Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Mariano Rivera is headed into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday for the work he did on the field, from his postseason brilliance to his record 652 saves to that devastating cut fastball that turned bats into shards of wood.
But it's also remarkable how many of the folks who played or worked with Rivera touch on personal stories when asked to recount their favorite Mo memory. Turns out, Rivera wasn't just a Cooperstown-worthy pitcher; he was a Hall of Fame teammate, too.
SNY talked to some of the people who knew Rivera best during his amazing 19-year career to get a glimpse of the Yankees famed closer as he prepares to be enshrined.
BRIAN CASHMAN, Yankees GM:
"Remember Damaso Marte? In '09, when we won the World Series against the Phillies, he was big. But he had been hurt most of the year and struggling. He had some personal stuff going on, too. Mo was always all-in on the field when he had the ball in his hands, but he was all-in in the clubhouse with his teammates, too. A lot of people had given up on Marte. Mo was counseling him. He said to me, 'Cash, I got this. You get him healthy, I'll get him spiritually and mentally back on line.' Mo spent a lot of time with him. Marte came off the (injured list) in September and I had to make a decision to put him on the (playoff) roster. The Major League staff didn't want him on. He came in a bunch and got (Chase) Utley and (Ryan) Howard out and when he did it, the game was on the line, big lefty hitters up and here comes Marte, getting them out. I always reflect on that. Anyone can talk about what Mo did on the field, but I always think of his intervention with me as GM, helping Marte. Andy Pettitte helped Mo there, too. And the guy (Marte) came back when it counted and was a huge part of us winning a World Series. (Hideki) Matsui won the World Series MVP, but to me, it could've been Damaso Marte."
(Editor's note: Marte retired every batter he faced in 2.2 innings over four appearances in the 2009 World Series).
GENE MONAHAN, Yankees head athletic trainer during all but two seasons of Rivera's career:
"He'd go out to the bullpen in the sixth inning. Mr. Steinbrenner said he wanted a trainer by the phone at all times, so I worked the first three innings and the last three innings and Steve (Donohue, the longtime assistant who is now the Yanks' head trainer) would work the middle three and I'd sit by the phone in the office. In the fourth inning most nights, Mariano would come in and I'd prepare him to pitch - massage, stretch - and we had some great talks. About life, children, religion. We'd talk about teams, respects, being humble, people, God. It was really inspiring. I'll never forget them. We did that every night for the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. That was a little bond we had and we had some really deep conversations. When I decided to retire (2011), he got one of his jerseys and wrote a letter to me on the back of it, in black pen. I've got it framed. About how he cared about me, respected me for what I did for him, made him comfortable, got him ready, what I did for the other guys. His tribute to me, it's really a tribute to him. He respected all those evenings we spent together."
CC SABATHIA, Rivera's teammate on the Yankees from 2009-13:
"The best memory is when I first signed here, getting a text from him and a call from him, just welcoming me. It made me feel comfortable, you know? There's a million stories. He taught me the cutter, too. If he hadn't taught me the cutter, I'd be out of the game now. But the biggest thing that made me feel comfortable when I first signed here was just getting a text from him. It was just 'Congratulations, excited to have you here, let's win some championships.' He was just always a good teammate, considerate of people's feelings, always wanted to make sure you were doing OK, in life and on the field. He was always good that way. I wish I could go this weekend. I'll definitely be watching on Sunday."
BRETT GARDNER, Yankees teammate from 2008-13:
"Mo is the first pitcher I knew who came to me and told me he wanted me to play super shallow (in the outfield). I don't remember the exact situation, but maybe it was a case of a ball fell in front of me early on in my career that he was hoping I would've caught or felt like I should've caught. He felt like if he left a ball over the middle of the plate and it got squared up and was hit over my head, it was his fault. But if he got somebody to hit a ball off the end of the bat or sawed somebody off with the cutter and it was a little blooper, he wanted those balls caught. Just something cool. From that moment on, I played shallow for him. It depended on the batter, but I played significantly shallower for him. He was serious about it, too."
