The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty, by Olney, Buster
- ISBN: 9780061672873 | 0061672874
- Cover: Paperback
- Copyright: 3/18/2009
The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness
Mariano Rivera sometimes paused to stand behind the crowd ofteammates watching The Jerry Springer Show in the Yankees' clubhouse.As they laughed loudly and exhorted the on-screen combatants, Riveraremained silent, shaking his head. To him, the remedy for the many misbehavingteenagers on the program was clear: rigid discipline. Establishrules, and if the children don't adhere, then physical punishment—apaddling that would hurt and be remembered—must always follow.Growing up in Panama, he had been weaned on discipline. His fatherworked as a fisherman, collecting sardines to be processed for animalfeed, a job that took him away from home a week at a time, and if littleMariano fell into trouble he would dwell in dread until his father returned,knowing that his mother would report his worst offenses. If hebroke a window with a ball, he knew he would be spanked. There was nogetting around this: mistakes are made, and consequences follow. Hisfather insisted that Mariano be accountable for his behavior and showrespect for others, and years later Mariano expected the same from hisown children.
Rivera, the Yankees' closer, thought players should act properly, aswell; he despised pitchers who were disrespectful to opponents—glaring insolently at hitters and stomping and swaggering around the mound likeangry Neanderthals, pumping a fist to celebrate the smallest successes.You should act as though you've won before, Rivera believed; you shouldact as though you expect to win again. Some pitchers grew mustachesand beards and groomed them in arcane ways to make themselves lookthreatening, but this made Rivera more certain they were actually verymuch afraid. During a Yankees game in Toronto in 1999, Blue Jayscloser Billy Koch stalked in from the bullpen, a spaghetti strand of bearddescending from his lower lip to his chin, and after throwing his firstfastball for a strike, he lingered at the apron of the mound to stare at thebatter. Rivera watched from his own bullpen and seethed. What a toughguy, he smirked to himself. What a joke. Show some respect for thegame. Show some respect for yourself.
There was inflexible structure to everything Rivera did. Some of theother Yankees adhered only grudgingly to the team's policy against longhair and beards, and a few holdouts always took the field with day-old facialgrowth. But Rivera shaved before every game and had his thinninghair cut close to his scalp, like stitches on a baseball. He wore his uniformprecisely to code, with the cuffs of his uniform pants raised to theproper height above his heels, and he followed the same disciplined regimenbefore, during, and after games. When Rivera emerged from theYankees' bullpen to pitch, he held his glove in his right hand and joggedsteadily to the mound, running on the balls of his feet, his head alwaystilted downward—the coolest entrance of any closer, teammate RogerClemens thought, because it was so understated. Rivera never lookedangry or arrogant or intense. He had the demeanor of a customs agent,serious and polite. All eyes were on him whenever he stepped out of thebullpen, though, because Rivera was the most successful relief pitcherin postseason history. The Yankees had won four World Series in fiveyears from 1996 to 2000, resurrecting the dormant franchise, and manyopposing players thought Rivera was the linchpin of the team's success.
Other closers had blown leads in the World Series—Atlanta's MarkWohlers in 1996, Cleveland's Jose Mesa in 1997, Trevor Hoffman of thePadres in 1998, the Mets' Armando Benitez in 2000. Rivera, on the otherhand, had been flawless: the Yankees had won the last 16 games he had pitched in the World Series, a streak that began in 1996. Take Riveraaway from the Yankees and give them any other closer, Indians sluggerJim Thome said, and they probably would have won one or two championships,instead of four. As the Yankees prepared to play Game 7 of the2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks, it was 1,490 days sinceRivera had last blown a lead in the postseason.
In 1997, the year in which he replaced John Wetteland as the Yankees'closer, Rivera allowed a home run to Indians catcher Sandy AlomarJr. with the Yankees needing just a handful of outs to eliminate the Indiansin the Division Series. The Indians had gone on to win that gameand the series, and questions naturally followed about whether Riverawould rebound psychologically after a pivotal defeat; baseball historywas littered with relievers who'd been wrecked by one terrible moment.Rivera assured everyone he was OK, that he hadn't really given muchthought to the loss. This was a white lie.
Rivera had mulled over Alomar's home run and had decided—belyingthe facade of respect that masked his competitiveness—that Alomar wasfortunate he had been on the mound that day. Alomar, a right-handedhitter, had hit a fastball for the home run, high and away, driving it overthe right field wall. Any other pitcher, Rivera concluded, would havethrown the ball with less velocity, and instead of hitting a home run, Alomarprobably would have mustered only a long fly ball. In other words,Rivera believed he was the reason Alomar hit a home run—that he controlledthe situation, even in defeat. I made the home run, he decided,his extraordinary confidence not only intact through the failure, butsteeled by it.
Rivera almost never talked in team meetings. But as the Yankees gatheredin the visitors' clubhouse of Arizona's Bank One Ballpark on November4, 2001, preparing for the decisive Game 7 of the World Series,he made up his mind to speak at the end of the meeting, after the othersfinished.
He expected he would throw the last pitch again that night; so did therest of the Yankees' veterans . . .The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty New Edition
The Game, the Team, and the Cost of Greatness. Copyright © by Buster Olney. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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