LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Cal Ripken was someone who other players came to know, because as they circled the bases, they chatted with him at second base when he was shortstop, and or at third base when he played there. Young players like Gordon Beckham and Denard Span have good stories about their nerves the first time they spoke with Derek Jeter. David Ortiz is accessible to everybody because, well, he's David Ortiz, someone who wades into the ranks of other teams during batting practice to give big hugs.
But Mariano Rivera, who will announce Saturday that he will retire at the end of this season, has always been somewhat remote, and has fueled the mystique about him with players in other uniforms. He is a warm and generous teammate, a consistent and humble person with everyone from Jeter to veterans. But while he is unfailingly polite when approached by rival players, answering all questions -- and as he's gotten older, he has noticed more and more players with other teams timing their jogs in the outfield to arrange accidental meetings with him -- Rivera's mindset has always been more Vince Lombardi than Big Papi.
He has always kept his distance from players in other uniforms, especially hitters, believing there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. He has never liked All-Star Games, preferring to take the time off - and, I would guess, to avoid the collegial contact with rival players.
That distance has probably only added to his standing as royalty within baseball, the same way it does for kings and queens. What most other players know of Rivera is what they see of him during games, obscured by the bullpen gates. Behind the stoic security guards, they see him stretching in the bullpen in the seventh and eighth innings. They watch him warm up, quickly, always taking a little more time than other relievers. They watch him jog to the mound -- in Yankee Stadium, that journey accompanied by "Enter Sandman," a song with words that Rivera didn't know until years after it had been attached to him.
They watch him throw the same pitch, over and over -- the cut fastball, arguably the most devastating pitch in baseball history, and, in the eyes of Chipper Jones, a pitch that has completely altered baseball once others in the game started following Rivera's example.
They watch him shake hands when it's over, almost every time, his expression always the same.
It is sabermetric doctrine that relievers aren't close in value to starting pitchers. But among players and managers and even some general managers, Rivera is viewed as one of the great difference-makers in baseball history. Jim Leyland raved about Rivera on Thursday.
From Tony Paul's piece: "For years there with the Yankees, he actually was the MVP of baseball," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said before a night game against the Atlanta Braves. "That's how good I think he was, and what I think he meant to the Yankees."
Rivera was the reason the Yankees were a dynasty, says Joe Torre.
I've spoken with a number of former Braves who say the same thing, that if theirs had been the team for which Rivera played in the late 1990s -- rather than the Yankees -- then they would have won the championships.
He will walk away from baseball as the all-time leader in saves. But his pre-eminence is built on his postseason performances, which are mind-boggling. In fact, you could have a good debate about whether he or Michael Jordan is the greatest postseason performer in U.S. professional sports history.
Because the Yankees have been in the postseason so often, Rivera has thrown the equivalent of two full seasons for a reliever -- 141 innings, over 96 games -- and he has a 0.70 ERA.
His job description is to step out on the ledge of wins or losses over and over and over, and he fell a few times -- the '97 playoffs against the Indians, Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, the '04 championship series against Boston. But time after time after time, this is what opponents saw of Rivera in the postseason: He jogged in, he threw cutters, he shook hands with teammates, the expression never changing.
He has allowed a total of two homers in the postseason, in those 141 innings; he hasn't allowed a postseason homer in his last 57 appearances. (And remember, Torre and Joe Girardi have typically used him for four to six outs in the playoffs and World Series, not just an inning.)
He has been a weapon that no other team has had throughout his career, so he'd better start packing his bags and preparing for the All-Star Game, where he will be the star of the show. He'd better be prepared to walk across the field in ballparks around the country this summer to accept gifts and handshakes from rival players. They won't let him walk away without a proper goodbye.
With that in mind: I sent emails and direct messages to folks in other uniforms to ask them, in good humor, what an appropriate parting gift for Rivera would be. Some of the responses (and there was a common theme among many):
Chipper Jones: "A walker! He's way older than me! Lol"
Brad Ausmus: "I'd give him a cut fastball on his knuckles."
Brandon McCarthy: "A furniture set made out of broken bats."
Daniel Hudson: "A nice video tribute world be a great start. A guy like Rivera probably wouldn't want much more, I don't think."
David Price: "A pair of scissors, so he can continue to dominate cutting."
Brewers GM Doug Melvin: "Collect all the bats he broke with his cutter and you could build a log cabin he can retire in."
