In this brash, loud and vainglorious age of egotism, where superstars covet attention and heroes require praise in unprecedented doses, I often daydream wistfully about Mariano Rivera, and wonder what he makes of it all. You see, Mariano had the most demanding job on the most scrutinised sports team in the planet’s most exacting city, yet rarely lost control of his emotions like the pampered celebrities we see today. He achieved things in baseball that may never be achieved again, simply dominating opponents for more than a decade, but never once did he tease, taunt or disrespect, and never once did he seek such vociferous vindication as is presently the cultural norm. Rivera was a megastar, a legend, a baseball immortal, but also a role model, a philanthropist, and as kind-hearted a man who ever bestrode the diamond. Rarely has the contemporary game encountered a man of such towering grace, honour and wisdom; such etiquette, humility and class. In every way, he was the ultimate paragon of comportment.
As the New York Yankees’ closer, Mariano totally redefined the realistic boundaries, limitations and expectations of that once-marginal position. At the fore of a statistical revolution which placed greater emphasis than ever on the specialisation of bullpen management, Rivera became the most dominant, influential and, ultimately, successful closer in baseball history. Owning to a devastating arsenal and an awesome proclivity to completely master any situation regardless of its ferocity, Mariano effectively shortened games to seven innings during the Yankees’ resurgence in the late-90s and early-2000s, providing Joe Torre a solid cornerstone around which to construct a dynasty. For opposing fans and players alike, there was no more demoralising sight in baseball than that of Mariano Rivera jogging in from the bullpen at old Yankee Stadium, accompanied by the cheers of fifty-five thousand knowing New Yorkers and the incessant thumping of Metallica’s Enter Sandman. Ice water would course fluently through Rivera’s veins and the game, as a competitive contest, was basically over.
Above all else, I remember the aura that positively radiated from the man. Rivera was akin to a fallen angel, possessing an otherworldly level of poise and contentment. In appearance and behaviour, he was the archetypal Yankee; a healthy, clean-living, almost regalprince in pinstripes.
Everything Mariano ever did was immaculate: no hair out of place, no dirt on his jersey, no sweat on his brow. His uniform, tailored and worn with scrupulous majesty, almost sparkled beneath the lights; the hat curving perfectly, the pinstripes shouting loudly, the pants resting smartly at the top of shiny cleats. Mariano was astonishingly sophisticated, but without being exuberant or ostentatious. He was so fresh, so clear, and so talented, all whilst maintaining an exemplary respect for the game, that one thought of him as a transcendent gift; a true genius.
To the mortal man, everything Rivera did seemed so damn unattainable, which, in essence, is what draws us to icons and compels us to harbour heroes in the first place. The way he nailed down vital victories yet, out of the finest human decency, showed little outward emotion other than a dignified handshake, was totally beguiling. This guy, this evocative legend, knew what it meant to be a Yankee; knew that, in the Bronx, he was expected to do wondrous things; and, above all else, knew how much courage was required for any man to even step up to the plate. Thus, he carried himself with a resonant elegance, and behaved in a pristine manner, that I’ll simply never forget.
I’ll also never forget just how brilliant a pitcher he was. In his eighteen-year big league career, spent all in Yankee pinstripes, Rivera won 5 World Championships, made 13 All-Star teams, and saved 652 games, more than any other player has ever mustered. He finished more games, 952, than any Major Leaguer in history; pitched more career games with one solitary team, 1,115, than anybody else; and, somewhat incredibly, compiled the lowest postseason ERA, 0.70, of all time. In terms of saves, Mariano completely rewrote the record book:
Most career saves, 652
Most postseason saves, 42
Most consecutive save opportunities converted at home, 51
Most consecutive postseason save opportunities converted, 23
Most two-inning, postseason saves, 14
Most saves to clinch a postseason series, 8
Most saves to clinch a World Series, 4
Most consecutive seasons with at least one save, 18
Most seasons with at least 20 saves, 16
Most seasons with at least 30 saves, 15
Most seasons with at least 35 saves, 12
Most seasons with at least 40 saves, 9
Most seasons with at least 50 saves, 2
Most seasons with at least 20 saves, sub-2.00 ERA, and sub-1.00 WHIP, 7
Most career saves for a single winning pitcher, 72 (Andy Pettitte)
Most career interleague saves, 75
Most saves in a single stadium, 230 (Old Yankee Stadium)
The portrait is one of complete domination, for the best part of two decades. Over time, it may have blended into cliché or mythology, but, truthfully, there was a sense of complete resignation amongst other teams whenever the Yankees manufactured a lead in the middle innings. Rivera would often enter a game in the eighth, mastering the art of the six-out power save, and was so automatic that opposing nines came to feel like they had only seven innings in which to claw themselves ahead. When the Yanks were able to protect Mo with elite setup men, such as Mike Stanton between ’97-2002, and Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson in more contemporary times, the game was even further condensed, with rivals often having only five or six innings in which to make an impact. When contemplating a majority of those innings being played in the grand amphitheatre of Yankee Stadium, before 56,000 intense onlookers, with a more than complementary offence, its not hard to see how the Bronx Bombers became near invincible under Torre; not hard to see how they won six pennants, five World Series’ and 959 games in the nine seasons between 1996 and 2004, Rivera’s prime years.