AUSTIN ROMINE, Yankees catcher and Rivera's teammate in 2011, 2013:
"Early in my career, I was catching in a game against Boston and he comes in. Guy tries to steal second and I threw the ball into the outfield. That run scored, we ended up losing. I had a bunch of media around me and, for a young player, that can be a tough experience. A lot of eyes, a lot of cameras. It was 20 deep. But the next day, Mo, he came to me and he acted like it (the error) was nothing. No big deal. For a young player, that was a huge experience for me, because I had felt like I let him down and let the team down. He said, 'It happens. You're trying to make a play. I could've been quicker to the plate.' Just kind of taking the burden off me. When you're young, you try and press and sometimes try to do better than you can. For him to take the time and do that, to make sure his teammate's OK, that just spoke to the character of Mo, who he is. I came in the next day and worked on throws to second base. I felt OK about it. It allowed me to relax a little bit. It's a personal thing - baseball was baseball, but he cared about who you were."
LARRY ROTHSCHILD, Yankees pitching coach beginning in 2011:
"My first year with Mo, he came in late to spring training. He hadn't been throwing. So he played catch, long-toss and then threw a side session, 15 pitches, everything was real good. He threw another side and said, "I'm ready for a game." I said, 'I can't put you in a game now. Why don't we do a sim game?' So we did, on a back field. He threw 17 pitches and he hit the glove 16 times. He walked off and said, 'I'm ready.' His first game, he struck out the side on 10 pitches. That just tells you the control he had of his delivery and the feeling he had all the time. It was just amazing to watch. He repeated his delivery so well and when he got off a little bit, it was just an incremental thing. Sometimes it wasn't real easy to pick up. But he could feel it because he knew his delivery so well. And it didn't happen very often, maybe once a year for a couple games."
JASON ZILLO, Yankees media relations director:
"Certainly one of the most meaningful things I've ever done with this organization was when Mo was in his last year - every city we'd go to, he would spend time with people there who worked behind the scenes. It was amazing. I'd sit there and listen to the give and take that took place between this legendary figure and others who work in baseball, but are working in much-less glamorous positions. A chef in Minnesota. The mail room attendant in Oakland. The guy who bangs the drum in Cleveland. He did it in every city. I knew at the time that it was something special. And the further away from that season I get, the greater the appreciation I have for what took place and the fact that Mariano was so willing to give of himself in that manner, to recognize and thank people who don't have their names on the scoreboard and are unknown to 99.9 percent of the baseball family and fans. He let them know they're important and part of what makes the game great. We'd block out 30-45 minutes to do it and I'd have to tell him most of the time, 'We've got to go. It's before a game.' He was genuinely enthralled and engaged with all these people who make up the baseball world that we live in. It was just really special."
JOHNNY DAMON, Rivera's Yankees teammate from 2006-09 and another helpless hitter against him since 2001. Damon was 7-for-37 (.189) lifetime against Rivera:
"He broke so many of my bats. One at-bat, he broke three of them. That's how nasty that cutter was. They were never comfortable at-bats. You knew the cutter was coming. I guess that's the most frustrating thing about it. You'd see it and you think you can get to it. At the last second, it cuts a good 18 inches. Toward the end of my career, I didn't have much success, but I felt like I had a tad more because I scooted closer to the mound, to get the cutter to not break as much. But standing in the box against him was not comfortable."
MIKE LOWELL, 13-year Major Leaguer who came up through the Yankees farm system and is now an analyst at MLB Network. He was 5-for-17 (.294) against Rivera:
"I met Mariano Rivera in my first big league camp in 1998 and I was more impressed as to the person he was than the pitcher. He really went out of his way to make young guys feel good, and then when I faced him later in my career, I wasn't excited because his stuff was so nasty. I know people talk about cutters, but there can only be one cutter in the history of the game that was as dominant as his."
MIKE HARKEY, Yankees bullpen coach from 2008-13 and again from 2016-present:
"In 2009, we had a couple games where Joe (Girardi) would call down and say Mo was going into the game if we tied the score. This one, we got guys on and Mo wouldn't move to start warming up. Joe would call again and say, 'Does Mo know?' I'd say, 'I told him.' We tied the score and Mo still hasn't thrown a pitch. He has not played catch. He has not moved from his seat in the bullpen. I get another call. 'Yes, he knows. Guy's got all these saves, what do you want me to do?' I ask Mo, 'You going to warm up?' He says, 'No, (Hideki) Matsui is going to win the game. I don't need to.' Sure enough, Matsui wins it. I think Mo did that two or three times that year. One time, it didn't work and he had to go out there with only two warm-up pitches. So he wasn't as perfect as everyone thought (laughs). He'd been doing it so long, he knew what he needed and it was all about his confidence in that. That time with two warmups, he still got three outs pretty quickly in the game."