In last night's thread about Mo, I remarked how I was going to bed, how I would be sleeping with one eye open and gripping my pillow tight which is an obvious reference to the famous entrance music that plays loudly in Yankee Stadium whenever Mariano Rivera is coming into the game. What's ironic is that I was actually up till 5AM. Perhaps it was the beasts under my bed, in my closet and in my head that kept me awake. Truth be told, it was just one of those nights that I had a lot of thoughts running through my head all at once that just made it hard for me to pass out. I hate those nights, especially if I have to be up early the next day. Thankfully, I didn't. However, here we are the next day and like last night the beasts, or thoughts, in my head are still there. For the sake of this article and this blog, I'll describe just the Yankees related thoughts, although I'm sure many of you would be curious to hear about the other thoughts I think about while in bed. You know who you are!
So yeah, it's now the day after.. The same information is still there about Mo, whether or not he will pitch again this season or ever again. For a while, we will most likely be playing the waiting game, and as we all know the waiting game sucks and we should go play Hungry Hungry Hippo instead. As I thought about that very old Simpsons reference last night when I was thinking of writing this, I knew that many people here would not get it or know where the reference came from because they were too young (they also might not be classic Simpsons fans, but I just refuse to believe that anyone who grew up in that era is not). So after a while of just taking all of the depressing news about Mariano Rivera in, what it reminded me of was another sad Yankee moment in my own lifetime regarding another player I grew up loving. Don Mattingly.Many Yankee fans who grew up in the dynasty area, both the true fans that I respect and can talk with and the spoiled rotten fans that I hate, never grew up with real failure, with losing, with seeing Yankee Stadium with the upper deck barely half full. During that time, #23 Don Mattingly was a beacon of awesome many young fans like myself grew up with. Watching him hit and play the game was a wonder to behold, even in the grim pitching days of the 80's. Then, in the early 90's, something interesting was happening. They seemed to be building a team and improving. Speaking purely from my experience, during that time you started to get the sense that they could actually do it. They could go all the way and win a World Series Championship and maybe my favorite player, Donnie Baseball, could finally get his World Series ring. Then came 1994, when the Yankees really starting putting it all together. At the time I thought that could be the year. My excitement was through the roof, only to come crashing back down with the baseball strike that year. Then came 1995 and the year of the Wild Card. The Yankees managed to make it to the post season and then lost to Seattle in five games. Mattingly's back problems had caught up with him and he retired. That was it. One of the greatest players to ever play for the Yankees, one of my childhood sports idols did not get a World Series ring.
Mind you, it's in no way easy to get to the World Series, let alone win it. Lots of players go their whole careers and never see one, whether they're great or not. Some awful players get World Series rings simply because they are on the right team at the right time. It's just that when you emotionally invested in players you really like, you want to see them be the best they can be. You want to see them receive the awards, the trophies, the rings, and everything that you think they deserve. I understand very well, both back then and now, that not everyone can get everything they deserve, but it was different with Donnie Baseball. He was just SO close to a ring, especially in 1994. That year I really felt it was ours and that our only obstacle at the time right before the strike were the Montreal Expos, who were also making an incredible run that year with an incredibly talented team. The strike of 94' hurt more than losing in 95' did, because at least in 95' the Yankees were beaten by another team. 1994 will always remain a "what if" year for me and I'll never forget it.
So why did Mariano Rivera's injury remind me of Donnie Baseball, you might ask? Besides the fact that this depressing Yankee moment in my life reminded me of the only other real depressing moment of my Yankee life, what I just described in terms of the World Series rings and such is in no way similar. Mariano Rivera has had one of the most successful Yankee careers of any Yankee player in history. He will be even more remembered in the legends of Yankee Baseball then even Don Mattingly will be. I doubt Don Mattingly will ever be a Hall of Famer, whereas the only reason Mo will not be a unanimous first ballot Hall of Famer is because there will be that one guy who wants to be the guy who is known for not voting in Rivera in the first time. So why did this remind me of Donnie Baseball? Two reasons, actually. The first reason is because it just made me think of how fragile humans are can be and how it's so easy for careers to be ended earlier than the player wants. The second reason is because of what come next after the player you grew to admire and root for goes down; who takes over. For Don Mattingly, that person was Tino Martinez. For Mariano Rivera, that person is now David Robertson.
