Updated: Mariano Rivera’s Torn ACL: The Luck Runs Out

Update Friday 5:45 EDT: Mariano Rivera answers one question, tweeting:

Thank you fans, friends and family for your prayers, well wishes and support. I will be ok. I will be back.

He also told reporters in Kansas City “I’m not going out like this.” The under-covered part of this story is not the torn ACL but the addition of the meniscus damage, which Rivera originally knew about, but the Yankees did not. Interestingly-timed piece in the New York Daily News.

Original Post:

(C) YES Network via Associated Press

At the risk of further turning major league baseball pitchers into the equivalents of the pampered and petrified thoroughbred race horses – don’t the Yankees have somebody to shag fly balls forMariano Rivera?

In considering the implications of his likely torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament in his right knee, it is important to remember that since his days in the low minors, Rivera has included in his pre-game routine fairly vigorous pursuit of batting practice shots. But something then-manager Joe Torre said in 2006 is just as important. Somebody was looking at the Yankees’ lack of outfield depth and wondered if Derek Jeter might be an option in center, and Torre noted that while Jeter would survive there, the man on the team who was easily his best defensive center fielder was Rivera.

Torre’s observation was spoken seriously – Rivera has a great ability to read a fly ball, and is a terrific athlete – but it was not supposed to be taken seriously. But the New York newspapers did, and I actually called Torre to ask him about their extrapolations that this was a hint that Rivera was now somehow the greatest closer of all time and an emergency outfielder.

“Yes, he’s a great outfielder,” Torre said, “He’s always bugging me to let him play there in a game. But does anybody really think I’d be crazy enough to let him play in a game? What if he got hurt?”

Tonight we know the answer. After his pre-game injury sustained trying to chase down a fly off the bat of brand-new Yankee Jayson Nix, Rivera underwent an MRI, and after the Yankees’ 4-3 loss in Kansas City, manager Joe Girardi told reporters that the Royals’ team doctor said he thought the imaging indicated a torn ACL. Any tearing injury to that knee ligament would be severe enough to end Rivera’s season and, at his age, perhaps to his career. “If that’s the report,” Girardi told reporters in a media gaggle carried on the Yankee-owned YES network, “that’s about as bad as it gets.”

Did Rivera’s luck just run out? Did the luck of all pitchers just run out? Will they no longer be allowed to do anything unnecessary on the field? Girardi, whom the New York Times noted got the same ‘put me in coach’ pleading from Rivera as Torre had, thought not: “You can fall off a curb and get hurt. You have to allow him to be an athlete and be a baseball player and have fun out there. I’ve never seen Mo do anything recklessly, I’ve never seen Mo dive or try to rob a home run. It’s one of the way he exercises.”

But the disturbing, harrowing video of Rivera’s injury suggests he was in fact doing something that could be considered reckless, or at least slightly so. Just before his knee buckled, Rivera can be seen stretching his glove arm back over his body in a way he would not ordinarily do during a game, while simultaneously leaping. Can you trust pitchers not to jump, not to feel they have to catch that fly ball that’s just out of their grasp? Can you trust 42-year old future Hall of Famers not to?

Rivera told reporters in Kansas City that if he had to be injured, at least it happened while he was doing something he enjoyed. “Shagging, I love to do. If I had to do it all over again, I would do it again. No hesitation.” He confirmed that “it’s torn” and added a detail Girardi did not mention “meniscus also.” It’s unclear the extent of any injury to the meniscus. Rivera said he had no idea if he would pitch again.

But there is a responsibility to balance a player’s rituals and athleticism – and fun – and the inevitability of the clock running out. Decades ago, the Yankees moved Mickey Mantle from center to first base in hopes of preserving his knees and his career a season or two more. Even now Joe Mauer’s future – catcher, first baseman, or outfielder – is debated.

And with time, we reassess what a player should and should not be allowed to do. Jim Lonborg helped to pitch the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox into the World Series, and won the 1967 Cy Young Award. That winter he tore up a leg while skiing, and soon player contracts began to be peppered with clauses prohibiting them from participating in dangerous sports. 26 years later, Texas Rangers’ manager Kevin Kennedy acceded to Jose Canseco’s wishes and let him throw 33 pitches in a blowout game against the Red Sox at Fenway. By the end of another incidence of letting a player do what he wanted, the blowout was in Canseco’s elbow and he would require Tommy John surgery. And just this past winter, the New York Mets made it clear that pitcher R.A. Dickey could go ahead with his plan to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but if he were injured, they would exercise their right to void his contract.

