This is a guest post by Joshua Lavine @JZLavine – a journalism major at NYU. Joshua is passionate about baseball, and in particular, the statistical analysis of the game.
All good things must come to an end. That is what I keep telling myself about your impending retirement. But in truth, this might just be the beginning.
We were fortunate that you were on our side. There were a few times earlier in your career that it almost did not turn out this way. You were left unprotected in the 1992 expansion draft and almost traded to the Detroit Tigers and subsequently, the Seattle Mariners. You probably think that God must have been watching out for you to keep you a Yankee but the truth is, God was watching out for us, the fans, as well. We might never have been able to witness your greatness if you were not a Yankee.
You found a way to make the game of baseball look effortless. That within itself is an incredible accomplishment. Your 652 saves are an all-time record and if you were not retiring, there is no doubt in my mind, and the minds of many others, that you could reach 700, maybe more.
One of the best elements of watching you pitch is the way you went about your business. In an era where everything had to be “big,” you managed to be a star doing what you do. The jog in from the bullpen, the warm-up pitches on the mound and then, after a few splintered bats and three quick outs, another Yankees win. Just like that. No flashy dance, not chest pounding, no hollering at the opposing team.
My dad and I were in attendance when you collected your 500th save against the New York Mets. There are two distinct memories I have from that game. The first is the humble manner in which you accepted the congratulations from your teammates upon achieving that milestone. The second is when you drove in your first career run batted in. Albeit it was a walk, but even so, you battled to a full count against the Mets closer, Francisco Rodriguez, and earned it. In watching the replay, I could not help but notice your ear-to-ear smile. The save was just another save, but the run batted in – that was a first. Those were not only special moments for you, but for me as well because I was able to share them with my dad.
You also had a way of keeping perspective of what is important in your life. After Luis Gonzalez of the Arizona Diamondbacks found a way to make contact with your cutter in the bottom of the 9th inning in the 7th Game of the 2001 World Series (I still believe that he was luckier than a lottery winner to make contact with that pitch) you were able to find the silver lining. Your teammate, Enrique Wilson, was scheduled to be on a flight to the Dominican Republic after the victory parade in Manhattan if the Yankees won. Since the Series did not go the Yankees’ way, Wilson moved his flight up. The flight he was supposed to be on crashed and everyone aboard was killed. After the incident, you told Wilson, “I am glad we lost the World Series, because it means that I still have a friend.”* That is a beautiful mindset that only true goodness can bring out.
Aside from that hiccup against the Diamondbacks, you were literally unhittable in the postseason. Your 42 saves and .70 ERA in October are likely to remain records forever. Plus you were the 1999 World Series MVP and 1999 Babe Ruth Award winner. Your shining playoff moment came in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. After the Yankees battled back to tie the game, you pitched three shutout innings and ultimately ended up as the winning pitcher when Aaron Boone hit the game winning home run. You were awesome that night and that was a big reason why you won the 2003 ALCS MVP. Despite all the personal accolades, the most important aspect of your career is that you were an integral part of five World Championship teams.
As for the regular season, you were a 13 time All-Star and won the All-Star Game MVP this year. You gathered numerous other awards and set so many records, it looked as if you were playing against amateurs for your entire career.
Baseball is not the only part of life that you take pride in. You are active in religious activities and in making life better for youth in your native country of Panama. You wholeheartedly care about the wellbeing of others. As the various teams in baseball were planning ways to say goodbye to you, you wanted to say goodbye to them in order to bring closure to your career. In reading some of these encounters, the qualities that put you on a higher plane than most are apparent.
Next season will be a new era for the Yankees and for Major League Baseball. When the Yankees’ bullpen door opens in the 9th inning, someone else will come jogging in but he will not be wearing number 42. As the last player to wear number 42, you symbolize everything that is good about baseball and life, qualities that Jackie Robinson, the player number 42 is retired around baseball to honor, would be proud of.
I wrote at the start of the letter that this might be the beginning. Your desire to help those who are less privileged is a gift that transcends baseball. You have donated countless hours of your time and vast sums of money to ensure that you are a part of whatever the solution is to making the world a better place. That is the noblest thing you have done as a person.
This 20 – year old, along with an entire generation of fans, has never known anything different at the end of a Yankees game. As the years pass, I am sure that your star will shine even brighter and your legend will become sealed up high with the baseball gods.
It was an honor to watch you play and thank you for giving me some of the best memories of my life.
With the utmost respect and gratitude,
Statistics taken from baseball-reference.com and are current as of 9/21/13
*Quote taken from Epilogue: The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty by Buster Olney originally published 5/2/05 on espn.com.