Dan Schlossberg's Weekend Notebook: Salute to Mariano • Latino Sports

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Dan Schlossberg’s Weekend Notebook: Salute to Mariano

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Mariano Rivera had quite a week: last Sunday was Mariano Rivera day at Yankee Stadium, followed by the Mariano bobblehead fiasco and then the teary farewell of the closer’s last home game Thursday night. Sending Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte out to the mound with two down in the top of the ninth was a thoughtful gesture by manager Joe Girardi, who gave a sold-out ballpark one last chance to cheer the Panamian righthander.

Andy Pettitte made a farewell visit to the mound to greet Mariano

Andy Pettitte made a farewell visit to the mound to greet Mariano

Rivera, the oldest man in the majors at 43, pitched his entire career with the Yankees but struggled so much early on that he was almost traded for light-hitting shortstop Felix Fermin.

Used as a starter in his 1995 big-league bow, Rivera couldn’t survive a fourth-inning knockout. After a decent second start, he was bad again in his third try – giving up a pair of gopherballs.

Two years younger than fellow freshman Andy Pettitte that year, Rivera eventually worked his way into the bullpen as a set-up man for John Wetteland. He quickly proved so potent that the Yankees didn’t blink when Wetteland walked away as a free agent after the Yankees wrested the 1996 World Championship from the favored Atlanta Braves.

Pettitte was a solid starter by then – after making his major-league debut as a reliever the year before. Credit Buck Showalter, current manager of the Baltimore Orioles, for having the foresight to put Pettitte into the rotation. His successor, Joe Torre, deserves the credit for making Mariano a set-up man and, a year later, a closer par excellence.

Throughout his career, Rivera exuded class, style, and dignity. Never a source of controversy, he was polite, personable, and professional throughout – earning the respect of teammates, coaches, fans, and even opposing players. After finishing with more saves than any other closer, he is certain to enter the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. His speech will be low-key and humble, perfectly reflecting the personality of a magnificent man.

Every player in the big leagues should emulate his pride and professionalism. Bravo, Mariano.

Other thoughts that crowd an editor’s head on the final weekend of the season:

Bud Selig’s long run as Commissioner of Baseball was so controversial that pundits can pronounce him either the best or the worst chief executive in baseball history. The three-divisional format, evolution of the wild-card, interleague play, and other innovations raised millions for the owners – but only after the owners lavished millions upon the uniformed minions. And Selig was on watch not only for the cancellation of the 1994 postseason and the longest labor dispute in baseball history but also for the full run of the steroids era that ruined the integrity of baseball records . . .

The wild-card is wild, with participants in the sudden-death wild-card game still undecided in the American League. Texas, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland are fighting for two spots in the American League, while Cincinnati and Pittsburgh should meet in the National  . . .

Home-field advantage is also at stake, with the Braves and Cards still battling for the best record in the league and the right to host the majority of playoff home games. The Dodgers, eliminated from the best-record chase when they lost to the Giants again last night, would open the NLDS in Atlanta if the Cards finish with the best record. If the Braves finish with the best mark, the Dodgers would open in St. Louis while the Braves would host the wild-card winner. Should Atlanta and St. Louis finish tied, the Braves would get the nod for home-field advantage because they won four of the seven regular-season games between the two clubs . . .

Before the Boston Red Sox did it this season, 10 previous teams had gone from last place one year to first place the next. But only the 1991 Minnesota Twins rode that worst-to-first momentum all the way to the World Championship . . .

Major League Baseball is opening the 2014 season in Australia, with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks meeting for two games in Sydney March 22-23. Six previous seasons opened outside North America: four times in Tokyo and once each in Mexico and Puerto Rico . . .

Think the schedule has quirks this year? After opening the season in Sydney, the Dodgers and D’backs will return to Arizona for more exhibition games . . .

Almost a century has passed since the Boston Braves staged their memorable miracle of 1914. Last as late as July 18, when they trailed the New York Giants by 10½ games, they roared to life, winning the pennant by the same 10½ game margin and swamping the favored Philadelphia A’s in the World Series . . .

Michael Cuddyer should thank his lucky stars he landed in Colorado. The thin air and long dimensions of Coors Field turned a .271 career hitter into a batting champion at age 34. His will be the eighth batting title won by a member of the Rockies since the expansion franchise started play in 1993 . . .

Seeking more power, the Texas Rangers tried to trade Matt Garza, Joe Nathan, and David Murphy to Atlanta for Justin Upton just before the July trading deadline. Even though they knew Tim Hudson would be lost for the season (broken ankle), the Braves refused . . .

It will be strange to see Tim Lincecum (Giants) and Brian McCann (Braves) in other uniforms next season but even stranger if Robby Cano (Yankees) follows the same path after asking for a 10-year contract with an astronomical price-tag attached . . .

Pittsburgh would have won the NL Central with ease if former Yankee A.J. Burnett had the same year this year that he had in 2012. But he dropped from 16-10 to a losing record, failing to reach double digits in wins . . .

Although there are numerous candidates for Manager of the Year in the National League, the American League’s award is a no-brainer: Terry Francona bowed out of Boston in disgrace two years ago but bounced back big in Cleveland, rejuvenating the Tribe and turning it into a playoff contender thanks to a late-season push . . .

Indians Manager Terry Francona was AL's top manager

Indians Manager Terry Francona was AL’s top manager

Clint Hurdle (Pirates) overcame so many hurdles in Pittsburgh that he’s at least the sentimental favorite for NL honors, followed by Don Mattingly (Dodgers) for his in-season turnaround and Fredi Gonzalez (Braves) for overcoming a massive wave of serious injuries . . .

An inability to beat lousy teams not only cost the Braves a 100-win season but probably home-field advantage in the playoffs. Atlanta went 1-5 vs. San Diego, 2-4 vs. Milwaukee, 3-4 vs. San Francisco, and 1-2 vs. the Chicago White Sox. Amazingly, this same Braves team won the season’s series from every one of its potential National League playoff opponents . . .

Jim Kaat, whose 283 wins, 16 Gold Gloves, and 25 seasons pitched somehow weren’t good enough for the Hall of Fame, has donated most of his memorabilia to a sports museum in his hometown of Zeeland, Mich. This writer thinks both he and his collection belong in Cooperstown . . .

Jason Heyward’s 5-for-5 explosion Thursday night proves his timing and his power are back — just in time for the playoffs. The slugging Atlanta outfielder collected a single, three doubles, and a home run while leading the Braves to a 7-1 victory against the Phillies at Turner Field.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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