Rivera wise not to announce plans
Iconic closer hints '12 is his last year, but keeps decision private
By Hal Bodley | MLB.com Columnist | Archive 02/21/12 7:37 PM EST
TAMPA, Fla. -- For the Yankees, life without Mariano Rivera is so scary manager Joe Girardi doesn't even want to talk about it. Not yet.
The "Godfather of closers," as Jonathan Papelbon calls Rivera, hinted on Monday that 2012 will be his final season.
Rivera told reporters when he arrived at Spring Training that he's made an "irrevocable" decision, but didn't say what it is. He left that to speculation, yet the greatest closer in history sounded as if 2012 will be his swan song.
When Rivera, 42, takes off the pinstripes for the last time, it will be like the day when Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford or Mickey Mantle retired.
Rivera is one of the greatest Yankees ever and will be a huge loss for the franchise.
Girardi doesn't know Rivera's plans, and he said after the workout at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday that he won't ask him.
"Without sharing it with us, he has the option to change his mind," said Girardi. "Do I necessarily feel in my mind this is going to be his last year? No, I don't."
Pausing, Girardi asked: "Will we ever see another Mariano? I don't think so, but we'll deal with that when we have to."
Had Rivera walked into camp on Monday and announced his plans to retire after the 2012 season, it would have been a huge mistake.
Often when superstars say they're leaving the game, it's the right thing. Nothing is more depressing than watching a future Hall of Famer hang on, his talents sapped by age.
Rivera is still effective. Last September, he passed Trevor Hoffman and became the all-time saves leader with 602. He added one more save later in the month.
In 2011, Rivera had 44 saves, a 1.91 ERA and helped the Yankees win the American League East. Those numbers shouldn't trigger retirement.
Hall of Famer Goose Gossage, a Spring Training special instructor and himself a premier closer with the Yankees and other teams, said it's a mistake to announce retirement plans early.
I argued that, in Mo's case, he probably wants to go out on top.
"I think it's something you have to address after the season and see how you feel," said Gossage. "There needs to be some time go by. When it comes time, tip your cap and fade into the sunset."
Laughing, Gossage added: "A guy like Mo comes along once in a blue moon. For the Yankees, it will be like going out there naked without him."
Rivera, on the second season of a two-year, $30 million contract, is beginning his 18th big league season. Only he and Derek Jeter remain from the core group of players that grew up in the Yankees' system and began an unbelievable run when they won the 1996 World Series.
"I exhausted every effort to play as long as I could," said Gossage. "Money was a partial reason, but Chuck Tanner told me a long time ago, 'You make them rip that uniform off.' Guys retire prematurely.
"I'm not saying Mo's in this group, but it's an ego thing. They have to announce ahead of time their retirement. I think you leave and just don't show up for Spring Training. You can contemplate retiring, but if you think you have another year or two left, give it a try."
Relievers often lose their effectiveness over time, but consistency is what makes them great and paves their way to the Hall of Fame.
"Every great reliever had one out pitch," said Gossage. "Bruce Sutter's was a split-fingered fastball, Rollie Fingers' a great slider, mine was the fastball. Mo's, of course, is the cutter. They just can't square it up. Batters know it's coming but can't hit it."
Closers are asked to protect a lead. When they fail, there's always the next game.
Papelbon, now one of the best in the Major Leagues, gives Rivera much of the credit for his mental approach. When Papelbon, signed this offseason as a free agent by the Phillies, was a rookie with the Red Sox, he asked Rivera what was the biggest thing he could do to become successful.
"His answer was, 'Short-term memory,'" said Papelbon. "What Mariano has meant to the game pretty much speaks for itself. He's found some kind of Fountain of Youth. I may not be where I am today if it weren't for him."
Girardi, who as a player caught Rivera, has coached him and now is his manger.
"With Mo, you appreciate every year he's out there," Girardi said. "When Mo comes in the game, you really feel like it's over. You know it's not going to happen a hundred percent of the time. But over the year, you really feel good about your chances."
Be cautious when it comes to retirement, the manager said.
"Anyone who is going to retire, I recommend to them it's all out of their system," he added. "When you retire, it's hard to go back a year later. If you're not sure, maybe you go to Spring Training and prepare yourself as if you're going to play. If it doesn't happen, at least you are prepared and not behind the eight ball."
We know that athletes have sometimes been ridiculed because they said they were going to retire and then don't. By not saying what his decision is, Rivera has the opportunity to think about it all season long.
He emphatically said, "This is my decision. When I want to let you guys know what it is, I will let you know."
If the decision is what it appears to be, the Yankees will never be the same.