Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 9/13/13
When you begin to discuss the all-time great closers in Major League Baseball, it becomes very simple to decide who belongs in the conversation. There's Mariano Rivera, arguably Trevor Hoffman, and then there's everybody else.  Why is this important? Well, because at the end of the season we'll be spoiled no longer. At the end of the season, Mariano Rivera will bid Major League Baseball farewell. Yet some will inevitably wonder: Is it too soon? On Feb. 17, 1990, Mariano Rivera was signed as an amateur free agent by the New York Yankees. In May of 1995, Rivera made his debut. He started that game (yes, you read that correctly), pitched 3.1 innings, surrendered 5 runs on 8 hits, and took the loss.  As Bob Keisser, writer for the Los Angeles Angels notes: “Mariano Rivera's debut was no sign of things to come.”  Yahoo! Sports writer Paul Watson points out that Rivera's first eight major league appearances were starts: “He didn't move to the bullpen full-time until 1996 and didn't become the Yankees' closer until the following season.” Now we have reached the year 2013, which happens to be Rivera's 19th season in the major leagues and evidently his last. Since 1997 he has notched 650 saves, the all-time leader in that category. The next closest pitcher is Trevor Hoffman of San Diego Padres fame, with 601. The list tapers off heavily after that, as the next pitcher on that list (Lee Smith) has 478. In 1,111 appearances as of Sept. 12, 2013, Mariano Rivera has logged 1,278.1 innings, converted 89% of his save opportunities, and struck out 1,170 batters. Oh, and he's also only walked 286 batters. Let that number sink in for just a moment. The most saves Rivera's ever blown in a season is 9, which happened the year he became the Yankees full-time closer in 1997. This year he's blown 7 saves, but has already notched 43, tying Trevor Hoffman's record with his ninth 40-save season. “I want to stay home, close the door and do what's next," Rivera has said. Perhaps what is most astonishing about the longevity and dominance of Rivera's career is the fact that he went undrafted. He was signed as a free agent out of Panama and has remained a member of the New York Yankees ever since. You don't have to be a Yankees enthusiast to appreciate Rivera's career.  If you don't appreciate his career, it's safe to assume you don't appreciate baseball all that much. He's the greatest closer of all time, and it's difficult to imagine anyone ever playing that role as he has. So why retire? Why now? This season Rivera has 43 saves in 50 chances and an ERA/WHIP of 2.30/1.09, which is just slightly above his career totals of 2.22/1.00. His dominance is still clear despite last season when 'Mo' gave us all a little scare. On Thursday, May 2, 2012 the Yankees were in Kansas City. Rivera was retrieving fly balls during batting practice as he always had when something went horribly wrong. David Waldstein writes “Rivera, 42, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee while chasing a fly ball during batting practice before the Yankees’ game against the Royals.”  Everyone feared the worst: a torn ACL at the age of 42? It wasn't unreasonable to think Rivera's career might be over. Instead, he rehabbed and came back this year just as good as he has been. Little rust has shown throughout the 2013 season. Although he has blown five saves since the beginning of August, it looks like he could play at least one more season. As Ian O'Connor writes, even his manager wants him to come back next season. “I don't see any reason why he couldn't do it next year, I don't,” says Joe Girardi. Maybe there doesn't have to be a reason, though. Well, other than the idea that Rivera might actually want to move on to the next chapter in his life. Back in March when Rivera announced his retirement he said, “I want to stay home, close the door and do what's next.”  It seems very definitive. Rivera certainly wouldn't be the first legend to come back to play after announcing his departure, let alone the first Yankee. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte occupy that boat together, and Pettitte is still pitching for the Yankees. However, it seems unlikely. Besides, would it be worth it? If Rivera hadn't torn his ACL last season, it's not unreasonable to assume he would be on the doorstep of 700 saves. Milestones like that, though, don't seem all that important to Rivera. He's carried himself with class and professionalism; that's what has mattered to him.  Johnette Howard for ESPN writes “The serenity that Rivera has displayed all these years on the mound? That is not an act. It springs from a deep place that has little to do with baseball, and more to do with who he is.” The New York Yankees will honor Rivera on Sept. 22, and then what? There's a chance the Yankees sneak into the playoffs this season. They could even find themselves winning the World Series; we just don't know. Despite all of the uncertainty September baseball contains, one thing should be clear: Tip your cap one last time and ride off into the sunset, Mariano. You've spoiled us all enough.

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.

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