By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Within 24 hours the same room held the game’s worst representative and its best. The polar faces of baseball came through town from New York, but as is our nature, staring at the freak show was more popular than appreciating a stage in a fine sunset of a career.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is retiring at season’s end, and Wednesday will be the last time he suits up as a player in Chicago. The White Sox probably won’t miss him. Rivera saved 41 of his all-time career leading 643 saves against the South Siders and holds a career 1.21 ERA with a pathetic .456 OPS against him from Sox hitters—only the Twins and Tigers have fared worse against him in that latter stat among American League teams.
Alex Rodriguez is facing a suspension that puts in jeopardy his career. If Bud Selig gets his way, keeping A-Rod away from baseball through the 2014 season may be a sentence that the Yankees third baseman cannot return from to play competitively. The White Sox will hardly miss him either, but it isn’t out of a respect and honor thing.
“These guys think they are not going to get caught, and apparently they’re wrong,” a perturbed Adam Dunn said. “Hopefully this is the last that we’ll ever hear from things like this, but my guess is it probably won’t be.”
A-Rod’s career stats versus the Sox are probably impressive on paper, but I’m not looking them up. Seems futile to examine the numbers of a guy now branded as a PED user in my eyes more than any player in MLB history, and I’m including Barry Bonds and Jose Canseco.
Rivera’s dominance over them doesn’t mean the Sox aren’t taking part in the farewell tour festivities. Rivera was honored on the field prior to Tuesday’s game in typical fashion for a retiring future Hall of Famer appearing in his final series against an opponent. Among his parting gifts were a collage honoring his save against the Sox on September 19, 2001, the second game played after the 9/11 attacks and a check for a donation in his name to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
But there was a component of Rivera’s last Chicago stop that embodied the class he has long been known for. Per MLB.com’s Scott Merkin:
“…(T)he Yankees’ closer, along with Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo, came up with an idea to make this season something different than the requisite and deserved honors at each ballpark. They searched for a far more personal connection to the fans and team personnel than Rivera simply standing at home plate as his name is announced amid standing ovations.
So Rivera meets with a representative group that the home team puts together at each ballpark and not only takes questions but asks them. He did so in a moving and entertaining discourse that lasted 40 minutes on Tuesday.”
How awesome is that?
“It has been wonderful — not the farewell, but the opportunity I have to share with the fans,” Rivera said. “To share with those fans behind the scenes that nobody sees, those are the ones I’ve been enjoying. The rest is great, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing with the fans.”
After taking batting practice as a Yankee for the first time this season, A-Rod signed autographs for several in attendance. I hesitate to refer to them as fans because certainly many of those who yelled “A-Rod! A-Rod! Please sign?!” booed him mere hours later. And he knew these were hypocrites he was signing for. But that’s A-Rod. He needs to think he’s loved, even if part of him knows he isn’t.
“…A-Rod has always seemed somehow inherently other and outer,” writes David Roth. “He is just confoundingly great at what he does, and that’s part of it. And he is, either because of that or not, also deeply, preeningly strange—both crushingly self-conscious and world-historically vain; smart enough to know how he should act and yet somehow incapable of convincingly acting that way.”
It’s so rare to be aware that you’re watching the best to ever do his particular job in a sport. One great facet of consuming sports is debate over various supremacies. There is no consensus over greatest NFL quarterback or running back. Who is baseball’s best hitter ever? You’ll get passionate responses from Team Williams, Team Ruth, Team Cobb, and Team Junior Lake. Michael Jordan is the best to ever play in the NBA, unless you talk to someone who believes Lebron James is the greatest talent the game has ever seen that barring a catastrophe will supplant MJ.
But there are no arguments as to who baseball’s greatest closer ever is. Nobody needs a few years to digest Mariano Rivera’s career before assessing it.
I know John Wetteland, a solid pitcher in his own right, was the Yankees closer prior to Rivera owning the job for the next 17 seasons, but I just can’t picture it, and I was 14 years old when Wetteland was still closing in pinstripes. Rivera is so ingrained in that role that he’s my mind’s default setting.
Witnessing the end of the best—and being conscious of it—it’s surreal.
When Bonds was embroiled in his own steroid controversy, destroying the holiest of sports records and doing so in utter sociopathic fashion, there were a few who tried to play Kevin Bacon in Animal House and appease our horror by reasonably guessing that A-Rod would end up passing Bonds in the numbers and all would be true and pure with America’s pastime again a few years down the road.
I mean, A-Rod was The Man, right? He was our last bastion of nobility in baseball.
And in 2009 when he first copped to using roids many like me gave up expecting the best and giving benefit of the doubt. Even Rivera isn’t above suspicion because of guys like A-Rod, sadly. He credited God with adding significant mph to his fastball in 1995 when he was on the verge of being traded away from the Yankees. But we’ve seen too many players bow to a god of fame or money or narcissism to believe it was a higher power. Still, Rivera has never given fans much of a reason to raise a cynical eyebrow since he’s closed games.
A-Rod The Man was mud, and he was only going to get muddier, much from his own doing.
The despicability of him culminated in his pregame press conference Monday. He oozed BS. He pulled a Mark McGwire and said that this time to answer people’s questions wasn’t the time and place to answer people’s questions. He struggled to once again understand why he is so loathed. Doesn’t everyone know he just wants to play baseball and make people happy?
I heard an apt comparison Tuesday from an emailer to the Boers and Bernstein Show. A-Rod isn’t Bonds or McGwire. He’s Rod Blagojevich. Baseball Blago. A trainwreck of hubris and cluelessness.
Wednesday night will be the last time an MLB player wearing the jersey number 42 walks on a Chicago ball field. Nobody else in the game deserves to still don that number more than Mariano Rivera, and with the state of the game today, definitely nobody deserves to wear it going forward.
And as Chicago gets its last live glimpses of Rivera, our vision is clouded with the circus of Alex Rodriguez. The curtain is being perhaps lowered on two of the game’s greatest to ever do what they do—one closes baseball games, and one closes eyes and tries to go to his happy place.
These past few days should have been about Rivera, but they were hijacked by A-Rod, even if he didn’t calculate these early August games for his return. Instead of allowing nostalgia and good vibes for the game’s best ambassador, it’s all about the game’s biggest pariah. Only A-Rod could inadvertently screw that up, compounding the respective and different sadness of both players’ ends here.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa before earning his degree from Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @TimBaffoe , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.