In fact, it’s hard to define whether Mo ever actually had a prime, in the conventional sense. After all, the guy was still breaking bats, saving games and competing in his own understated manner at the age of 43 in 2013. Except for the occasional injury, he was available every night for almost twenty years as the Yankees’ closer, a remarkable feat in itself, because Major League bullpens are infamously capricious; the arms stocking them notoriously dispensable.
For instance, between 1997 and 2013, as Rivera reigned supreme in New York, the Red Sox, by most measures a model franchise, burned through numerous different closers, from Tom Gordon, Heathcliff Slocumb and Tim Wakefield to Derek Lowe, Ugueth Urbina, and Byung-Hyun Kim; from Mike Timlin, Keith Foulke and Curt Schilling to Jonathan Papelbon, Alfredo Aceves, and Koji Uehara.
What Rivera was able to accomplish, living through three Presidents, two New York Mayors and one move to a new Stadium as Yankee closer, will likely go unmatched for all eternity.
For Mariano, the extreme success of contemporary life was a far cry from what can best be described as humble beginnings. The second of four children born to poor parents in the Panamanian fishing village of Puerto Caimito, Rivera fell in with the wrong crowd as a youngster, largely staying out of trouble yet making poor use of his time. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and, aged 16, began working strenuous six-day weeks with his father, catching sardines on a commercial boat. Mariano had little passion for fishing, much preferring the idea of becoming a mechanic, and often contemplated other professional avenues. It took the death of a beloved uncle at sea to convince the young Rivera to quit fishing and begin focusing on his other talents, namely baseball.
As a child, Mariano was very athletic and energetic, playing soccer and baseball until dusk in the crowded neighbourhoods. Often, the financial reality of life in working class Panama forced the kids to improvise; discarded cardboard milk cartons becoming baseball mitts, fallen tree branches doubling as bats, and scrunched-up old fishing nets acting as balls. Mariano would hone the accuracy of his arm by hurling rocks at unsuspecting iguanas. It wasn’t until the age of 12 that he received his first leather glove, a gift from his father. It became a treasured possession.
Like in many cases around the world, sport became an outlet for Rivera, the one medium of expression and skill requiring relatively little money. After quitting as a fisherman aged 19 in 1988, he bravely concentrated on baseball, dreaming that, one day, it could provide a passport out of destitution.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, top Panamanian ballplayers had slowly started to trickle into the American Major Leagues. Outfielder Hector Lopez won two World Series titles with the Yankees of Mantle & Maris; catcher Manny Sanguillen earned two rings and became a great offensive backstop with the Pirates of Roberto Clemente; and first baseman Rod Carew became a Hall of Famer after stroking more than 3,000 career hits with the Twins and Angels, who both retired his number.
Mariano wanted to emulate these national heroes and earn a living by playing baseball.
Accordingly, in 1988, shortly after leaving his father’s fishing setup, Rivera joined Panama Oeste Vaqueros, a local amateur baseball team, as a large and gangly shortstop. Even as an adolescent, Mo had a graceful athleticism, and seemed to glide across the dusty infield, but he lacked awareness of the game’s finer minutiae. Nevertheless, his team was fairly successful, and managed to qualify for a relatively big regional tournament, attended by Major League scouts. Herb Raybourn, an international scout for the Yankees, watched Rivera at short, and quickly concluded that he wouldn’t make the grade on the US professional circuit. “I saw that he could run,” Raybourn told the New York Times in 2009, “and he had a good arm and hands, but I didn’t think he could be a Major League shortstop, so I passed on him.”
