Thursday, September 07, 2006


The usual debate over the AL MVP is in full swing. The folks in Minnesota, Chicago, Boston and New York all have good arguments for their favorites. There should be no debate however over who the Most indispensable Player is, at least in New York. It's the same player it has been since the Yankees began their remarkable run of success in 1996. He started out in 1996 as a set up man. A role he played so well that he ended up finishing 3rd in the Cy Young voting. I can't be absolutely sure about this, but I certainly can't remember a set up man even getting a vote for the Cy Young award much less a first place vote since then. He allowed the Yankees to basically make every game a six inning affair. If the opposing team didn't have the lead by then, Mo would pitch the seventh and eighth and then hand it off to the closer, John Wetteland. Mo finished 12th in the MVP voting that year, but it was just the beginning of his soon to be hall of fame career.

Mo moved into the closers role in 1997 and has never looked back. He is as automatic as there has ever been. He has been the MVP of the playoff and World Series. He has been on the mound for some of the most dramatic of Yankee victories over the past 10 years. He has also suffered a couple of dramatic loses, including the 2001 World Series, in which he lost a one run lead in the 9th inning of the 7th and final game. His failures are so shocking because of his overwhelming success in the postseason. In 112 innings of work he has an ERA of 0.81. That is by far the best ERA of anyone who has logged a significant number of innings in the post season. By comparison, Dennis Eckersley, who was recently voted into the Hall Of Fame, gave up 12 runs in 36 post season innings. Rivera has only given up 10 total runs in post season play. His record is absolutely amazing.

Rivera has been almost as good during the regular season. He has over 400 saves and will probably eclipse 500 by the time his career is over. The Yankees have never been able to fill his spot during the brief times when he has been able to pitch. This season the Yankees are 5-2 against Detroit. The only two games they lost were 9th inning comebacks by the Tigers when Mariano was unavailable. There are players who contribute more on a daily basis than Mo does. Jeter, Posada, Arod, Giambi, Damon all play in the field and contribute on a daily basis. It's hard to say that someone who plays in less than half the games is the most valuable player on a team, however the Yankees have shown this year that they can win without a couple of their full time stars. The replacements may not provide as much production, but the rest of the lineup is enough to overcome their loss. The Yankees could not survive any long term absence by Rivera. The Yankees have had a string of former closers who have come through as set up men, from Mike Stanton to Tom Gordon to the current Kyle Farnsworth. While they had all been successful closers elsewhere, they all showed themselves to be less than up to the task of closing in New York. Perhaps it's the added pressure, it's hard to say, but whenever they have been asked to step into Mo's shoes, they have been less than successful.

Mariano isn't going to be able to pitch forever. His current arm problems are a sobering reminder of that fact. The Yankees will one day have to prepare for life without Mo. It's not a pleasant thought and I'm sure that no one will be able to match his accomplishments. The feeling of finality that the other team got when he entered the game is amazing. His number will be retired of course (It already is, since he is the last major leaguer who will wear Jackie Robinson's #42), and he will get his plaque in monument park, but the numbers will never do justice to just how important he was to the Yankees. For this current group of Yankees, he is without a doubt, their most indispensable player. He is simply, as one commentator so eloquently stated, the greatest closer since death.



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