Girardi is right: Shagging flies has always been integral to Rivera’s pre-game routine, his exercise regimen, and his simple enjoyment of baseball. But that doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do, nor the smart thing – just that nobody this good had previously sustained a potentially career-threatening injury. And Joe Torre’s rhetorical question about what would happen if Rivera were injured playing center underscores another essential element. If it had happened that way, it would at least have happened in a game, presumably for some vital or unavoidable reason, and not because a future Hall of Famer just had to throw himself off balance because his competitiveness demanded that he go all out to catch a batting practice fly ball.

With Rivera’s career potentially over, will teams try to curb their pitchers’ non-essential on-field activities? The answer may lie in another question: When Kendrys Morales of the Angels sustained a devastating fractured ankle during a team celebration after his walk off grand slam two years ago this month, didn’t we all assume we had seen the end of the ‘group jump’?


  1. Kevin Quinn

    They’re Baseball players and for a lot of them, the kid surfaces every once in a while. This was obviously the case for Mariano, who enjoys fielding. Sadly, the end result is the entire organizations worst nightmare. I’m sure this will change how management handles key players participating in non essential activities. IE: Suggs.

  2. Shari Laval

    I agree. I realize he can step off a curb and hurt himself, just like Joba did this year after his own Tommy John surgery, but the fact that his 16 year Major League career could have ended in batting practice, is just unforgivable!

  3. rebound

    I think that there has to be a line drawn that clearly demarcates a difference between climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, in the case of Dickey, and simply doing something active and athletic, in the case of Aaron Boone. If you’ll recall, Aaron popped his knee playing pickup basketball, causing the Yankees to void the rest of his contract (there was a clause in it), and that ultimately was the reason A-Rod became a Yankee. To take it to its logical conclusion means to start taking all players, pitchers especially, and essentially locking them in hyperbaric chambers so that their only physical exertion is in playing the game. And no matter how much money the business of baseball insists on making and spending, that just can’t be done.

    Age also needs to be taken into account. For all its imagery of lazy summer days, baseball players put themselves through an incredibly brutal schedule. They basically travel and play 7-10 months out of the year, and Rivera’s been training and playing this way for 15-20 years, if not more. I mean, the possibility was there for something like this to happen in a freak occurrence during a game. The body can only take so much stress, even if Mo only pitches 60-100 innings a year.

    As a Yankees fan, I cringed watching the video, and am understandably depressed at the thought of finishing this season, in THIS AL East, without the best closer in the history of baseball. But this day was going to come. Obviously, there are better ways to go out than blowing out your knee shagging fly balls. But if it really is it, then hats off to, again, the Undisputed Greatest Closer in the History of Baseball. Ever.

  4. sanford sklansky (@sanford943)

    If this could happen to Rivera who is very athletic, then it could happen to any player shagging fly balls. Are you going to stop it for every one.? This is almost akin to controversy of playing Derek Rose in the last 60 seconds and then blowing out his knee. I know there is big money involved in these athletes, but you just can’t protect them every minute. I do agree that they shouldn’t be participating in dangerous activities. In the Longberg case, if that happened today he probably would have been able to rehab and be as good as knew. You see athletes coming back from injuries that they wouldn’t have come back from 40 years ago. Just look at Jake Peavy So far this year he has been great and I hope it continues. Even 5 years ago he probably wouldn’t have been able to come back from his injury.

  5. Mary_Caruso

    This was an unfortunate accident that could have been avoided both by Girardi and Rivera. First; Girardi could have limited Rivera to his ‘shagging’ and Rivera could have let the ball bounce off the wall without going full force. It was only practice, and he would not be doing such activities in a game. I feel that maybe Rivera was hot-dogging it too and paid the consequences for his actions. It’s a shame but he has got to live with it now. I hope he recovers to some extent but his career is not looking too promising. It is unfortunate that the team is being depleted with all the injuries they have undergone. But they may just find some promise in the talent they have to draft up from the minors.