Rivera kept playing, kept learning, and kept dreaming about crafting a purposeful baseball career. When, in 1989, a Vaqueros pitcher was shelled in an important playoff game, Rivera, shockingly, was called upon to pitch in a mop-up role, his manager wishing to preserve the arms in his bullpen with the game out of reach. Mariano was initially shocked, having never pitched before, yet decided to try his luck. Of course, just as Hollywood would dictate, Rivera was fantastic, clambering atop the mound before tossing seven-plus innings of scoreless, shutdown ball. Everybody on the field was stunned, feeling as if they had just witnessed a minor miracle. Teammates Claudino Hernandez and Emilio Gaez were so impressed that they peppered scouts with requests to come and watch Rivera. The Yankees agreed, sending Chico Heron to evaluate the new sensation. Heron saw Rivera throw only nine pitches before hastily inviting him to a Yankees tryout camp in Panama City, the nation’s capital located an hour from Mariano’s home. His pitches were that good.
Around this time, Raybourn, the scout who initially saw Rivera as a raw shortstop, received a phone call in his new position as the Yankees’ Director of Latin American Operations. It was Heron, waxing lyrical about the smooth-throwing pitcher from Puerto Caimito. “I said the Mariano Rivera I knew was a shortstop,” Raybourn recalled in the Times. “But they told me he was a pitcher now.”
Raybourn, preparing for a routine trip to Panama, agreed to oversee Rivera’s tryout, having remembered the kid’s positive attitude and hunger to succeed. In truth, he wasn’t expecting much, yet Rivera threw well in the session and, whilst his 84-miles-per-hour fastball was well below the Major League average, Raybourn was impressed with Rivera’s sweet throwing motion.
“The fluidness of his arm is what I liked,” said the Yankee boss. “He had one of those loose arms. Plus, his ball had a lot of movement. You could see him being a starter or a reliever.”
After carefully considering the situation, Raybourn took a leap of faith, offering the 20-year old pitcher $2,500 to sign with the Yankees. On 17th February, 1990, Rivera agreed.
For a global, multi-million dollar corporation like the New York Yankees, this was a rain drop in the ocean; the kind of speculative flyer on a raw pitcher replicated hundreds of times throughout baseball each year. Logic dictates that, if a team signs ten or twenty such youngsters for barely $100,000 combined, the risk is minimal to non-existent, whilst the potential reward is enormous. The majority of young international players signed to minuscule bonuses may flame out and never reach the Major Leagues, yet if, in every crop of fifty minor prospects, a rough diamond is unearthed, the process is entirely worth it. In this case, for little more than pocket change found down the back of George Steinbrenner’s couch, the Yankees secured a pitcher who would appear in more games, hone a smaller ERA and compile a better career WHIP than any other in the team’s illustrious 114-year history. Outstanding business, by any measure.
After signing his contract, Rivera, who had never previously left his homeland and spoke little English, flew to the United States and reported to the Gulf Coast Yankees, the Bronx Bombers’ Rookie-level minor league affiliate. Initially, he felt somewhat lonely, cast away in a foreign land and able to communicate with his family only by letter. Yet, on the field, Rivera hit the ground running, gaining attention throughout the Yankee system with a fine 1990 season, in which he allowed just one earned run in 52 innings, largely as a reliever. When he did start, in the season finale, hoping to pitch enough innings to qualify for the league’s ERA crown (his 0.17 mark was ridiculous at any level), Rivera threw a no-hitter through seven innings, sending shock waves through the Yankee offices.
In 1991 and ’92, the Yankees transitioned Mo into a starter, firstly at Class-A Greensboro, where he compiled a 2.75 ERA and struck out 123 batters in 114.2 innings, and later at Advanced-A Fort Lauderdale, where he fared well in ten starts before feeling discomfort in his elbow. Whilst attempting to improve the spin on his slider, Rivera began to snap his wrist harder during the throwing motion, which inadvertently caused internal damage to his ulnar collateral ligament, and led to surgery performed by Dr Frank Jobe, interrupting his development.