I'll say it right now, there is no replacing a player you've grown to admire, root for, and love to watch, especially ones with as much talent and skill and Yankee length as Donnie Baseball and Mo. They are, to coin a PSA meme, True Yankees ™ and will always be remembered as such. What this unfortunately means for the person who comes in next is that they are under the microscope from the beginning. Unlike taking over for a decent player, or even a good and really well liked player (see Paul O'Neil), taking over for a True Yankee ™ means that you a replacing a legend in the minds of Yankee fans. I remember when Tino Martinez first played for the Yankees in 1996. Not only was he taking over for Donnie Baseball, he was coming from the team that just beat the Yankees the previous year in the playoffs. I did not envy him his task, and really I knew there was only one way for him not to be looked down upon by the mob. He had to be really good. Thankfully, Tino was a very good first baseman and even though his Yankee career was not as long as Donnie Baseball, winning those rings and being apart of that dynasty certainly helped him be fondly remembered by all of us.
David Robertson now has the task of taking over for Mo and make no mistake about it, he will be under the microscope the same as Tino was. The comparisons will all be there and the headlines will already be prepared both if he succeeds in his task or fails at it. There is a slight difference between Tino and D-Rob, being that Mattingly retired and Mariano has not and possibly might still pitch for the Yankees again. Not to mention that Tino had never worn the Pinstripes before that while D-Rob has been on the team for years and has pitched great. However, the same Yankee fan mob rule truth still holds true for D-Rob as it did for Tino back in 1996. David Robertson has to be really good. It's sad, in many ways, since David Robertson is already really good at what he does and was already seen by many, including myself, as Mariano Rivera's eventually successor to the closer role. It was not suppose to be like this though. Like when Mariano eventually took over for Wetteland, Robertson would eventually take over for Rivera. That was the 2nd script I had in my head. The 1st script was that Mariano Rivera would pitch till he's 50 and then say he could pitch forever. Like with movies though, scripts get revised all the time for better or worse. David Robertson is most likely now our closer for this year and has the daunting task of taking over for True Yankee ™ Mariano Rivera. How long D-Rob has this role depends on how the script gets revised later on.
All we are ultimately left with is the waiting game, which again sucks, and our own scripts and hopes. Right now I'm full of them. I have the same hope know that I did in 1996 with Tino Martinez, and that is that the masses give David Robertson a fair chance. He cannot be asked to "replace" Mariano Rivera, because there is no replacing Mariano Rivera. What Rivera has done over the course of his long and successful Yankee career will probably never be seen again. To have that precision, that control, and that "unhittable" of a cutter for as long as he did is simply uncanny and quite frankly, the stuff of legends. Before this freak injury, Mo was showing no signs of slowing down either. That same calm feeling of him coming into the 9th inning with a lead was still there even though he's 42 years old. You watch him pitch, you watch him be Mo, and that's really all you can say at this point after watching it for so long now. It's just Mo being Mo. Now D-Rob has to be Mo in the eyes of a lot of people, and at this point it's just not a fair comparison. It probably never will be. He will take over for Mariano Rivera as the Yankees closer this year, and possibly forever, and that's all there is to it. And Houdini is really good. It's a pleasure to watch him pitch almost as much as it's a pleasure to watch Mo pitch. But he cannot be asked to "replace" Mo, because I don't think there will ever be another Mariano Rivera in the history of baseball.
Finally, it's still very possible Mo might pitch again, if not this year then the following year and the year after that and the year after that. One thing to remember is that despite what everyone has speculated about this being Mo's last year, Rivera never officially stated anything. To this day, Mariano Rivera is the only one who knows when Mariano Rivera is going to officially retire. Like he said last night, he will have to deal with this first and then he will see. This injury might make it Mo's last year and it might not. All we can do now is wait 'til the Sandman he comes.
And as my last thought about all of this... Now I really wonder what D-Rob's entrance music will be.