Put the pitcher prejudice to rest.
At some point this season, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is going to trot out to the mound in the final frame of a close game as “Enter Sandman” blares over the speakers for the final time. In anticipation, fans are looking for creative ways to honor his farewell tour as the greatest closer in major league history. According to CBS Sports, there is a campaign underway led by Bill Chuck of the blog Billy-Ball, to have Rivera on the mound as the AL's starting pitcher in the 2013 Summer Classic. The 43-year-old is 16-for-16 in save chances this season and leads the league in saves in what he says is his final season.
Via CBS Sports:
Chuck lists nine very good reasons why Rivera should start the game, explaining it would generate maximum attention, be good for ratings, allow kids to watch him pitch before bedtime, all sorts of stuff. He compares the situation to Alex Rodriguez letting Cal Ripken Jr. play shortstop during the 2001 Midsummer Classic. The campaign hastag #StartMo is alive and well.
The possibility of a dream matchup between young Mets ace Matt Harvey and Rivera in Citi Field had everyone drooling -- except Rivera, who sat the idea down at 100 MPH on Thursday.
“I definitely appreciate all that, but I don’t think that would be right because I am not a starter,” Rivera told the New York Post. “I’m a reliever. Again, I do appreciate it, but I want to be who I am. I am a reliever. I respect the thought, but that is not what I do. Maybe, I’ll get the chance to close.”
They meant well, but this campaign indirectly denigrates Rivera's entire career and his Hall of Fame résumé. For almost half a century, closers have taken slander from critics who look down on them as pitchers who couldn't cut it as starting aces. They’re perceived by a segment of fans as the field-goal kickers of MLB locker rooms, who clock in and work Usain Bolt hours after the starters have worked a 9-to-5 for six to seven innings.
Even as the career saves leader, and a five-time World Series champion, Rivera catches shade from critics who point out that he benefitted from longevity because of this era’s relief pitching specialization. Pitching prejudice is always swimming beneath the surface.
Rivera has no Cy Young Awards in his war chest, but this is a life lesson. Play your position. Rivera was built for the bright lights of the ninth inning in New York. It’s a thankless job. If a closer collects three outs without surrendering a lead, it's not like draining a game winner. You shake the catcher's hand, pack up your glove and walk to the clubhouse.
However, if they fumble a lead away, closers face the wrath of an entire city and perhaps the clubhouse. Like all athletes, some pitchers get clammy hands and lose partial control of their limbs in those pressure situations. Rivera is the Rock of Gibraltar in the Yankees rotation. He's obliterated the most dangerous hitters in the game and has raised the standard for closers.
Besides, if Rivera starts, who will the AL manager trust in the ninth inning with World Series home field advantage on the line? For 19 seasons, Rivera's cutter has been slicing up strike zones, cracking bats and leaving hitters dumbfounded. Starting him as an ill-conceived honor, after he spent two decades validating the role of closers, would be like Diddy on Downton Abbey -- it's a joke.