Jay Bruce: "This sounds a little outlandish maybe, but I think a bat made up of 42 different pieces of broken bats would be awesome. Because that's pretty much all he did. He broke everyone's bats."
Will Middlebrooks: "A broken bat from all the lefty hitters?"
Cody Ross: "How about a first-class ticket straight to the hall of fame no voting needed. He's that good, still! And a oversized THANK YOU card from all the pitchers for inventing the nastiest pitch in the game!"
Padres GM Josh Byrnes framed his suggestion in memories: "I happened to be on the winning side of two of his rare post-season blown saves -- the 1997 Sandy Alomar home run helped us win that series, and the 2004 Millar-to-Roberts-to Mueller for the series-altering run. That said, I think Rivera is one of the very best pitchers of all time.
"When we [the Red Sox] had our ring ceremony on opening day 2005, the Yankees were the opponent. When Rivera was introduced (after all the pageantry), the crowd gave him a thunderous ovation as the 'vanquished' opponent. He laughed, smiled and waved his cap in a shockingly good-natured, self-deprecating way. Can you imagine any other player of his stature handling that situation with such disarming class?
"I think it would be neat if the Fenway faithful gave him one more thunderous ovation ... for being such a worthy (and classy) opponent for so many years."
• Rivera was revered, writes Joel Sherman.
Good for the player, good for the team: No matter what happens, Chris Sale is guaranteed to make tens of millions of dollars in his career, and the White Sox now have a really nice team-friendly long-term deal with their best pitcher.
From Bruce Levine's piece, the breakdown:
2014: $3.5 million
2015: $6 million
2016: $9.15 million
2017: $12 million
Plus, there are two option years -- for $12.5 million in 2018, and for $13.5 million in 2019 -- with a $1 million buyout.
To put this deal into perspective: The best left-handed pitcher in the American League, David Price, opted to slow-play his contract situation, rather than sign a long-term deal, and in this, his first year of arbitration, Price is making $10.1125 million. It's possible that Price will make more during the 2014 season than Sale will make in any of the next seven seasons.
Sale is not Price, and he has the type of awkward, elbow-stressing mechanics that probably make surgeons like James Andrews wince; if he doesn't wind up on the disabled list with an arm issue some time in the years ahead with a significant injury, it would be a shock to a lot of rival evaluators. But at the same time, if the White Sox had waited, rather than guaranteeing him a lot of money in the deal now to save money later, Sale could have been really, really expensive.
White Sox GM Rick Hahn shares Kenny Williams's passion to win, writes Daryl Van Schouwen.
The Ryan saga
This is Day 7 of the Texas-sized standoff between the Rangers' ownership and Nolan Ryan -- and nobody can tell Ryan what to do. His silence is hurting his reputation, says Tim Cowlishaw. It's time for him to start acting like a CEO, writes Cowlishaw.
Jean-Jacques Taylor writes that it's manager Ron Washington who doesn't get the credit he deserves.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. The Tigers are finding the trade market tangled this year, writes Lynn Henning.
3. The Astros may try to move their Triple-A team closer to Houston -- say, 30 miles away.
1. The guys in the outfield played good defense for the Phillies, as Jim Salisbury writes.
7. The Astros' Phil Humber had a really strong outing.
10. A couple of Padres struggled in their rotation auditions, writes Corey Brock.
Dings and dents
6. Zack Greinke's start was pushed back.
9. David Ortiz's slow progress is driving him crazy.
The fight for jobs
1. Some non-roster guys are trying to make the Pirates' roster, as Bill Brink writes.
2. The guys competing for the Oakland second-base job have been fighting injuries, writes John Hickey.
3. The Marlins' center-field job is up for grabs, writes Joe Capozzi.
• Kirk Gibson likes Adam Eaton's irritating style.
• Nolan Arenado still has work to do, writes Troy Renck.
• The Cubs' hot corner went cold last year.
• Doug Melvin was stung by a scorpion.
• The Phillies' outfield remains unsettled.
• The Royals are keeping their sense of humor about the Cactus League, writes Sam Mellinger.
• The Indians' prospects are living a big league dream, as Paul Hoynes writes.
• The Jays' No. 1 pitching prospect stays grounded.
• A former top pick for the Padres isn't in camp because of personal reasons.
• The Molinas are excited to play together.
• Cal Ripken is making the rounds, selling his new children's book.
And today will be better than yesterday.