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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Allow Mariano Rivera to leave Yankees gracefully

Mariano Rivera delivers a pitch in the ninth

Mariano Rivera delivers a pitch in the ninth inning of a game against the Chicago White Sox at Yankee Stadium. (Sept. 3, 2013) Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

Just say no, Mo.

With Joe Girardi mentioning after last night's game that he plans to talk to Mariano Rivera this winter about the possibility of coming back in 2014, we're thinking it's not a good idea.

A great story? Sure. A sound career decision? Not so much.

Saying goodbye is always difficult, and when a player publicly announces his retirement, especially after a career as legendary as Rivera's, it's not something that's done on a whim. When that step is taken, as Rivera did back in spring training, the best he can hope for is a seamless and sentimental farewell tour.

Rivera has been lucky to get that. He's stayed healthy and, perhaps most importantly, avoided looking like a 43-year-old who stuck around for one year too long. After having season-ending knee surgery last season, Rivera chose to return so he could go out on his own terms, and that's what he's been able to do to this point.

But Girardi knows how powerful the tug of this game can be, and with Rivera earning save No. 40 in Tuesday night's 6-4 win over the White Sox, the manager believes he can keep doing this in 2014.

"I think it's important that you let a player get away for a while, and to see if that feeling changes," Girardi said. "Because it's hard to come back once you leave as an older player. I would just say to Mo, 'Think about it and make sure. If it's what you want to do, I respect it. But as good as you've been, I still think you could probably do it.'"

As of Tuesday night, Rivera again expressed zero doubt with his intention to retire, but he doesn't blame Girardi for trying. Of course, Girardi's contract is up at the end of this season, so it could be wishful thinking for a number of reasons by him.

"I don't tell no one what to think," Rivera said. "I respect that. But I made my decision."

Now into September, there's really no going back. And what about the gifts? The broken-bat rocking chair from the Twins? The "Enter Sandman" gold record from the Indians? That freaky sand castle-looking sculpture from the Rays?

Knowing Rivera, a man who has built his reputation on integrity, he won't want to cheapen those efforts by suddenly balking on his commitment to walk away. For Rivera, it won't feel right, not after convincing everyone this would be the final lap.

Just because Rivera could come back, it doesn't mean that he should.

"I never wanted to think that, 'could I have played a little bit more?'" Girardi said. "It was really evident for me because I couldn't stay healthy. But Mo has seemed to be pretty healthy this year . . . I'll just talk to him because I want to make sure that his heart's right when he decides it's time."

This is as perfect a send-off as Rivera could have scripted, short of advancing to the World Series. And Rivera clearly doesn't need the money.

The Yankees paid him $10 million on a one-year deal to put a bow on his Hall of Fame career, and that brings his total earnings to nearly $170 million (not including endorsements). Obviously, signing on for another $10 million would be a tempting offer. But in the bigger picture, Rivera sounds like he's ready for the next stage of his life.

Unlike Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte -- two of the biggest-name Yankees to reverse their retirements -- Rivera seems more at peace with the decision. At 648 saves and counting, with five World Series rings, what's left for Rivera to accomplish?

Only two things, really. Five years from now, he'll get his plaque in Cooperstown, as well as a spot in Monument Park somewhere along the way. No need to delay that any further for a paycheck, regardless of how much Girardi might be dreaming of it.


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