  6. Wayne Perkins

    The greatest closer ever…A class act also… I hope he can come back next year. I have know issue with Mo shagging fly balls. Thats part of the game. I would have more issue with him or other players being forced to just do their ‘Specialty’ and nothing else on the field before or during games. Going to a game and watching players during batting practice was always one of the great pleasures of being at a Baseball Game. Showing up early and watching the players hit field and throw was as much fun as the game .

  7. Jim Eggers

    It was interesting to me (at least) that you would use the race horse analogy here with the Kentucky Derby less than two days away. I am a fan of that sport, and have seen more and more horses run less and less to avoid injury. Ball Players, especially relief pitchers, need to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and shagging has always been part of that prep. I recall Tom House having his pitchers run pass patterns and catch footballs, heard the whispers that someone would turn an ankle or blow a knee, so all went back to shagging and running as prep work. I have always admired Mo and his ability to get guys out with one pitch, and can only wish him a speedy recovery and if it is possible another chance to get back on the bump.

  8. Pingback: If this is the end for Mariano Rivera, it’s a sad day for baseball | HardballTalk
  9. keith libtard

    I cannot believe mlb lets you write a blog for them. “Luck runs out”…What kind of nonsense is that? Take your stupid left wing ugly face out of here. Libtards have ruined this country. I don’t want you to ruin the only American Pastime left. God knows you left wing loons have taken everything else and made it god aweful.

    • Jim

      Hey, pal, Keith Olbermann was reporting on sports before he ever became the “evil liberal”. Do a Google search or two before you open your hate-filled trap.

  10. Pingback: HBT: If Rivera is done, it's a sad day for baseball - HOTTEST WORLD NEWS
  11. Pingback: HBT: If Rivera is done, it’s a sad day for baseball
  12. Pingback: HBT: If Rivera is done, it’s a sad day for baseball | Hot Sport News
  13. Sam

    This is not your best work Keith. Mariano always does this. It was a freak accident. And as far as his luck running out– he had been relatively (remarkably) healthy since 1996. Yeah, everybody’s luck runs out– they die. You’d have to go by that measure according to your logic. Yankee fans have been unbelievably lucky. Joe Nathan’s luck ran out. Mariano went beyond that description sometime in 2003 or 2005. Try being objective about the Yankees for a change.

  14. Patricia Ellyn Powell

    First of all, it was great to find out about Tommy John. (Ol’ teachers have to look up every word they don’t know.) He was quite the pitcher himself! (Why was I thinking groin injury? Dirty mind, I guess.) It is true that one can step off a curb and get hurt, but chances are, unless the bus is running late (going very fast and doesn’t stop, which is the case here by my corner) and the mind is preoccupied, it is not very likely. Secondly, I loved that horse analogy and it was not lost on me, either. Everything connected. Always. Finally, I am considering all the hazard there are out there for the players. The germs (and slipping risk) from all that spit, possibility of being impaled by a bat shard traveling at 50 mph, odds of a ball shattering your noggin at 90 mph, chances of swallowing a peck of dirt or someone’s glove on sliding into home, and the probablility of pulling something as one contorts to make that ever-lovin’ play all present dangers. Heck, a guy could choke on his bubble gum in the dugout! Sports are risky, some more than others. People are realizing this more each day. But there is life after baseball. And even if this is the career-ending injury, something wonderful could still happen to the great Mariano Rivera! Unless they play in hazmat suits or the thing The Bubble Boy had, some injury is as predictable as winning, losing, and the rain.

    • Patricia Ellyn Powell

      Sorry. Make HAZARD plural for me. (Hazards) Old English teachers die hard…and we don’t play a lot of sports. 😉

  15. Pingback: Keith Olbermann really doesn’t think that Rivera should have been shagging fly balls | HardballTalk
  16. regibaby67

    Hi Keith. I don’t know, what are you supposed to do, keep him in a protective bubble? Shit happens,people get hurt, does that mean we all sit on our hands and not have fun? Sometimes one person’s injury can lead to unreasonable restrictions. Kids at my daughter’s elementary school are not allowed to play “tag” any longer because someone might fall and get hurt. A simple, childhood game, taken away, because some kid fell, got a bit scraped up, and now, it is forbidden. I understand, this is a career we are talking about, millions of dollars at stake, blah blah blah. The man plays baseball because he ENJOYS it. A shame he hurt himself, but he could have injured his knee stepping off a curb or slipping in the bathtub. I don’t think anyone should take the FUN out of baseball. Hope you are well, Keith. Miss you on my tv. 🙂

