All this week, ESPN New York is celebrating the career of Yankees closer Mariano Rivera with an oral history of baseball's all-time saves leader through the words of his teammates and opponents, as told to ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo, Matt Ehalt and Andrew Marchand, and ESPN The Magazine's Louise Cornetta.
Rivera vs. the Red Sox. They've faced off in the heat of battle, in baseball's greatest rivalry, on Opening Days and Game 7s. So what words do Boston players use to describe their nemesis? If you don't know Mo, you might be surprised.
I love Mariano.
”-- Pedro Martinez
Pedro Martinez (Red Sox ace from 1998-2004): "I love Mariano. If I have to actually get in a line and wait for an hour to get Mariano’s autograph, which I thank God I don’t have to do, but if I had to, he would be the guy I would do it for."
David Ortiz (Red Sox DH): “He’s special. [He brings out the fan in everyone.] I was sitting right next to him during the All-Star Game and I pulled out my iPad and I was like, 'This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, let’s take a whole bunch of photos.' I did take lots of photos with him. I didn’t ask for his autograph at [the] All-Star [Game] as I was giving him his space, but I will."
Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox second baseman): “He’s first class. He’s the best. The way he treats everybody. He respects everybody. He’s a very very kind person. I think everybody around baseball looks up to him. We got a chance to see him a lot live. He’s pretty well liked in here even though he’s the closer for our biggest rival. He’s a pretty special guy."
Ortiz: "Actually, I do have an autographed jersey of his framed in my house in my basement. I got it a couple of years ago and asked him myself for it. But I got to get a new one now!"
Martinez (on 2005, when he signed with the Yankees' crosstown-rival Mets): "Believe it or not, Mariano took me in his truck and drove me around New York to go house shopping. He’s the one who introduced me to the area where he lived and that’s where I bought my house. Not everyone has the luxury to have Mariano as your driver and take you around and then take you to his house to share time with his family. Me and Mariano share the same agent, that made it easier. But at the same time, it’s a mutual respect that we have for each other and love."
Mariano ... What can I tell you? He’s the type of guy that basically says, 'What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.'
”-- David Ortiz
Ortiz: "When you talk to Mariano, it doesn’t even feel like you are talking to a guy that is going to the Hall of Fame first ballot. He’s like so humble and so respectful and funny. He says things that sound funny, things you aren’t expecting him to say. He never would look at anyone over his shoulder [meaning look down on anyone]. He’s special."
Dave Roberts (Red Sox outfielder in 2004; his famed steal helped spur Boston's ALCS comeback against Rivera and the Yankees that year): "He’s a freak. He’s a freak of nature mentally and physically. He just set the bar for everyone who put on a baseball uniform. Obviously his role is very defined as a closer, but when you think of Mariano, he’s a baseball player. He’s done things the right way and, like I said, he set the bar for all of us that have put on a uniform."
Bronson Arroyo (Reds starter and Red Sox pitcher from 2003-05): "You always see guys who want to have a bunch of facial hair and they want to look mean and have people think that they’re a little off or a little crazy and they don’t have command of their hundred-mile-an-hour fastball, they try to use that intimidation to beat guys. The thing about Mariano is he didn’t have to use any of those weapons. He didn’t have to use any intimidation at all. He didn’t have to use a brash attitude on the mound. He went out there cool, calm and collected for all these years and dominated at that position without having to use that as an edge at all.”
But the moment that made the biggest difference in winning Beantown ballplayers over? Several Red Sox pointed to Opening Day, 2005, when Rivera returned to Fenway after Babe Ruth's Curse was broken the previous October.
Kevin Millar (MLB Network Analyst and Red Sox first baseman/outfielder from 2003-05): "When he tipped his hat in Fenway in '05, I think he even got the hearts of Sox Nation. I just remember our whole rivalry. We were waiting for the Yankees to come to town for our ring ceremony. As soon as Mariano Rivera was announced as we all lined up, he steps off the chalk line and tips his hat and takes his hat off for the fans. I thought it was one of the funniest scenes that you’re going to see. Because here the Red Sox fans are trying to give him a standing ovation for blowing the save in '04 and next thing you know, here he is with a big smile, tipping his cap to ... fans that hate Mariano and the Yankees. It was a really funny moment, a great moment, and once again a classy moment from Mariano."
Arroyo: “I thought that was one of the funniest, classiest things I’ve ever seen in the game. ... We’re doing introductions because it’s Opening Day at Fenway. We’re getting our World Series rings. I do remember them introducing the Yankees and everybody being booed as they always were. When he got introduced they started cheering so loud. It took me a second to even figure out why they were doing it, and then for him to smile and tip his cap was Grade A. I think I’ve always viewed him in the same class as a Derek Jeter. He just played the game the right way and said the right things. He always showed body language and an attitude that is very highly thought of in this game.”
Kevin Youkilis (new Yankee in 2013 and Red Sox infielder from 2004-12): "He took it with a grain of salt. That just shows; some guys would get pissed, but he took it with a grain of salt and did well with it. That just speaks volumes about who he is. I think I was surprised the way he handled it. He did a great job with it. It’s never an easy situation, but I guess when you have four rings before that, you can deal with it a little bit better. I think the Red Sox fans have a lot of respect for him. That’s one of the coolest things about Mariano, he has respect all over the place.”
Ortiz: “Mariano ... What can I tell you? He’s the type of guy that basically says, 'What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.' He didn’t hide from that, and he wanted to show you the following year he’s stronger and boom he had a 1.60 ERA [actually 1.38].
"He’s a guy [who] is going to be irreplaceable.”