It doesn’t matter how many times I hear this story, the whole concept is always amazing. Here’s Brian Cashman telling the story of how the Yankees very nearly traded Mariano Rivera in 1996. For Felix Fermin. So that Fermin could start ahead of Derek Jeter. Incredible.
“It was close,” Cashman said. “The spring of ’96, (Rivera) had pitched in the playoffs for us. We were going to go with a young shortstop that turned out to be Derek Jeter. Derek wasn’t having a good spring training. There were some people in George’s circle that raised concern about whether Jeter was going to be ready or not. Tony Fernandez got hurt. Pat Kelly got hurt. We didn’t really have any alternatives if Jeter failed as a rookie, so the Mariners came knocking on our door because they had Felix Fermin they wanted to move and they wanted either Mariano Rivera or Bob Wickman, one of those two guys for Felix Fermin, and The Boss was honestly considering it.
“Forced us to have some serious conversations about it. We were having the conversations in Joe Torre’s office — Joe Torre, our coaching staff, Gene Michael, myself, Bob Watson was the GM at the time — and it was a fight to convince The Boss to stand down and not force us to do a deal that none of us were recommending. And it wasn’t because we knew what we had in Mo or Wickman. It was (because) we had committed to go with young Jeter, and thankfully we didn’t do that deal. The Boss listened, backed down, made us go through the fire drill, and that was as close as we ever came to trading Mariano.
“Gene Michael had a chance to trade Mariano for David Wells, maybe in ’95. Mariano was in our minor leagues, Wells was pitching for the Tigers as a starter, and Gene Michael said no. But I don’t believe that got close. But the one in ’96, that was kind of like, I think the press were all lined up outside for what felt like an hour and a half, waiting for that door to open to Joe Torre’s office and for the papal smoke to rise as white that we’ve elected to stay with Jeter, and we wound up keeping both Wickman and Mariano. But the life of the Yankees could’ve changed drastically if a mistake was made there.”
Unreal. A few other comments on this day of Mariano.
On believing Rivera was going to retire this time
“Mo has been saying he’s going to retire, seriously, for a good five years. But I knew he was serious (this time). … I’ve known, you know what I mean? It’s great that he’s come to peace with what he wants to do and he’s let everyone know. Now he can enjoy the season. I think it’s going to be a special year for him. I can’t relate to it in terms of someone announcing that it’s your last year and going through the last year, but maybe he’ll appreciate it – I’m not saying he doesn’t appreciate it to begin with – but he might appreciate every time he goes to different stadiums for the last time there. I’m happy for him. Happy that he made this decision and it’s the best one for him and his family.”
On seeing Rivera as a starter in 1995
“Pretty straight fastball, not a great slider, but real good command. I think, and definitely looking back now, he better come up with a little bit more stuff to be able to start in this league, you know what I’m saying? And then a year later they throw him in the bullpen in ’96, and just to see that smooth delivery, and see how deceptive he was, and how he hides the ball, and the command he had. It’s just amazing, in one year, to see the transformation, how he could dominate. And then obviously from there, just the cutter, just continuing to get better and better, and the command with it. Never even would have thought, in 1995, that he would have been able to have done what he’s done. He’s been very blessed, and he’s been so disciplined, and just the consistency he brings to the ballpark every day, the mental makeup he has, it’s been incredible to see.”
On what Rivera’s meant to the organization
“He’s irreplaceable. He is the greatest of all time, but you have all had a chance to get to know him. I’ve known him since he’s been in the minor leagues, and he’s never changed once. You see a lot of players that get a lot of money and a lot of notoriety and become famous and they change over time. He hasn’t changed a bit. I’ve got more respect for him as a player and a person because of that, because that’s hard to do. It’s hard to become famous and it’s hard to become rich and not change, and he hasn’t changed. I honestly tell you, he still every spring goes over to the minor leagues and to that chain-link baseball setting and spends time with the minor leaguers. He’s a giver. He’s always been a giver of himself, and he’s still a giver. I think the higher the food chain up you go, the more your life gets cluttered and you get busy and you find reasons not to give or give back, and Mo’s not been that guy at all. He’s the same guy. If not, he’s a better guy. So he’s always been a great guy, and if anything, he’s gotten even better as a person, if it’s at all possible. That’s the guy I know. He’s going to be harder to replace in that clubhouse as much as on that field.”
On appreciating one last year with Rivera
“I’ll tell my kids, ‘Pay attention.’ It’s amazing what this man has done and what one man can mean to an organization and how he’s done it. I think maybe the greatest lesson that you could take from Mo is how he’s done it with class and humility. Not how great he’s been, but in that greatness how he’s handled it. And that’s what you’d want every player or person to do. … It’s been a real treat for me. I was relaxed when he came into the game as a catcher, and I’m relaxed when he comes into the game as a manger. So that’s probably about the highest compliment you can pay a closer.”
Associated Press photos