  17. Blair Houghton

    thinking about what causes ACLs to get torn, and what pitchers do on the mound on every single pitch, it’s amazing that (1) they don’t all tear their ACLs within the first few weeks of trying out for pitching in little league, and (2) if they survive that, their ACLs can be torn by anything short of a chainsaw.

    as for protection, well, stuff happens and people get hurt. fans need to protect themselves against the emotional pain of the inevitable. but then they wouldn’t be fans, so that’s not going to happen.

  18. ed pyle

    “….didn’t we all assume we had seen the end of the ‘group jump’?” I don’t know, Keith, but we damn sure should have. I amazed it hasn’t panned out that way.

  19. Jamo57

    “Shagging, I love to do.” Now the Brits are going to love that comment!

    OK on the semi-serious side, as one that considers shagging fly balls one of life’s simple joys and something that carries anyone who played even sandlot ball back to the how they came to love the game, barring MLB players from shagging flies would be one more wound to the heart of the game. As kid if I could find even one friend with nothing to do, we could always go and hit each other fly balls. Great peace is found in that frozen instant when you are tracking a fly and you know you’ve got it.

    I’m with Mo on this one. And to hear he would do it all over again helps me see him as the young boy who discovered the game. If MLB stops players from shagging flies, the sport will continue to die a death of a thousand cuts.

    As to asking the players to be a little smarter in how they go after fly balls, well stupid injuries are also a part of the history and tradition of the game. It’s another reason why we love it.

  20. Eddie Ever

    isn’t it at least _not implausible_ that his knee went out while shagging flies, not _because_ he was shagging flies?

    I’m 53 and I shag flies once a week. It’s easy. And it’s probably a lot easier on the body if you do it every day, not once every week or two.

  21. tinagrrl

    Oh for gosh sakes — Mariano has been doing this his entire career. Has anyone thought that perhaps shagging fly balls is what kept him healthy all these years? Maybe ALL pitchers should do that before a game. Perhaps it helps maintain flexibility.

    To say they have to keep all baseball players from doing almost anything is foolish. They are, for the most part, athletic young men. Some are athletic middle aged men. In addition to strength, they have to maintain the ability to run, stop, turn, stoop, bend, stretch, etc., etc. What do you suggest they do?

    A fine baseball player – a Hall Of Fame baseball player – got hurt. It happens. Heck, most minor league “can’t miss” pitchers either don’t make the majors, get hurt, or have mediocre careers. Both Mariano and The Yankees have been very fortunate. Stuff happens. Let’s hope he returns. Let’s move on, and stop trying to lay blame on someone — anyone!

  22. Elderlady

    I’m sorry Mariano got hurt. I wish it had not happened. The Yankees will survive.
    But, if you don’t get your ass back on the t v…… and soon….. You have lost a fan. My patience is gone.

    • Mariners fan

      Well, Keith is going to be recovering from surgery over the next couple of weeks. So he won’t be on tv any time soon. But his LOYAL fans will be around for everything–just like we’ve always been. Keith is definitely worth it! Keith, take care and get well soon!

  23. tinagrrl

    I’m sorry Keith is no longer on TV.

    I am, if anything, well to the left of him — so to all the “Keith is an evil LIBERAL” folks — just be thankful it’s him you deal with, and not me. See, I’m an old woman who actually REMEMBERS the 50’s and 60’s — what you folks see as “socialist” was “center right” back then. We were, in many ways (not all), a better country then, and we knew there was no such thing as, “I did it ALL myself”.

    BUT — this is about BASEBALL, not politics. If you can’t let go of your prejudice to write about BASEBALL — well, there’s little hope for you. Please remember that.

    Heck, even Castro is a baseball fan.



  25. Sharie

    Sad news! I just pray hope for the best and sooner everything will be alright. And I will look forward for the latest update regarding to this matter.

    To visit my website, kindly cliquez ici .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s