By any standard, the greatest closer in the history of baseball and also one of its greatest people, Mariano Rivera, has retired after 19 seasons with the New York Yankees. In a beautiful ceremony on September 22, the Yankees honored Rivera at Yankee Stadium. The 51-minute ceremony celebrated the career of a man Yankees Universe has come to call ‘Mo.’
As part of the ceremony, the Yankees retired Rivera’s #42. The number was retired in perpetuity on April 15, 1997, as an honor to Jackie Robinson on the 50th anniversary of his Major League debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers crossing baseball’s color line. But anyone still wearing Jackie’s #42, could continue wearing it throughout their career until they retired, Mo was the last #42.
The Yankees unveiled a beautiful plaque in Monument Park of Jackie Robinson’s #42 complete with Jackie’s signature quote: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” For the unveiling, Jackie’s widow Rachel and daughter Sharon were on hand. Then where Robinson’s #42 had stood, Rivera’s pinstriped #42 was uncovered joining the long list of other Yankee greats.
Following that, Rivera walked onto the field from the bullpen with his entrance music ‘Enter Sandman’ playing—only it was being performed live by artist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band Metallica. Rivera then greeted the Yankees dignitaries on hand before receiving gifts and addressing the sold-out crowd on a clear blue early fall afternoon in the Bronx. Among the crowd was the president of Rivera’s native Panama, where he left 23 years ago to embark on his baseball journey. Rivera pitched on that Sunday, throwing 16 pitches in 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief but the Yankees fell to the San Francisco Giants 2-1.
“I want to give thanks to the good Lord for this tremendous organization,” Rivera said. “The New York Yankees have been my family. They have been special to me.”
Four days later came an even more emotional send-off. No one who witnessed it will ever forget it. It was a non-descript 4-0 ballgame (with the Yankees on their way to being eliminated from postseason contention for only the second time in Mo’s illustrious career) when the song was played for the final time.
Mariano Rivera’s 1,115th appearance would be his last, throwing 13 pitches, recording four outs. With two outs in the 9th inning, teammates Andy Pettitte (also retiring this season after a stellar career) and Derek Jeter came to the mound to take out their friend. It was one of the most special on-field moments in memory as three greats who came in together shared in Mo’s final game.
Rivera ends with a record 652 saves, plus 42 more in the postseason. His 0.70 ERA is the lowest for any pitcher in postseason history and his 2.21 in the regular season is the lowest ever for anyone who pitched 1,200 innings. He was a 13-time all-star and won five world championships. His trademark cutter, a type of fastball he invented, has forever revolutionized pitching. Through his foundation, he has built churches and spread the Gospel to those who might not have ever heard it. He never forgot where he came from, who he was, or where he wanted to go. He also never forgot anyone who helped him along the way.
Mariano Rivera was the last #42, and he represented it with all of the class and dignity that number will always stand for—in and out of the game of baseball.