At this stage, the Yankees were just rounding back into competitive shape under the tutelage of Gene Michael, who, as General Manager during one of Steinbrenner’s periodic suspensions from baseball, was able to construct a core of exceptional homegrown players without fear of The Boss shipping them away in trades for ageing veterans. Yet, whilst the Core Four of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Rivera would later lead the team to a remarkable dynasty, in 1992, they were far from untouchable. That year, Jeter his just .202 in his first 47 professional games with Gulf Coast; Pettitte sparkled in Greensboro but was routinely viewed more as trade bait than cornerstone; and Posada flamed out as a middle infielder and began transitioning to catcher. Rivera, meanwhile, was left unprotected for the 1992 expansion draft, only for both the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies to pass on him a combined 72 times. His career, just like the Yankees’ future, was clearly at an important crossroads.
Mo concentrated on rehabilitating his arm in 1993, before rising through the system as a 24-year old in ’94. That year, he began at Advanced-A Tampa, but was promoted to Double-A Albany-Colonie after seven solid starts. Rivera thrived in Double-A, and received a further boost, to Triple-A, at years end, joining a vintage 1995 Columbus Clippers roster encrusted with future stars, such as Jeter, Posada, Pettite and Mariano’s cousin Ruben, touted as a top prospect in all of baseball.
Incidentally, Baseball America ranked Rivera as the Yankees ninth-best prospect in 1995, behind the aforementioned quartet plus infielders Russ Davis and Tate Seefried, and pitchers Matt Drews and Brien Taylor. Mo finally received his opportunity in 1995, seeing the fulfilment of a life’s dream when the Yankees called him up to the Major Leagues. On May 23, 1995, Rivera made his Major League debut, starting in Anaheim against the California Angels in place of the injured Jimmy Key. Unfortunately, he allowed five earned runs in 3.1 ugly innings, and the Yanks lost, 10-0. Mo struggled in subsequent outings and, sporting a gruesome 10.20 ERA after four starts, was demoted to Columbus.
Rivera’s slow development led to his inclusion in many trade discussions in the mid-1990s; Yankee executives, always eager to add top-end talent at the expense of emptying the farm, viewing him as eminently dispensable. In one particular negotiation, the Yanks were close to including Rivera in a package for troubled Tigers starter David Wells, only for Mariano to surprise decision-makers with a phenomenal showing down in Columbus. He fired a no-hit shutout in a rain-shortened, five-inning game, often hitting 96mph on the radar gun. After conducting due diligence to ascertain the accuracy of those velocity readings, Yankees GM Michael quashed any future trade talks. Mariano had pitched his way into New York’s long-term future.
Towards the end of 1995, Rivera rode planes back and forth between the Bronx and Columbus, yet managed to stick in the Yankee bullpen for the American League Division Series against Seattle. Mo threw 5.1 scoreless innings of high-pressure relief, convincing the top brass to convert him into a valuable bullpen piece the following season, and thus heralding in what proved to be Rivera’s eighteen-year reign of dominance over Major League Baseball.
In 1996, aged 27, Mariano transitioned into a remarkable setup man behind Yankee closer John Wetteland, forming a formidable one-two punch at the end of games for Joe Torre. The tandem was so powerful that New York won 70 of 73 games when leading after six innings, en route to a 92-70 season and the AL East crown. In one stretch, Rivera tossed 26 consecutive scoreless innings and, in 61 appearances, struck out 130 batters, establishing a record for Yankee relievers. In October, he was flawless, conceding just one solitary run in 14.1 innings as the Bombers burrowed through Texas, Baltimore and Atlanta to win their first World Series title in eighteen years. Rivera, who set about revolutionising modern baseball, finished third in the Cy Young sweepstakes, and even garnered some MVP votes. His flirtation with history had begun.
New York executives were so impressed with Rivera that they bestowed upon him the most strenuous duty anywhere in the realm of relief pitching, making him Yankees closer for the 1997 season. After blowing three of his first six save opportunities, Mo settled and, with reassurance from Torre, became an All-Star for the first time, saving 27 games and compiling a 1.96 ERA in the season’s first half. In the Midsummer Classic, he pitched a perfect ninth, locking down a 3-1 win for the American League.
