The biggest story this weekend? The battle for the second American League wild card, which will last until Saturday night, at least. The second-biggest story? The Pirates and the Reds fighting for the home field in next week's National League Bud Selig Memorial Game. But the third-biggest story might be Mariano Rivera's last appearance, the exact nature of which remains yet unknown. There is, of course, an intriguing option:
There is a real possibility that Mariano Rivera will be granted his last baseball wish and play center field this weekend.
Asked if he was considering using Rivera as an outfielder against Houston in the final series of the closer’s final season, Joe Girardi said “absolutely.” Rivera has long said he’d like to play in center, for at least an inning.
“It would be something good if my body permits it. One thing I can tell you: If I can do it, I will do it. If I can’t do it, I won’t be making a fool of myself there,” Rivera said. “I’m a professional, and this is not a joke for me. This is serious, this is business, I respect the game and I will leave it like that. If I can do it, I will do it. If not, that’s fine with me.”
I don't believe in rules. Today I was talking to a friend about the existence of A's and O's as a thing. He made a good point: those apostrophes are used to denote contractions, and thus comport perfectly well with the rules of English. Ah, but what do we do when the A's do possess something? Does this look right?
Who thought the A's' record would be so good again?
Who thought the As' record would be so good again?
Yeah. No. Those look terrible. We use one apostrophe between the A and the s because screw the rules when they don't make any sense. Which brings me back to Mariano Rivera. The general rule, and it's a good one, is that managers should manage within the general aim of winning the baseball game. It's only rarely that managers violate this rule. Most notably, if they're getting blown out and the bullpen's a bit thin, they might call upon a non-pitcher to pitch. Very occasionally, they'll do the same thing in a close game, because they're out of relief pitchers and they don't want to ask a starting pitcher to bust his routine.
Those are perfectly acceptable cases of managers violating the general rule. In 1983, Billy Martin took things farther than he should have. Martin's Yankees had lost their appeal in the Pine Tar Game, and were forced to resume the contest with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, trailing 5-4. The outcome was obviously still very much in doubt. Nevertheless, Martin deployed pitcher Ron Guidry in center field, and first baseman Don Mattingly at second base; that was 30 years ago, and Mattingly's still the last lefty-throwing major leaguer to play second base.
I don't believe in rules. I believe in guidelines. Martin made a mockery of the game; worse, his intention was to make a mockery of the game. Much as Bobby Valentine intended to make a mockery of the game when he reappeared on the bench, wearing Groucho glasses, after being ejected from a game. These incidents are interesting, but I can't condone them because they have no greater purpose than to turn an otherwise pleasant day at the ballpark into something else.
Where does Mariano Rivera playing center field fit into this schematic? Joe Girardi would obviously be violating the general rule, because the Yankees have a better chance of winning with someone else in center field. But there's no actual rule; there's a guideline, and it's violated all the time. It's violated when a pitcher asks an outfielder to pitch, and it's violated when a player plays all nine positions in one game. Bert Campaneris was the first, in 1965, and he's been followed by Cesar Tovar (1968), Jose Oquendo (1988), Scott Sheldon (2000) and Shane Halter (ditto). Without checking, I will posit that all five games were meaningless, relative to the final standings anyway. In 1975, the Northwest League's Portland Mavericks had nine players play nine positions apiece in a nine-inning game.
In every case, management decided that fun would trump the rule, or the guideline. And I've not yet see any complaints.
So why would anyone complain about Mariano Rivera playing in the outfield for an inning or two? I think people want to remember him the way they want to remember him. Which is understandable. Here's my advice, though: If you want your last memory of Mariano Rivera to consist solely of Thursday night's lovefest, DO NOT WATCH TELEVISION OR INTERNET THIS WEEKEND. You're a big boy or girl. Nobody's forcing you to look at electronic screens. Go for a hike or meditate in a sweat lodge or whatever you want to do.
But Mariano Rivera's farewells and goodbyes are not for me to judge. If he wants to pitch against the Astros, maybe help his club win one more game, I'm going to let him pitch. And after all these years of shagging flies before the games, if wants to play center field, I'm sure as hell going to let him.
Sure, seeing a 43-year-old relief pitcher in center field will turn the game into a mockery. But for just a few moments. And for chrissakes, it's just a guideline.
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