If you're like me, you wanted to see Mariano Rivera pitch until he couldn't pitch any more. Sure, it's selfish. But isn't that what being a fan is all about? Placing the needs of the few behind the needs of the one? I've loved watching Mariano Rivera pitch for last 53 years, and I'd like a 54th.
There's an upside to Rivera's premature retirement, though: a Grand Farewell, as he's spent all season traveling about the country, fêted at every stop along the way. It's been fun to watch, and got me to wondering ...
What sort of player gets the Grand Farewell? And what does a Grand Farewell look like?
Well, it starts with an official announcement. Nobody gets a Grand Farewell without an Official Announcement before the season because you don't want to say farewell more than once. Many great players don't make an official announcement before the season, because they don't want to stop playing until they have to.
Cal Ripken made an Official Announcement, and so he got a Grand Farewell. There are four elements to the Grand Farewell ...
1. The Official Announcement
We already talked about that.
2. The All-Star Moment
For Ripken, it was a few pitches at shortstop, his old position. For Chipper Jones, it was a motivational speech to his National League teammates before the game. And for Mariano Rivera, it was pitching in the eighth inning rather than the ninth, and having the entire field to himself while warming up. Of course, there can't be an All-Star Moment without an All-Star berth. Or there hasn't been, anyway. Major League Baseball could and probably should invite deserving parties to the festivities, even if our retiring star isn't on one of the rosters. Although considering how bloated the rosters are these days, why not just find the space for him?
3. The Farewell Tour
For so many years, they've been booing you, or cheering for you to fail. But on The Farewell Tour, they cheer for your good future and give you fishing boats and rocking chairs! I don't actually remember if Ripken got anything, but Rivera's cadged all sorts of nifty stuff. And he got plenty of good-hearted cheers from Red Sox fans before his last-ever regular-season game at Fenway Park.
4. Retirement Ceremony
This is Your Life, baseball-style, with your family by your side and a heartfelt speech at the end (but without Ralph Edwards or the surprise). Back in the old days, everybody got one of these. Not a retirement ceremony, necessarily. But a day on which they were honored during pregame ceremonies, and given a new car and some fishing tackle, maybe a dairy cow. Often, the fans chipped in. Sometimes there was a loving cup involved. Because everybody loved him.
You don't get a car any more. You can afford to buy your own car. You can afford to buy your own car company. So these days it's all about the sentimental gesture, and we've not as much room for sentiment these days. These days, you have to be special to get your own day.
Mariano Rivera might be the most special. Cal Ripken and Chipper Jones, too. But what made them so special? As near as I can tell, there are three must-haves for any player who wants The Grand Farewell:
You have to play brilliantly for a long time;
You have to play brilliantly for a long time for the same team;
You can't be involved in any baseball scandals.
Ryan Braun? Probably not (although a lot might change in the next 10 or 15 years). Ichiro Suzuki would have qualified ... if he'd stayed in Seattle. But he didn't. And it seems unlikely the Yankees will make any great efforts to honor his last season (probably next season). Derek Jeter, on the other hand, is going to get the full treatment, assuming of course that he does make The Official Announcement and then plays a full season. What will that look like? Much like Rivera's Farewell Tour, except probably without those meetings Mo's been taking with stadium personnel around the American League. And it's hard to imagine what they'll come up with for the All-Star Game. Something, though. Something.
Once you get past Jeter, though? It's hard to find other candidates for this most special treatment. I might suggest Chase Utley, but it doesn't seem that he'll ever gain the reputation he deserves. David Wright, perhaps, assuming of course he remains a Met throughout his career. The bar is so high, though; consider that Todd Helton, who meets virtually all of our criteria, didn't get anything like The Grand Farewell.
Mark Buehrle might have qualified ... if he'd remained with the White Sox for another six or eight years. Among pitchers, the only remotely viable candidates for a Grand Farewell are Justin Verlander and Felix Hernández ... and they've still got a long, long way to go.
When I started thinking about this subject, I assumed I would find plenty of candidates for Grand Farewells. I was wrong. Derek Jeter will get one if he wants one. But after Jeter, we might be waiting a long, long time for another. Which seems sort of a shame. We don't want them every year, because that would get old. But we want them more than once in forever.
So after Jeter, who do you think will be next in line for the royal treatment?