When Mariano Rivera leaves, it truly will be end of an era

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera throws against the Texas

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera throws against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. (April 23, 2012) (Credit: Getty)

David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for David Lennon

David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since

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PHOENIX

Mariano Rivera emphasized during Saturday's news conference that he felt "no sadness" upon reaching his decision to retire.

The morning was emotional, and Rivera appeared to choke back a tear on a couple of occasions, but the prevailing sentiment was gratitude for his 18 years in pinstripes.

He's right.

This year's farewell tour will be more like a celebration of his greatness, as both a person and player, rather than a gut-wrenching goodbye drawn out over the next six months. He deserves the sendoff, and based on his comments, is fully prepared for one.

No, the grieving party here should be the Yankees, because losing Rivera cuts to the heart of what made them a dynasty for nearly two decades. The Steinbrenner cash helped, but it takes more than money to do what they've done for so long. And for all the talk of the Core Four, the two biggest pillars holding up The House That Ruth Built during this Bronx renaissance were always Rivera and the team's captain, Derek Jeter.

No one understands that better than Joe Torre, who credits Rivera for making his career.

"He's just a special human being," Torre said, "and I know the reason we won so often was not necessarily the ability we had but the character we had."

An iceberg-sized chunk of that character will get sliced in half when Rivera walks at the end of this season, and it will melt away completely as soon as Jeter decides to follow him to Monument Park.

The Yankees will find another closer to do the job once Rivera is through, just as they will enlist another shortstop to take over for Jeter. But replacing them, and what they brought to the team beyond statistics, is impossible. It's why they are deified -- in a baseball sense -- and Rivera spoke of his very closest teammates, Jeter and Andy Pettitte, like brothers.

"I consider them my family," Rivera said. "That's how much I have respect and love for them. We pulled for the same goals, every year, day in and day out. It didn't matter what the situation was. We always were there."

Which makes now as good a time as any for Rivera to announce his retirement. The Yankees are more splintered than ever these days, with Alex Rodriguez somewhere off in his own orbit and general manager Brian Cashman trying to conjure up the same mojo with bit players on a tightening budget.

Kevin Youkilis' family was in Boston. Robinson Cano, amid all the increasing chatter of a record-breaking contract, is coming off like another A-Rod, without the off-the-field baggage. Ichiro Suzuki, a sure Hall of Famer, is putting a pinstriped bow on his career with the sport's most famous franchise.

This is not a knock on any of this group as players, and the Yankees will field a decent, if not championship-caliber, team once Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira return in mid-May. But Rivera is the type that transcends the game. You don't get called the "greatest ever" for making a few All-Star teams or winning an MVP award. It's an exclusive club.

The Yankees put on a nice display of unity by having all of their players, in uniform, line up to the right of Rivera in Steinbrenner Field's Pavilion. It was a great show of support and surely meant a lot to him. But the Yankees had the most to gain by the gesture. Consider this a learning experience for those on the roster who may be in need of a refresher course.

Right in front of them, a few feet away, was the perfect example of what being a Yankee -- Lou Gehrig comes to mind -- is supposed to be about: Excellence, class and humility. Rivera even channeled a bit of Joe DiMaggio in thanking the Lord for allowing him to wear the Yankee uniform, and for so many years.

"I'm a team player," he said, "and if it wasn't for my teammates, I would never had the opportunity. But I would love to be remembered as a player that was always there for others, trying to make others better."

Rivera was part of an exceptional group that made the Yankees very good for longer than any team, in any sport, has a right to be.

Someone else will be closing games for them next year, and the Yankees will continue to be the Yankees.

The Yankees without Rivera, however, will always be something a little less.

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