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.
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’?
The world remembers Game Two of the 2000 World Series for one thing, and one thing alone: Roger Clemens throwing the shattered bat of Mike Piazza at, or near, Mike Piazza.
But for me, standing at the far end of the Yankee dugout, covering the Series as part of the Fox telecast, the bat event was an asterisk to the real headline. Because that was the night that I became convinced Bobby Valentine didn’t have the slightest idea what he was doing.
Lost in the Clemens saga still churning more than eleven years later, was a) the eight innings of two-hit ball he fired at the Mets (the back half of consecutive starts in which Clemens threw 17 playoff innings, gave up no runs, one hit batsman, two walks, three hits, and struck out 24 of the 58 batters he faced); b) the Mets’ incredible ninth inning rally that almost gave Clemens a no-decision; and c) Valentine’s decision during that inning, that might be the dumbest World Series managerial move since Casey Stengel completely messed up his 1960 pitching rotation.
Again, the context. Mostly because of their own baserunning lunkheadedness, plus the fact that Todd Zeile’s fly ball missed being a home run by maybe eight inches, the Mets had lost the Opener of the Subway Series the night before. Now, in Game Two, Clemens had made them look nearly as bad as he had made the Seattle Mariners look eight days before. Oh, and even though Piazza thought Clemens had thrown a bat at him, neither he, nor Valentine, nor anybody else in a Met uniform had even retaliated, let alone charged the mound or anything.
So as the Mets came up in the top of the 9th, down 6-0, they were as dead as Jacob Marley’s ghost in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Clemens had exited, stage right, to go let the adrenalin drain out of his system (along with whatever else was in there). Coming off his best major league season, Jeff Nelson was brought in to face the heart of the Mets’ order, and Joe Torre even took out David Justice for the slight defensive upgrade Clay Bellinger would represent in left.
But it did not exactly go to plan. Edgardo Alfonzo led off with a sharp single to left, and Piazza promptly got some delayed revenge by putting a Nelson pitch off the pole in left to cut it to 6-2. By this point, Torre had hastily gotten Mariano Rivera up. When Robin Ventura singled to make it three straight hits to start the ninth, Rivera was summoned, and nearly blew the game on the spot. Zeile hit another one to the wall in left, with the wind holding it up just enough to reduce it to a nice jumping Bellinger catch at the fence. But Benny Agbayani singled, and with Lenny Harris up, Jorge Posada lost a Rivera cutter and the runners moved up to second and third. Harris tapped back to Rivera who got Ventura at the plate, and the Mets were down to their final out – which was when Jay Payton walloped a massive three-run bomb off Mo and all of a sudden the Yankees’ insurmountable 6-0 lead was now a 6-5 heart-stopper, with the Mets just a baserunner away from turning over the line-up and sending up sparkplug Timo Perez with the tying run on.
Please remember this specific fact: the Mets were down to their last out, but having scored five in the ninth and rattled Mariano Rivera, they now had a chance – no matter how small a chance – to pull off a split at Yankee Stadium with three coming up at Shea. You may also remember that in midseason they had lost their other-worldly defensive shortstop Rey Ordonez, and had been forced to trade utility wizard Melvin Mora to Baltimore for Mike Bordick. Bobby V had already pinch-hit for Bordick an inning earlier with Darryl Hamilton, and went to his back-up shortstop, Kurt Abbott. If for some inexplicable reason Valentine now chose to leave Abbott in to face Rivera, he would be sending a lamb to the slaughter. Abbott had never seen Rivera or his cutter before. He was a lifetime .256 hitter with a .304 on-base percentage. After this night, only fourteen more major league at bats awaited him, and that was mainly because despite a pretty good glove and a deceptive slugging percentage, Kurt Abbott just wasn’t a major league hitter.
What happened next was explained at the time as a simple proposition. Bobby Valentine was out of shortstops, and, after all, Abbott had hit six homers during the regular season, in only 157 at bats. That none of them had been off a righthander since August 7, and that righthander was Jason Green (18 career minor league innings), and the other dingers had come off Terry Mulholland, Brian Bohanon, Jason Bere, Alan Mills, and Jose Mercedes, and that Abbott was carrying a 7-for-37 slump, seemed to have been left out of the equation.
More over, Valentine might have been out of slick shortstops, but he was hardly out of shortstops. He had at least seven defensive moves left. Joe McEwing had played four games at short for the Mets in 2000 and was still on the bench. McEwing, Matt Franco, and that night’s DH Lenny Harris had all played third during the season, and Robin Ventura could’ve easily slid over to short if the Mets had pulled off the miracle of forcing a bottom of the 9th. If that move sounded too risky, McEwing and Harris had also played second, and could have gone there with Alfonzo switching to short. Still not comfortable with pinch-hitting for Abbott? Bubba Trammell had produced a pinch two-run single the night before off Andy Pettitte. Valentine would trust Trammell enough to start him in right in the Series’ decisive game – he could have gone in to the outfield and Agbayani or Payton played first, with Todd Zeile going to third and Ventura to short. Or the same ploy could have been used with Harris, who played ten games at first for the ’00 Mets.
But, no. Bobby V knew he didn’t have any shortstops. So, having scored a remarkable five runs in the 9th – three of them off the greatest reliever the game would ever know – he sent up Kurt Abbott to try to finish the miracle. Imagine if the Mets had tied that game? Regardless of the outcome – even if the Yankees had promptly won it in the bottom of the inning thanks to an error by McEwing or Ventura at short or Bubba Trammell somewhere – the invincibility of the Yanks would have been punctured. Instead of a near-miss utterly overshadowed by the affair of Clemens And The Bat, it would have been the greatest ninth-inning comeback in World Series history.
