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Life after legends: Coping in the post-Jeter/Rivera Era

Legendary players are one of a kind, but sometimes things just have a way of working themselves out.

"Hey, I think we're pretty good at this baseball thing"
"Hey, I think we're pretty good at this baseball thing"
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The thing about legends is that they’re irreplaceable. If they could be easily replaced they wouldn’t be legends, would they? And this goes beyond just sports; anyone considered a living legend is hard to even follow, let alone replace. There really may not be much more to it. However, just because these living legends are no longer with the team doesn’t mean that fans have to go on just missing those players. Sometimes, fans can just luck out and have people come in who help fill the void. In case it was not clear yet, life after Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera hasn’t been too bad for the New York Yankees and their fans.

Yes there are other great Yankees that recently retired in Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada, but those two do not mean to the Yankees what Jeter and Rivera mean to the franchise. This is not a knock on Pettitte or Posada, heck Pettitte is my all-time favorite pitcher, and who doesn’t love Posada? But I think most fans can agree that Jeter and Rivera are at the top of the mountain with other Yankee legends. I was at both of their last games (ok technically I was at Jeter’s last home game, but who are we kidding? It was his last game and you can’t convince me otherwise), and I’ll tell you I was a wreck. Emotions were all over the place, and I had no idea how I would welcome anybody who tried to take the jobs of these two players. And to be honest, I did not envy the guys who would be charged with the task.

The only thing that "calmed" me down when Rivera retired was that a certain pitcher named David Robertson was taking the helm. Any of the readers or writers on this site who know me know that I have a very odd and emotional attachment to Robertson. He was my favorite (at the time current) Yankee, and still remains one of my favorite MLB players. So much so that I even own a Robertson White Sox shirsey. I wasn’t nervous about his ability to perform, I knew what he was capable of, but still there was this lingering feeling that wouldn’t go away. That whole offseason, I was so nervous for him, like a parent would be for their child, and the Yankees did not help things by being interested in "proven closers" and their whole "can’t handle the ninth" narrative. I was thinking that the second he has one slip-up the fans would go crazy and "we want Mo" chants would start and it would get to him and he might fail or lose his job. But then a funny thing happened.

It was April 3, 2014, the Yankees were playing the Houston Astros and it was the bottom of the 9th inning with the Yankees up 4-2. In comes Robertson and he works a 1-2-3 inning for the first of his 39 saves. And that’s when it hits me, if Robertson just does what he can do, and he had given no reason to believe otherwise, everything will be fine. Robertson had been one of the most reliable relief pitchers in all of baseball for a few years, so he just had to go in and do his thing. And he did that for the whole year. Sure he had a few hiccups, but not even Rivera was perfect all the time. And his last hiccup gave Yankee fans a memory that would last forever in Jeter’s last game. Besides that, though, Robertson taught a fan base, one which had been spoiled by the presence of greatness and the luxury of never having to worry about the ninth inning, one unforgettable lesson. Even though nobody will or could ever replace Rivera’s presence that doesn’t mean there was no one else who could perform and deliver. By just going out there and doing his job, Robertson really paved the way for 2015’s "Men with jobs I don’t envy". Even when he faltered, he came right back out and just did his job, and that was a lesson he didn’t teach us the fans, but taught other players who would do what Robertson had just done.

Andrew Miller had it a bit easier than Didi Gregorius did when they both put on their pinstripes. Rivera had already been retired for a year when Miller came into the picture, and the Yankees and their fans had already seen that a dominant bullpen/ninth inning was possible even without Baseball’s Greatest Closer. It took me, personally, a long time to warm up to Miller because the presence of Miller spelled the lack of Robertson, whom I absolutely loved and was comfortable with. Miller was the unknown, whereas Robertson put me at ease. Even though I may have been a tougher critic on him and just because fans had dealt with not having Rivera for a year already doesn’t mean they’d be forgiving to Miller. He would still have to prove that he was up to the task. And what did he do? He did exactly what was asked of him, if not more.

Side note: Even though I love Robertson more, I want to take a second to acknowledge that Miller has the superior entrance song and it’s not even close. It’s no "Enter Sandman", but "God’s Gonna Cut You Down" is better than "Sweet Home Alabama."

Miller was about as lights out as one can get, and eventually he started making everyone less and less nervous…except for the opposing batters. As someone who watched Mariano lock down the ninth for so many years, it will be hard to ever feel as confident about the ninth inning of games as when Rivera was in charge of them, but Robertson and now Miller have made it so fans don’t have to be distressed going into the ninth. They would be able to watch it with a certain ease. The great thing about Miller was that he was wonderful all year long for the team. Things could have been much tougher for him if he struggled out of the gate.

The beginning of the season was rough for Didi Gregorius, and that’s probably being more forgiving than his early season struggles deserve. Sir Didi was playing the part of jester more than royalty. He was giving Stephen Drew a run for his money as the team’s worst hitter. That takes a special kind of bad to accomplish, but unlike his double play partner, Gregorius eventually turned things around. Now Didi was in the same boat as Robertson in that he is the first since Jeter. Look at Didi’s 2015 body of work, from how he started to how he ended, what a turn around and it seemingly came from nowhere. Early in the season, the "we want Jeter" chants were in full force because in addition to his inability to hit, Gregorius was having fielding troubles as well and that’s exactly why he was acquired. To be a plus defender and hopefully average bat, yet he was below-average in both.

Then came the middle of June, I’m still not sure exactly what happened or how it did, but Didi just started to hit well. And with the hitting came the better fielding. There were stretches of games where Didi was the hottest hitter in the lineup, and all of a sudden he had this confidence to him. We know he worked with Alex Rodriguez, arguably one of the best shortstops to play the position, to work on his fielding and hitting, but maybe history’s greatest villain taught Didi how to believe in himself and just calm down. Gregorius became fun to watch at the plate, and an absolute delight to watch field. Let’s be honest, after Jeter’s fielding the last few years almost anyone could be fun to watch, but Didi was just something else. And again, he didn’t have to be great or be a legend. He just had to do his job. By doing his job, Didi filled the void of not having Jeter around anymore.

Filling the void. That’s exactly what these players were asked to do, exactly what they needed to do, and exactly what they did. Nobody asked Robertson/Miller/Gregorius to be Rivera or Jeter, they were just asked to do their jobs. It’s amazing how when one thinks of replacing the irreplaceable, sometimes the perfect situation just seems to come out of nowhere. Green Bay Packers fans understand the feeling going from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers, Indianapolis Colts know the feeling going from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, New Jersey Devils fans know the feeling going from Martin Brodeur to Cory Schneider, and now Yankee fans can relate to the feeling of having someone considered a "living legend" and irreplaceable move on but having someone new step in and take charge. The fans of these teams can be considered lucky for being able to go through such an easy transition, but hey I’ll take that luck any day.

How do you feel about the beginning of the post-Jeter/Rivera era?