Hey, here's an idea! Let's stop writing goddamned epitaphs!
Last night, one of my crazy Yankee friends texted me ...
Most undignified end to a career ever?
Of course that depends on your definition of undignified, but I won't bother coming up with my own definition because I reject the central premise; I'm far from certain that we've seen the end of Mariano Rivera's career.
Let's talk about ends, though ... Most pitchers, even the best pitchers, have stopped pitching not because they wanted to, but because they couldn't find anyone to keep paying them to pitch. Or paying them enough to pitch, anyway. Greg Maddux pitched until he was 42, finishing with seven starts and a 5.09 ERA with the Dodgers. Tom Glavine pitched until he was 42, finishing with 13 starts and a 5.54 ERA with the Braves. John Smoltz pitched until he was 42, finishing with 15 starts and a 6.35 ERA with the Red Sox and Cardinals.
Those guys pitched, as most pitchers pitch, for as long as they could. In the old days, even great pitchers would keep pitching in the minor leagues if they could; Hall of Famers Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts both did that.
And then there's Andy Pettitte, Rivera's once and supposed-to-be-future teammate; everybody thought Pettitte was finished, and yet here there is in the minors, just a few weeks shy of 40, trying to work his way back to the majors. Pitchers pitch; that's why they're called pitchers.
I know about only one Hall of Fame pitcher whose career was ended by a sudden catastrophic injury: Nolan Ryan.
Ryan led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings when he was 40 years old ... and 41 and 42 and 43 and 44. He would have ranked second at 45, except he fell five innings short of qualifying.
The next season, Ryan struggled. This was 1993, which he said would be his last season. An injury limited Ryan to only four starts before the All-Star break. He pitched effectively in the second half, though, and threw his best game all season on the 17th of September, tossing seven shutout innings against the Angels.
His next start didn't go so well. After a single and three straight walks, Ryan gave up a grand slam to Dan Howitt. Moments later, he exited the game with torn elbow ligament and never pitched again. He was 46 years old.
Mariano Rivera's not 46, and he didn't tear an elbow ligament, or a rotator cuff or anything else north of his waist. And unlike Ryan, Rivera had shown approximately zero signs of decline prior to his catastrophic injury.
Mariano Rivera is 42, and they still couldn't hit him. ERA this year 2.16 & shrinking, WHIP .96. One of last pitches he threw broke a bat.— Max Kellerman (@Max_Kellerman) May 4, 2012
Of course, Rivera had sort of hinted this spring that this season would be his last ... But who's to know he wouldn't have changed his mind at some point? Or that his goal was to go out on top, having put together another brilliant season? I won't believe that we've seen the last of Mariano Rivera until Mariano Rivera says, with some conviction, that he's not interested in pitching again.
Rehabbing from knee surgery isn't any fun. Maybe at 42, Rivera just won't have the stomach for it. But he does still have the arm for it. And to anyone who believes that a 43-year-old can't come back from a serious injury and pitch almost exactly like he pitched before, I offer just one contrary piece of evidence, because one is all I need ...
Update: He says he's coming back.