The greatest tribute the Yankees and Major League Baseball can give Mariano Rivera is more than the thoughtful gestures and nice gifts they have been giving him all year. There is an honor even better than saying there never will be another one like him. The best tribute of all would be to make sure there are more like him. Many more.
That is not to say dozens of pitchers or even one guy will throw a cut fastball the way he does.
"There's nobody, I don't care what era you're talking about, that is ever going to do what he has done as a closer,'' Joe Torre said Sunday, when the Yankees and a packed house honored Rivera at the cusp of his retirement.
What would be a fitting honor is to make sure Rivera's class and dignity rub off on a whole generation in the sport and the world at large.
Every pitching staff, every team, every school, every office can use someone who goes through life the way Rivera has gone through his 19-year major league career: Doing the best they can, staying humble in success, being gracious in failure and generally recognizing that other people matter, too.
Walking off the field at Yankee Stadium after the ceremony honoring the closer, Torre explained to Rivera why everybody was so excited about the whole thing. "I told him, 'It's the person you are,' '' the former manager said.
That might be overstating a bit. It is doubtful they would have had a Mariano Rivera Day had he not set records for saves in the regular season and postseason or won five World Series rings. Still, Torre's heart was in the right place.
A baseball follower could not help thinking about Rivera this week amid the debate about whether it was tacky for the Dodgers to have celebrated clinching a playoff spot by gamboling in the pool beyond the fence in the Diamondbacks' ballpark. Say what you will about whether it was over the top, but you have to agree Rivera wouldn't have done something like that in a million years.
Rivera is a lighthouse in the fog of a culture that has become self-promoting, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory. He doesn't sulk, doesn't make excuses, doesn't gloat. Everyone ought to try to copy him in that regard.
"Baseball is not who he is, it's what he does. I think there is a lot to be learned from that,'' said Joe Girardi, who acknowledged he has been given much peace as a catcher and manager by Rivera. The pitcher also helped Girardi win World Series rings, too, which suggests that Rivera's way is worth trying.
"As much as this is a passion of ours, and we love it, Mo has life in perspective,'' Girardi said. "I think that's what we all marvel at, that's what we all look up to him about.''
Rivera's even keel is more than just a nice sidelight. The people who know him best professionally say that it is a lot of what has made him the greatest closer of all time.
"When he finished talking with the media, he was done with it,'' said Jorge Posada, his longtime catcher, referring to the way Rivera approaches a game.
He saw it work at the most challenging time, when the closer blew Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. "That was a tough one,'' Posada said, "because he had to wait until the next year.''
But it didn't bother him. Twelve years later, the guy still is on top of his game.
"It's definitely with the help of the Lord,'' Rivera said, adding that his wife, Clara, helps, too. "She hears all the things I have to say when I'm sad . . . All the prayers, that's my strength and power. I can't do it alone.''
You have to admire a guy who does not take credit even for not taking credit. May we see many more like this one-of-a-kind pitcher.