That summer, Rivera discovered the pitch that would become his trademark, and launch his career into the historical stratosphere. That pitch was the cutter, which, when fluidly fired from Rivera’s consistent arm slot, lurched dramatically away from right-handed hitters and barrelled in on lefties, often smashing their bat into a thousand tiny shards. Mariano mastered this delivery, throwing it tens of thousands of times over the course of his marvellous career, and hitters from three different eras never quite caught up.
Rivera’s cutter became arguably the single greatest pitch in baseball history, competing with Nolan Ryan’s fastball, Christy Matthewson’s fadeaway and Carl Hubbell’s screwball as the most dominant weapon ever wielded by a noble moundsman.
Accordingly, between 1998 and 2000, Rivera hit his merciless prime, saving 43, 36, 45, and 36 games, as the Yankees, empowered by his ability to truncate games, demolished the record books, winning three consecutive World Series championships, numbers 24, 25 and 26 in team history. Rivera saved the clinching game in all three instances, shutting down the Padres, Braves, and Mets with remarkable poise and precision, ice water trickling throughout his body. The 2000 success gave Mariano four World Series rings as a Yankee, tying the great Babe Ruth.
The Yankees battled to win another pennant, their fifth in six years, in 2001, but were toppled by the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in what many consider the greatest Fall Classic ever played. Rivera infamously surrendered the winning run when Luis Gonzalez fought off a heavy cutter and, with a snapped bat, fisted the ball over a draw-in Yankee infield in the dying embers of Game 7. The baseball world was stunned, rendered mute by a seismic shockwave. Many didn’t know what was more incredible: that Arizona had beaten New York, or that the unshakeable Mariano Rivera had finally cracked.
To put the events of that night in perspective, Jay Bell, the guy who came streaking home with the Diamondbacks’ winning run, remains just one of eleven men ever to score a postseason run against Rivera. By comparison, twelve people have walked on the moon.
Unperturbed, Mariano continued his dignified march towards history. In 2002, he became the Yankees all-time saves leader, surpassing Dave Righetti with 225; in 2003, he was the winning pitcher as New York secured yet another pennant, besting the Red Sox in a titanic encounter; and in 2004, he made his sixth All-Star team, saved his 300th career game, and logged a career-high 53 saves in 57 opportunities.
However, this portion of Mariano’s career, much like most Yankees of this troublesome era, was characterised by excruciatingly-narrow failure. The Bombers were stifled by a young Josh Beckett in the 2003 World Series, losing ignominiously, whilst Boston famously produced the greatest comeback in sports history to win the 2004 pennant after being 3-0 down in the ALCS. Rivera, quite unthinkably, blew Games 4 and 5, when the Yankees required just a handful of outs to advance to a seventh World Series in nine years.
The Sandman was beginning to look ever so slightly mortal.
However, when I first discovered baseball in the winter of 2004-2005, Rivera’s traditional invincibility was one of the very first concepts I became consciously aware of. I watched documentaries and films about the great Red Sox resurgence, and each one went to immense lengths to accentuate the sheer unprecedented nature of what Boston had managed to do against Mo, eking out runs against this mammoth, seemingly unbeatable beast. I was duly fascinated.
Rivera responded to the acute failure of October 2004 by compiling arguably his greatest all-round season in 2005. That year, he converted 43 of 47 save opportunities, including 31 straight, and set new career bests in ERA (1.38) and WHIP (0.87), whilst limiting opposing hitters to a measly .177 batting average. Nonetheless, the Yankees exited the playoffs at the first hurdle, losing unconvincingly in the ALDS, just as they would in the subsequent two seasons.
The Yanks suffered through a period of relative transition, with Torre leaving at the end of the 2007 season, and the move to a new stadium across 161st Street overshadowing an otherwise dreary campaign in 2008. Mo was still undoubtedly the greatest closer in baseball, despite fierce competition from young neophytes such as Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Papelbon and Billy Wagner.
Rivera just kept rolling along, etching his name further into history. In 2006, he became just the fourth pitcher to reach 400 saves, then edged past John Franco for third on the all-time list a year later. He signed a three-year, $45 million contract prior to the 2007 season, making him the highest-paid reliever in the annals of baseball history. It was all a far cry from the dusty fields of Puerto Caimito.
