“Not every player can be an all-time great, but there are guys like Mariano on every major league team on the periphery of the roster who have a very limited set of skills and are able to stick on a team for a long time,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. “It’s a credit to him that he somehow found a way to last this long. No one would have predicted this 19 years ago.”
Rivera broke into the majors in May of 1995 as an older, 25 year-old career minor leaguer with a clearly limited upside. He got shelled in his first major league start, allowing 5 runs and 8 hits in 3.1 innings against the California Angels, handing the Yankees a 10-0 loss. Rivera went on to put up a 6.36 ERA in 10 starts, four times failing to make it into the fifth inning, and was removed from the rotation for good in early September.
“This is a guy who only has one good pitch,” says Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild. “It was insane to think he had any hope of getting major league hitters out for more than maybe an inning per game at the absolute max. He’s just not that good. And I’m not ripping Mariano. He knows how limited his skills are, but he has stuck around for a long time. He should be an inspiration to other players out there who are several cuts below the true greats in the game. He found a way to not get cut every spring.”
After failing to show the talent to last as a starter, the Yankees banished Rivera to the bullpen where he has been used for very short stints, always with the Yankees having already built a lead. Despite his limited role, his deficiencies were laid bare when he famously blew the 2001 World Series and the 2004 ALCS.
“I can’t believe I lasted this long,” said Rivera. “I feel blessed. After 1995, I assumed I might have another year or two in Triple-A and then my professional baseball career would be over. But the Yankees have been very good to me. I can’t thank them enough. Most teams would have released me.”
With Rivera finally retiring, the Yankees are looking to make an upgrade next season.
“Obviously, if you can, you want pitchers more versatile and talented than a guy who can only throw just one pitch for one inning a few nights a week,” said general manager Brian Cashman.
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