Instead, inevitably, Kurt Abbott struck out. Looking.
The Mets lost the Series in five games, and until you just read this, it was unlikely that you remembered that “The Clemens/Piazza Game” ended with such an unlikely rally, cut short by a manager who wouldn’t pinch-hit for his good-field no-hit back-up shortstop.
But Bobby Valentine is supposed to be a great in-game tactician. Just like he’s supposed to be a no-nonsense skipper who’ll instill discipline into a flabby Red Sox team – presumably teaching them to respect authority by returning to the dugout in an embarrassing disguise after he had been ejected by the umpires. Like you have to listen to the umpires or something. And don’t tell me the Abbott decision is ancient history. As far as his major league managerial career goes, the decision to let Rivera eat Abbott alive was just 326 games ago.
Good luck, Red Sox fans.
If you can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not,
Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear
Your favors nor your hate.
I’ve always liked that snippet from Banquo’s second speech in Act 1, Scene 3, of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. But as fans have gotten more and more aware of the minor leagues and player development, it’s become more and more applicable to baseball.
“Which grain will grow and which will not…”
Here are some images from the 1992 Fleer ProCards set of the Fort Lauderdale Yankees of the Florida State League. 20 seasons have come and gone since these kids were the future, and there were more opinions about them than each had seasons under his belt.
Do you remember this guy? Second-round pick in the 1990 draft, gaunt, rangy at 6’3″, 170, with the exotic birthplace of Rotterdam, Holland. The Yankees’ shortstop of the future (as viewed from 1992)…Robert Eenhoorn?It is literally true that he was a Yankee shortstop of the future. In fact, he was the shortstop on May 28, 1995, as the Yankees beat the A’s 4-1 in Oakland. Eenhoorn went 0-for-4, lowering his season performance to 0-for-7. The next game, in Seattle, the Yankees tried another young shortstop to fill in for the injured Tony Fernandez. Jeter somebody.
Remember this next guy?
I was at the Expansion Draft, the November after this card was made. The Yankees had just lost him to Florida, and I stepped into the hotel elevator to find General Manager Stick Michael, who looked like he’d just given blood – or was expecting that George Steinbrenner would make sure it was taken from it. He lasted longer than Eenhoorn (he did 202 homers and was on a World’s Championship team in Chicago) but given the baggage he seemed to proudly carry around (he was just arrested on family violence charges last week) it seems Michael’s anxieties were unfounded.
Everett and Eenhoorn were the Yanks’ top two picks in 1990, but this next guy was the star of stars in their system as of 1992 – the first overall pick in the 1991 draft. If you bought this set in 1992, you bought it to get this card:
What is sadder than this?
Brien Taylor was the real deal. I saw him pitch at New Britain, Connecticut. Not only have I never seen anybody throw harder, I’ve never seen anybody throw as effortlessly. His 100-MPH pitches seemed to be thrown about 5% harder than his warm-ups. You couldn’t see any of them from the stands. And then there was a brawl in a bar, and his brother was in trouble, and he went in to help him, and they tore his pitching arm to shreds.
And so the star-crossed 1992 Fort Lauderdale Yankees would mostly be a tale of woe (there’s also a card of Mike Figga – he’d hit a major league home run – and of Domingo Jean – he’d win a major league game). But, if you can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak to me then.
There was also this skinny pitcher – he made Eenhoorn look robust – who’d struggled in Greensboro the year before (3-4, 5.45, 52 strikeouts to 40 walks) and he’s about to hit a milestone in a career that, frankly, dwarfed everybody else who was playing in the minor leagues when this card was made (and nearly everyone who was playing in the majors).
Jayson Stark tweets that All-Star Managers Joe Girardi and Charlie Manuel were told to pick one “multi-position” player to their teams, which explains, if not excuses, the ludicrous selections of Omar Infante of Atlanta and Ty Wigginton of Baltimore.
Twelve Meek Appearances With Lead:Games Saved: 1Games Held: 5Games Won: 1Blown Saves: 5*No Win, Hold, Save, or BS: 1“Record”: 7*-5-1* Blown Save 4/13, received WinFive Meek Appearances In Ties:Games Won: 2Games Lost: 2No Won or Loss: 1“Record”: 2-2-1
Even giving him both statistics in that April 13th game against the Giants in which he inherited a runner in the sixth, then gave up a single and a groundout producing the tie run, and then becoming the pitcher of record in what was ultimately a Pittsburgh victory, Meek, “Close And Late,” is 9-7-2. It’s counted seventeen times, and he has failed on seven of those occasions, and only twice because he inherited a runner and let him score.
My buddy and ex-colleague Rich Eisen of NFL Network asks a fascinating question. Apart from his meltdowns against Minnesota and Boston this week, Mariano Rivera has another startling skein in progress.
The superb symmetry did not end with two homers by Robinson Cano – named, of course, for Jackie Robinson. The Yankees were forced to get the last out in a 6-2 win over the Angels from the last man grandfathered in to wear Robinson’s uniform number 42, Mariano Rivera.
Flyovers, Steinbrenners, Bernie Williams ceremonial first pitches, Matsui’s Return – very nice events.
Fascinating to watch Jose Reyes, out nearly a year, so rusty and nervous that he stutter-stepped towards a grounder early in the Mets-Nats game Saturday afternoon, and barely made it in time to the bag on a 2-4 doubleplay. Yet by the 8th inning he was barehanding a grounder, and in the 9th, leading an abortive rally on an otherwise frustrating day for the Queens faithful.