On September 21, 2008, Rivera threw the final pitch in the vaunted history of old Yankee Stadium, inducing a ground-out from Baltimore’s Brian Roberts to ink the final full-stop in an epic book co-authored by Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and other assorted immortals. He stuffed the famous ball in his pocket, promising to present it to George Steinbrenner, the larger-than-life owner who played a more influential role than most in fashioning the Yankee Kingdom.
“He deserves it,” Rivera remarked, humble and selfless to the end.
As the Yankees transitioned to a new ballpark, Rivera, along with Jeter, Posada and Pettitte, was instrumental in transplanting the memories and feelings from one venue to another. As fans attempted to settle into their new abode, having old friends, old heroes, and old saviours around helped smooth the process. The Core Four were akin to your favourite furniture, providing soothing reminiscence no matter of surroundings. It also helped that the Yankees returned to form in the new ballpark’s maiden season, scaling the mountain to clinch another World Championship in 2009. It was the 27th in franchise history, the 7th of Steinbrenner’s reign, and the 5th of Mariano’s career.
After the 2009 triumph, Rivera continued to pad his Hall of Fame credentials, seemingly establishing a new record every couple of months until retirement.
In 2010, Mo, Jeter and Posada set a hallowed record that will likely never be broken; the long-time friends becoming the first trio in all four major North American sports to play together on the same team for at least sixteen consecutive seasons.
The following year, Rivera, in his age 41 season, tore through the record books, breaking the all-time record for games finished, becoming just the fifteenth pitcher ever to appear in 1,000 games, and, in September, converting the 602nd save of his career, overcoming Trevor Hoffman’s career record.
Marino stood alone, at the summit of relief pitching achievement.
Early in the 2012 season, Rivera twisted his right knee whilst taking fly balls in the outfield prior to a May game against Kansas City, causing him to tear the anterior cruciate ligament. His season was undoubtedly over, but Mariano vowed to fight hard after his surgery and leave the game of baseball on his own terms. “Write it down in big letters,” he told reporters at the time. “I’m not going down like this.”
Indeed, Rivera spent ten months successfully rehabilitating and, on March 9, 2013, announced that the forthcoming season would be his last. The entire season doubled as a farewell tour, with fans, players and officials from every team taking one final opportunity to thank Mariano for his wonderful service. With each stop the Yankees made on the road, Rivera was showered with gifts, praise and platitudes. He deserved every one.
On the field, Mo, ever the gritty warhorse, dug deeper than ever before into his reserves of energy, gutting out a vintage season: 44 saves, 2.11 ERA, 1.047 WHIP. He received a thunderous applause at the All-Star Game, then proceeded to retire all three batters he faced, preserving his immaculate 0.00 career ERA in thirteen Midsummer Classics.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared September 22, 2013 Mariano Rivera Day, and the Yankees held an extensive pre-game tribute to their hero. He became the latest legend to have his number retired by the Yankees, joining Billy Martin and Babe Ruth; Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio; Joe Torre and Mickey Mantle; Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra, Roger Maris and Phil Rizzuto; Thurman Munson and Whitey Ford; Don Mattingly and Elston Howard; Casey Stengel and Reggie Jackson; and Ron Guidry and Jackie Robinson.
Four days later, Rivera pitched for the final time in his lengthy career, entering a raucous Yankee Stadium one last time to the thumping beat of Metallica. He was visible emotional and, as the audible appreciation rolled down from the grandstands, he tipped his cap, waved at the crowd, then got down to work, firing 1.1 innings without allowing a single baserunner.
With two outs in the ninth, one of the great motifs of Yankee history unfolded before our eyes, as Jeter and Pettitte strolled from the dugout to ceremoniously remove Rivera from the game. For the first time, the Ice Man cracked before the watching masses, tearfully embracing his fond teammates and unleashing a shower of emotion. Pride, relief, contentment. The applause grew louder and, by the time Mo took one final curtain call from his adoring public, there was nary a dry eye in Yankee Stadium.
One of the kindest men this grand old game ever mustered bowed out, on his own terms, at his own time, in his own dignified manner. He was still practically unhittable to the last, fooling hitters with that priceless cutter. Yet he was also still generous, still humble, and still the premier role model any kid could possibly wish for. He was still Mariano, and that, most of all, was why we loved him.