It is remarkably fitting and wonderfully symbolic that I write this brief tribute to the careers of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte in the midst of my second year of college. As a life-long Yankees fan, these two men were heroes of my childhood, two leaders who led the team through the monumentally successful dynasty years from 1996 to 2003 and helped lay the foundations for the new era of Yankees post-Steinbrenner. These two were leaders of the team that shaped my childhood ideas of what it meant to be a competitor, a fighter, a winner, a Yankee. Now, while I sit here in my college dorm, straddling the line between youth and adulthood, I see these titans of my youngest memories ride off into the sunset. It is the end of an era for New York, for baseball, and for me.
Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. These were not simply ballplayers to me. They were my heroes, my role models, my examples, my friends. I channeled the fiery passion of Pettitte as he stared in to Posada looking for a sign, daring the batter with that infamous, darkened gaze. His intensity, his commitment to battling when it mattered most, particularly in the postseason, inspired me to do the same. And whenever Pettitte came through for the team with a gutsy performance, there was Rivera, reliable as ever, coming in to nail down the victory. Never fazed, never panicked, never expressing any emotion except satisfaction at a job well done, Rivera did his job professionally and respectfully. One out, two outs, three outs, and that was that. One pitch, one result. Finish the game and shake the catcher’s hand.
These pitchers were not simply baseball players to me. They taught me that the team came above personal pride. Pettitte, ever the reliable number two starter for the Yankees, never the ace, reminded me that there were things more important than being the best. Even in his darkest time, his PED admission, he humbled himself, owning up to his mistake, repenting of it, expressing remorse for it even as he announced his retirement this year, never attempting to fluff over it or sweep it under the rug. Rivera, for his part, showed complete respect to every teammate, opponent, umpire and human being I ever saw him come into contact with. What spoke loudest about Rivera, louder than his many triumphs, was how he handled his defeats (subtly admonishing my own undeveloped ability to lose, which my family will testify was not as developed as Rivera’s after his blown save in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series). In an age when athletes are prone to express their anger vulgarly and obscenely, being immune to the standards ordinary folks are held to, the great Mariano treated everyone as he would want to be treated. Never did Rivera scream obscenities or hurl clubhouse gear after a blown save. He had been beaten fairly. He walked off the field, and let the opponents enjoy their victory.
I will not waste any more of your time detailing these two legendary player’s many accolades and achievements, for these, though significant, are not important. These two men deserve your respect not for what they achieved on the field, but for how they conducted themselves both on and off that field. In a walk of life fundamentally based on winning, it is challenging to maintain one’s humility. Anyone can win ruthlessly, but few can win honorably. Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte played the sport of baseball honorably, and for that, we should all doff our caps, say thank you, and let history judge them from here. I have a feeling time will be kind to them.