A Thursday night in May, a warning track in Kansas City, a batting practice fly ball. Such an atypical scenario couldn’t be the end to one of the most exciting careers in baseball history. And yet that was the thought of virtually every Yankee fan, and even Rivera himself didn’t do much to dispel the notion that the illustrious career of the greatest closer ever to pick up a baseball may be ended at the hands of a torn ACL.
So today when Mariano Rivera announced to the public that he would indeed return for the 2013 season the Yankee universe breathed a collective sigh of relief. Every fan’s fear of losing a man, who even though he only threw really one pitch was able to remain one the most unhittable pitchers ever, was relinquished and moved on to encouraging thoughts of Mo rehabbing and returning next year to a standing ovation. On the surface this of course seems like the right move, but what if he didn’t come back? What are the risks of his return that no one in the baseball world wants to address?
David Robertson is the heir apparent to the closer role and will presumptively cast into that role now that Rivera is no longer an option. So far this season he has been the set-up man and pitched 11 innings without surrendering a run. At age 26 he looks every bit like the man of the future for the Yankees and after what the organization did to Joba Chamberlain I imagine they want to leave Robertson in one role and groom him accordingly.
Now imagine Robertson finishes the year as the closer and performs outstandingly for the remainder of the year. What does it do to his confidence when Rivera comes back and he is thrust back into the set-up role? Besides the mental anguish you then have the issue of Rivera struggling.
Rivera in the past has gotten off to sluggish starts (albeit they never last long) and after not pitching for the majority of a season and at age 42 it wouldn’t be unheard of for him to be rusty upon his return. All-of-a-sudden you have questions if he is the same pitcher and you have a quarterback controversy in your bullpen. Having Rivera be anything but the closer is absolutely out of the question and that situation could split a pitching staff, if not a team.
Now say none of that happens and Rivera is put back in his rightful role without any controversy, what if he hurts himself again. At his age injury is always a concern and especially coming off one so detrimental if he hurt himself again it would be heartbreaking for many fans and the sadness could distract from his true legacy of dominance.
Then again none of these things could happen, he could come back, take over and dominate as he always has, but sometimes someone has to be the Debbie Downer and address concerns that nobody wants to think about.
Anthony Parelli is a contributing writer to NY Sports Cookie, and is studying journalism at St. Johns University.