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Wishing for Mariano, Getting a Pauley, and Other Tales of the Brokenhearted

The Tigers released David Pauley yesterday. This is not your typical "the Yankees could use a guy like a reliever the Tigers just released" post, but rather your typical, "relievers get released all the time," post noting how most bullpen pitchers rise and fall faster than anthill kingdoms. Pauley is a soft-tossing groundballer who had pitched very well for the Mariners in the first half of 2011, but was almost equally bad after going over to Detroit as part of the Doug Fister trade. His first spring training outings were not good, and the Tigers said that’s that.

You can go through the list of any team’s relievers over time and, as well as you might have followed the club’s fortunes, evoke a great deal of head-scratching and "Really? They had him?" This was particularly true of the Yankees in the Joe Torre years, when he always seemed to have a rotating spot in the bullpen reserved for some fringe kid he didn’t really want to use unless he was forced to. For some reason, Jay Tessmer is coming to mind right now, but there were a dozen others.

Even closers can be as unreliable as your typical reliever, which is one of the many reasons Mariano Rivera has been so special. When people question who the closer after Rivera is, I think what they’re really asking is, "When will we next have another Mo?" and the answer is, you probably don’t get another one, not right away, probably not for many years and maybe not ever. Pitchers of his consistency are rare. David Pauley is a much more common type.

You could make Mariano Rivera your metaphor for pretty much any kind of person in your life. How many friends do you have that are as consistent as Rivera? How many lovers? How many coworkers can you rely on that way, even if you’re a fireman or a police officer?

This seems like an awfully heavy amount of symbolism to place on a simple pitcher, no matter how great. I don’t believe in idealizing anyone, not even Rivera—I’m too cynical to believe that anyone is a secular saint. If you are, let me know; I could probably use someone like that in my life. I’m talking about Rivera’s pitching only. His private life remains his business, and I can only hope he’s as consistently good there as he is on the mound.

I try to be consistent in my own relationships. If you are my friend, you were my friend yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If I was there, I will be there. I have some friends who are like that as well, and some who are not. The latter often vex me; there are people who you want to be inner-circle members of your life, to be your closers, who cannot be that person for you no matter how much you might think they could be. In some cases, they can’t be a closer for anyone else either—they lack what scout-y types like to call the closer mentality. In other cases, they can be a closer for other people, just not for you. It hurts to see that, sometimes, but in the end, you have to be happy for them that they found a role, a situation, a person or people with whom they could prosper. Maybe Trevor Hoffman couldn’t have been Trevor Hoffman for the Yankees instead of the Padres. Maybe Mariano couldn’t have been Mariano for the Mets. I’m pretty sure about that last one—something about the Mets has never been conducive to long, stable careers.

Maybe you can’t hold not being a Mariano against anyone. It might be too high a standard. That said, if you give up on finding the Mariano-People, what is the point of even starting a relationship? The Mariano-People are the only ones worth knowing. They are the friends and lovers, not the acquaintances, the keepers not the bowling partners.

Apologies to those of you who married your bowling partners. It’s going to be okay, really.

David Pauley will latch on somewhere and get a trial, perhaps, for all I know, from the Yankees, though they would seem to have many more promising options, pitchers who can not only relieve but do so with lightning bolts instead of heavy buttered biscuits that thud gently to the ground when struck. Buttered biscuits have their place, but all else being equal, you should opt for the strikeout guy when you can. Wherever Pauley lands, perhaps he will display that touch of excellence that he showed in Seattle but eluded him in Detroit. Perhaps like so many of us he will spend years trying to recapture something he never had, mistaking luck for talent. Or, and this is my wish, he finds that it was talent after all, that he had some untapped inner consistency, and becomes the Rivera we should all strive to be.

It’s unlikely, but it’s what I want for everyone—and from everyone as well.