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Mariano Farewell

[NYT, May 5, 2012]

It’s not that I hate the Yankees. Maybe I do. But what I hate more is the incessant coverage of them. Which is my loss, because it gets in the way of my appreciating the individual players, even when they are exemplars of the game or admirable human beings (though who ever knows the truth about that?).

Thus, when Mariano Rivera — generally accepted to be the greatest reliever ever and, just maybe, a pretty fine person as well — tore his ACL the other night while having his usual pre-game fun fielding batting practice, I reacted not with the appropriate dismay. Rather, I thought, oh no, we’re about to be overrun with coverage.

And overrun we were. Just check out yesterday’s NYT.

But amidst the noise, there was Roger Angell, the best writer on baseball of the last half century. He quickly put up a two-paragraph post at the New Yorker website. From the first paragraph:

No player of our time imposed his will and style more firmly on the game and in our minds than Mariano, or more quietly. In more than a thousand games, across eighteen seasons, we saw his pause on the mound, with the glove and ball held motionless at his waist, his downcast gaze, and then the easy, pleasing motion, with the arm well up and then slashing downward, and the ball—the cutter again, no doubt—quickly writing a final game stat across a sliver of the strike zone. The batter, whether he’d swung or just stood there, was also part of the process, and seemed to share Mo’s pre-pitch gravity as he turned away uncomplaining, almost agreeing, to begin the rest of his afternoon or evening. Game over.

As for yesterday’s blanket NYT coverage, there was a graphic worth studying (see above). What do you know? His nemesis was Edgar Martinez. Career batting average against Rivera: .625. Career on-base percentage: .700. Career slugging percentage: 1.188.

I suppose it figures. After all, Edgar was the greatest pure hitter in the American League for over a decade. His Hall of Fame case may be going nowhere (and these numbers aren’t in themselves reason for him to be enshrined), but his performance against Rivera is telling. I hope he finds his way into the Hall sooner, but if he is destined to wait years longer, I’d love to see him enter alongside Rivera.

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