Mariano Rivera hadn’t specifically said he was going to retire at the conclusion of the 2012 season, but the cryptic implication took the tone of retirement with some wiggleroom in case he changed his mind. If he’d made it official before the season, Rivera would’ve earned the Chipper Jones treatment with honorifics from everyone—including the Red Sox and Mets—as he made his way around baseball a final time, but for someone as humble as Rivera, the ambiguity was preferable. In addition, Rivera’s humility is matched by his competitiveness, so if he wanted to play in 2013, he didn’t want to have to backtrack and say, “Never mind,” after getting gifts from other clubs.
Then he got hurt.
Out for the year after tearing his knee on May 3rd, Rivera stated that he wasn’t going out like this and he’d be back. In many situations, this recent vacillation after an ironclad statement would be a negotiating tactic and the player would be seeking more money and a longer-term contract. That would be true regardless of the player’s age. Rivera is turning 43 next month, but considering his durability and performance, a 2-year deal wouldn’t be an overwhelming risk for the Yankees.
Rivera isn’t looking for multiple years, doesn’t have an ulterior motive, and he certainly doesn’t want to hamstring the Yankees’ planning for 2013, especially with Rivera’s 2012 replacement Rafael Soriano having an opt-out in his contract and Soriano’s agent Scott Boras giving every indication that he’ll exercise it.
Extenuating circumstances having to do with life are more prominent in this decision by Rivera than financial or team-related issues. When he was injured, his surgery was delayed by a blood clot in his calf. Then the procedure was done, labeled a success, and there was as collective sigh of relief from the Yankees, the media, and their fans that Rivera would be back in 2013.
Now it’s not so clear-cut.
Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman sounds as if he’s preparing the fans for the legitimate possibility that Rivera will hang it up. Money is not a factor. If it’s a 1-year contract, the Yankees will be glad to give Rivera the $15 million he’s likely to want. That’s not the obstacle. The obstacle comes when longtime players, coaches, and managers or anyone who’s done one thing for a long time ask themselves, “Can I live without it?” and answer in the affirmative.
How much did Rivera enjoy the time away from the everyday grind and travel to spend the summer with his family? Did he realize that he can live without it? If that’s the case, then the acceptance of not needing the game—ably combined with his faith and love of family—could spur him to finally retire.
The injury afforded Rivera the opportunity to know the heretofore unknowable of whether he’d be bored without baseball. He experienced some semblance of retirement without being retired. If he saw that he could live without it for an extended period in the summer while the season was in progress, that might’ve been his answer.
If he retires, it’s not because he doesn’t want to play anymore and not because he can’t, but because he doesn’t want to put forth the effort to maintain his level of greatness; because he doesn’t want to leave his family again; because the blood clot and knee injury might have made him realize that life and health are fragile; because he realized he doesn’t have that need. If it took being away from the game to make that discovery, then the knee injury might not have simply ended his season, but it might have ended his career in a different context than was initially feared.