This moment has been coming for a long time. It is a period that no Yankee fan had been looking forward to, even before the Great One announced his retirement plans. It was only a matter of time before we got to this point. Here we are, though, just a little under a month until pitchers and catchers report for training. The greatest reliever in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera, will finally not be reporting for duty. His time has passed and new era has begun. It's not 2014, but rather Year 1 A.M. (After Mo) in the Yankee Universe.
There are those of us who remember a time before Mariano Rivera was the closer, or even the set-up man for John Wetteland. The days of Steve Howe and Bob Wickman and Steve Farr – names many fans of this generation know nothing about. Even though I remember the names it's hard to remember those days due to how insanely incredible Mariano Rivera was. I'm not really anxious to go back to the pre-Mo days, either. If you watch other baseball besides Yankees baseball, you realize that we've really been living in a wonderful bubble of mostly stress free ninth inning relief pitching. The bubble is gone.
That brings us to David Robertson who, as the title of this article suggests, has the most unenviable task in all of baseball this season; D-Rob has to bring us back down to Earth. Earth sucks. It's got gravity, it cannot decide whether it wants to be hot or cold, and it's full of unforgiving Yankee fans, a lot of whom have never experienced a world without Mo or even remember that Mo use to be a set-up man in the first place. As Jason wrote yesterday, Hal Steinbrenner has already endorsed Robertson as the new closer. It's great for some fans to hear. For others, they still don't think D-Rob has the "closer" mentality. I'd like to address the latter as bluntly as possible:
It. Doesn't. Matter.
Barring the hilarious and amazing illogic that goes into the whole "closer" mentality thing, being that Mariano Rivera was a set-up man before a closer, it's just truly amazing what a sheltered world Yankee fans live in. It's hard to blame Yankee fans, though. Mo really was that good. So good, in fact, that I'd take a 42-year-old Mariano Rivera over just about every reliever in baseball. The key thing to remember is that it's not that Mo was that good, but that he was that good for so long, and he retired on top.
This brings us to the real problem: The Yankees have to replace the mindset just as much as they have to replace the man. That "Mo" level of comfort of going into the 9th inning with a lead, hearing Enter Sandman come on, and feel like you have a warm, heated blanket wrapped around you. "Hey there, Timmy. It's going to be alright. Rivera's coming in." That's what the Yankees have to replace, and it's irreplaceable. The odds of there being another reliever like Rivera is extremely low. They not only have to be fantastic at the craft, but they have to be fantastic at the craft for almost two decades.
The ultimate point is this: someone has to pitch the 9th inning for the Yankees not named Mariano Rivera, so it might as well be David Robertson. Despite what you think of D-Rob, whether he can handle the role or is just a "set-up" man, it doesn't matter. David Robertson is not going to replace the comfort level of Mariano Rivera. No one else will either, no matter how much "experience" in the role they supposedly have. Rafael Soriano had experience in the role when he replaced an injured Rivera and Robertson in 2012. Not once did he make me feel as comfortable as Rivera did.
All this talk about David Robertson's lack of experience in the 9th inning reminds me of the unenviable task of looking for a job. Job hunting is one of the worst things to do in life, and one of the most annoying things to hear when you're looking for your first job in any field is "Sorry, but you don't have enough experience." This usually begs the question, "Well, how the hell do I get experience if no one is willing to give me a chance?" This is precisely where David Robertson is at right now. He has the resume, he has the skills. He has the desire to grow beyond what he's already doing. Thankfully, Hal Steinbrenner is willing to give him that chance. Yankee fans should be as well. If we don't another team like the Oakland Athletics will instantly swoop in to give him that chance.
There will be bumps along the way, just like there were for Mariano Rivera when the Yankees gave him his chance in 1997. Look how well that turned out. David Robertson needs to be given the same chance as Rivera was, but with tempered expectations. We're asking him to take over for the greatest reliever in the history of the sport. A man whose last name will soon be the new address for Yankee Stadium itself. For the love of everything that is good and just in this world, I really do not want to hear any "Bring back Mo" chants from the fans at the stadium. Be kind, be fair, and let David Robertson be D-Rob and not Mo.
However, if he'd could please change his entrance song to something other than Sweet Home Alabama, I'd appreciate it.
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