There may be no human on the face of the Earth with more perspective on Mariano Rivera’s career then Joe Girardi.
The Yankees honored Rivera Sunday before their series finale against the Rays at the Stadium, officially dedicating a Monument Park plaque to the future Hall of Fame closer in a pregame ceremony. And Girardi took the opportunity to reflect on Rivera, a legend he had the privilege of playing alongside of for four seasons and managing for six.
“The man who he was impressed me the most,” said Girardi, who sat in one of the white chairs surrounding Rivera’s podium during the celebration. “Mo burst onto the scene in 1996 and really never ever had a rough year. But he never changed. He never changed who he was. He got older, but he never changed. He was extremely humble and was always there for people, (in) what he did for the guys in the bullpen and what he’s done in the community.”
Rivera was also joined on the field by former trainer Gene Monahan, former manager Joe Torre, former pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre and former teammates David Cone, John Wetteland, Tino Martinez, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter.
All of those players and coaches took part in the 1996 World Series ceremony on Saturday.
“I will always thank the good lord for making me a Yankee,” Rivera said in his speech after fans chanted his name.
Girardi caught Rivera during his time playing for the Yankees from 1996-99, so he had a unique view on a pitcher who dominated to game with a single pitch – the cut fastball.
“He mastered a craft,” Girardi said. “And you can’t say that very often about someone…in the game of baseball because it’s so difficult. But he knew how to use one pitch and used it better than anyone ever did. And I found it truly amazing.
“It was the easiest guy I ever caught. You never had to block a ball. You never had to think about a ball in the dirt. You knew he was going to be really close to where he was trying to throw it.”
Rivera frustrated some of the best hitters in the game over his 19 seasons, all of them in Pinstripes. Girardi recalled one interaction that proved how much Rivera affected opposing players’ mindsets and confidence.
“I do remember Rafael Palmeiro coming up to the plate and saying, ‘I don’t know why they send me up here. The only place I can hit it hard is over our dugout,'” Girardi said. “Because Mo had the ability to cut it in (to lefties), and they couldn’t do anything with it. And I just (thought), ‘Wow, this is some kind of hitter saying that.’ So that story always amazed me.”
Rivera, who ranks first in MLB history with 652 career saves, will be eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2019. Girardi doesn’t think Mo will have any issue garnering a nod.
“Oh, I don’t think there’s any question,” Girardi said when asked if Rivera is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. “I would like to see the person who doesn’t vote for him, and the reasoning.”