself with a handful of statistics and a few pithy statements. But before we get too serious, here’s a sidelong glance at Jeter off the field, where, remarkably, signs of jealousy never reached the press:

Talk about a Murderer's Row lineup . . .

Talk about a Murderer’s Row lineup . . .

 

But here’s where my focus lands: Professional baseball has been played since 1869. In all that time: Only 5 other players collected more hits. Only 8 other players scored more runs. Only 26 other players own more World Series Championship rings. (They’re all Yankees, except for Eddie Collins.) In the post-season, nobody has played more games (158), gotten more hits (200), or scored more runs (111). Dig that—the equivalent of an entire extra season spent against the fiercest competition and Jeter’s production remained at an all-star level.

Jeter and Mariano Rivera savor the reason they play the game.

Jeter and Mariano Rivera savor the reason they play the game.

But when the furor dies down, and we all go back to checking court dockets for the next trial involving a star athlete, Yankees Universe will have added a glittering star to its firmament. Playing for the most storied baseball franchise of all time, in the long shadow cast by the Yankees’ Mount Rushmore—Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle (to say nothing of the elite second tier of legends who include Yogi Berra, Mariano Rivera and Whitey Ford)—Jeter has become the all-time Yankee leader in these categories: Games (2,747), At-bats (11,195), Hits (3,465), Doubles (544) and Stolen Bases (358). He’s also second to the Babe in Runs, with 1,923.

But maybe these final statements sum it up best from the team’s perspective:
He’s been the longest-serving Captain in Yankee history (2003-14).
Not only will his number be retired, but we can expect a plaque in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park—and just possibly, a statue.
He was the last of the single-digit Yankees: Billy Martin (1), Jeter (2), Ruth (3), Gehrig (4), DiMaggio (5), Joe Torre (6), Mantle (7), Berra and Bill Dickey (8) . . . and Roger Maris (9). The trophy case is closed.

Exit Sandman: Mariano Rivera Departs

2 October 2013

October baseball is in the air—but the Yankees are nowhere to be found. Worse yet, we’ll never see Andy Pettitte or Mariano Rivera on the mound again. Half of the legendary Core Four has just ridden off into the sunset, carrying a generation of memories and a few trophy cases worth of World Series hardware.

Rivera walks off the mound at Yankee Stadium for the last time, given the hook by fellow Yankee icons Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter.

Rivera walks off the mound at Yankee Stadium for the last time, given the hook by fellow Yankee icons Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter.

Losing Pettitte (one of the most clutch pitchers of his era, and the all-time leader in post-season wins) is bad enough. Losing the Greatest Closer Ever means even more. For nearly two decades, Yankee fans have been able to sit back in the late innings and let their stomachs settle when Rivera came out of the bullpen to the strains of “Enter Sandman.” That was the first tune in the set, followed by the slicing hum of his cutter and the sounds of splintering bats. Then the encore—Sinatra singing “New York, New York” as the team gathered around Mo, slapping hands over another victory.

Recalcitrant Red Sox fans might consider the above paragraph hyperbole, but Mo’s entire career reads like fiction. Can anybody really have done all this:

Buster Olney’s research suggests that Rivera broken about 800 bats in the course of his career. (His best retirement gift was the “chair of broken dreams”—made completely of broken bats—given to him by the Minnesota Twins.)

Over 900 times in the regular season, the Yanks turned the lead over to Mo. A full 95% of the time, he held it. 95%! The team’s record in post-season play—filled with pressure, facing the best of the best, spotlight shining bright—when giving the lead to Mariano? 64-4.

Jayson Stark tells us that Rivera has 11 seasons with an ERA under 2.00 and at least 20 saves. No other closer in history has more than 4 such seasons.

Mo’s 652 regular season saves stand as the all-time record. That alone makes him one of the greats. But one of the key features of his career which sets him apart is his work in the post-season, where he towers over everybody else. He pitched over 140 innings (the equivalent of two seasons’ work for a closer) and notched a full 42 saves, with a microscopic 0.70 ERA.

Yes, I can still see him in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, turning and throwing a double play ball into the outfield, which meant ruin for the Yankees, but that was an ultra-rare stumble. Consider: Rivera appeared in 32 post-season series, and faced 527 hitters. He gave up a total of 2 HR, the last in the year 2000. (Fellow closer Byung-Hyun Kim gave up 3 HRs in 24 hours; it can happen fast.) And get this: more men have walked on the moon (12) than scored on Mariano in the post-season (11).

None of this (and we’ve barely scratched the surface of discussing his place in hitters’ memories) is even the most impressive thing about the man, at least to me. Rather it is his composure, his dignity, his empathy for others; all of which translates into his deep and abiding Christian faith. Like Andy Pettitte (the Yankee pitchers are two of the most dedicated Christians in the Show), Mariano lives his spirituality away from the spotlight. It’s there, as an essential part of him, but with no fanfare or glib pronouncements. Just deep, rock-solid faith.

Playing stickball in the streets of Panama, Rivera is a shining beacon for the youth of his country.

Playing stickball in the streets of Panama, Rivera is a shining beacon for the youth of his country.

If you’re a Hall of Fame acolyte, book your Cooperstown lodging now for the summer of 2019. Mariano Rivera will be standing at the podium thanking his teammates—and I predict he’ll be the first player ever to be chosen unanimously.

One of the most memorable moments in Yankee history. Exit Sandman.

One of the most memorable moments in Yankee history. Exit Sandman.