On May 3, 2012, the worst thing that could ever happen to the New York Yankees, happened. Even if you don't like baseball, or you hate the Yankees, you will acknowledge the revered place both hold in our collective consciousness. Steroids aside, baseball is still America's sport, and the Yankees are America's team.
And Mariano Rivera is not just another rich aging athlete. He is the greatest closer of all time. And much more. Rare among celebrities, he is beloved and honored by friends and competitors alike. He is also deeply religious, extraordinarily hard working and takes nothing for granted. He is always polite--even to the media--always grateful, and, despite his athletic prowess, unfailingly humble.
In short, he's almost too good to be true.
He's 42 now, is a 13-time All-Star, and has played for the Yankees for an astonishing 18 years.
Actor Richard Gere remarked recently in Gotham Magazine, if you want to know the soul of New York City, all you need to do is go to a Yankees Game and wait for the 9th inning. That's when the 'Great Mo' gallops like a Gazelle the length of the field and the roar of the crowd doesn't stop until he reaches the mound. "It's as captivating as the last, lingering note of the Philharmonic" says Gere.
We don't have many leaders anymore. And fewer heroes. The reason we look for them in sports is because we know how hard athletes work, and how much they sacrifice to compete and play at the highest level. And the reason we love sports is its unpredictability. You never know what's going to happen!
It's the best reality entertainment there is.
But back to May 3, 2012. On that horrendous afternoon in Kansas City, hours before game time, Mariano, while throwing or "shagging" balls in the outfield, tore his ACL, a potentially career-ending injury. He was carried off the field by tearful players and his coach. In excruciating
pain, he still managed to tell us what we needed to hear." I'm not going out like this," he said. The next day, he didn't make excuses or evade tough questions.
" If it's gonna happen like that, at least let it happen doing what I love, you know," said Rivera, "And shagging, I love to do. If I had to do it over again, I would do it again. No hesitation. There's reasons why it happens. You have to take it the way it is and fight, fight through it."
Few public figures speak so eloquently and honorably when confronted with personal disaster. He didn't need pollsters to tell him what to say.
Rivera has spent a career excelling, without fanfare. Day after day, year after year. He gets the applause he deserves but he conspicuously never seeks it.
He has nurtured countless athletes. It is known in baseball lore that he is completely selfless when it comes to counseling young pitchers.
He is a true mentor. How many of those do you know?
Or are the stories you hear more like this? No one has time for anyone any more. Callers are never called back. Thousands of on-line resumes of desperate job-seekers are never read. Those who are interviewed for positions are rarely, if ever, told why they don't get them.
That's why Mariano is such a comforting revelation in a time of increasing insensitivity toward others.
This is a guy who truly leads by example. He was born poor in Panama, but claims his childhood was wonderful because "everybody helped each other." He credits God with giving him his talent and his Mom and Dad with giving him values. He started a foundation with his wife (first and only) to help "B students who are talented", because, he says, they need more help than "the A students.
When he blows a save, and there have been some doozies, he doesn't see the loss as a defeat. He sees it as a learning process. He doesn't dwell. Or whine. Instead, he keeps his mind clean and starts fresh every time he's on the mound. He never blames anybody else for his losses but himself.
He has praised all his bosses, even the irascible late Yankee-owner, George Steinbrenner.
Mariano's teammates have said they can't envision the Yankees without him. "It's hard to even talk about it," Alex Rodriguez said after the injury.
His loss is incalculable.
How many people can we say that about?
Colin Powell once lamented we are living in an era of "no shame." Everything is acceptable--even overtly shameless behavior.
So, Yankees No. 42, age 42 with 608 saves (the most in Major League Baseball history) may never play baseball again.
Now that would be a shame.
About Barbara Laskin
Barbara Laskin is a nationally known media trainer, public speaker, and communications consultant. She is the Founder and President of “Laskin Media, Inc.” a full-service communication training company that prepares people for media interviews and public speaking assignments.
Since 1992, the company has offered media training, presentation training, interview skills training, satellite training, crisis response and speech writing services to key executives and others from Fortune 500 and 100 companies. Laskin Media has also prepared famous actors and actresses, sports figures, authors and celebrity spokespeople for their appearances on The David Letterman Show, the Tonight Show, CNN, CNBC, Fox News and other high-profile TV venues.