There is No Reason to Rename a Street to Honor Mariano Rivera

There are only nine games left to see Mariano Rivera pitch.  (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr)

There are only nine games left to see Mariano Rivera pitch. (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison on Flickr)

The 2013 Yankee season has unquestionably – and rightfully – been the season of Mariano Rivera.  When, during his press conference on March 9th, Rivera announced that he would be retiring, everyone understood what would come next.

During every road trip, announcers would wonder whether this game could be the last time Rivera pitches at such-and-such stadium or in so-and-so city.    Every team would honor Rivera in some elaborate pre-game ceremony where Rivera would be presented with gifts to commemorate his career, and each team would try to one-up the other in terms of creativity and/or grandeur.1   Articles would be written about Rivera’s place in Yankee lore and his place the history of baseball.  Some writers – the ones who deal in absolutes – would proclaim that Rivera was not only the greatest reliever of all-time, but the greatest pitchers of all-time.  There would be countless ESPN lists and “debates” about whether Rivera has become a top-five Yankee of all time.

Some teams (such as the Twins) were more successful than others in terms of creativity.  What is Rivera possibly going to do with this?  And that’s great that the Red Sox gave him the number 42 from the Green Monster but why was it necessary for the entire team to sign it?  Is Rivera really going to cherish the fact that Brandon Workman or David Ross signed it?

But, the Rivera-love-a-thon didn’t stop there.  As the Yankees swooned in July and the team fell further out of playoff contention, the fans’ battle cry became, “We must win for Mo!”  Fans were apoplectic at the prospect of the Yankees missing the playoffs during Rivera’s final season.  (Because, obviously, making the playoffs in 17 of Rivera’s 18 big league seasons was insufficient.)  With the All-Star game set for New York City (at Citifield), a movement began to have Mariano Rivera start the game.  Then, Jim Leyland was criticized for bringing Rivera in to pitch the eighth inning rather than in the ninth because it deprived Rivera of the all-important “save” statistic.  (Because the two-minute standing ovation with Rivera on the field by himself was not a special enough moment.)  To cap it off, Rivera was named the game’s MVP.

Here’s the thing.  Rivera has been a great player and, by all accounts, has been a generous man off the field.  He certainly deserves to be applauded and celebrated as he exits the game.  While many of the ceremonies and gifts bestowed upon Rivera seemed over-the-top to me, I have no problem with them.2 When Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken announced their retirements (both in June 2001), they, too, received gifts and ceremonies.  Such treatment is reserved for players who are not only great players, but who are also beloved and respected in the game.  Ripken, Gwynn, and Rivera are all players who deserve all the accolades they receive.3

2  Though, it has always made me somewhat uneasy to see multi-millionaire players receive big, expensive gifts that will likely be locked up in a storage facility or placed in a little-used room in the mansion.  This is why I appreciate the teams that provided a donation to Rivera’s charity as part of the gift.

3 Of course, these ceremonies are only able to occur when a player announces his retirement prior to or in the beginning of the season.  I have mixed feelings about this.  On the one hand, I think it’s a good thing for fans (and the sport in general) to know that a great player is retiring because the fans and the league will then be afforded the chance to really appreciate and celebrate this player as he completes his final season in the majors.  On the other hand, however, it does sort of rub me the wrong way when a player announces his retirement prior to the season because it is almost like he is fishing for compliments.  The teams around the league are now obligated to hold a ceremony and present this player with some type of a retirement gift.  In Rivera’s case, this does not bother me as much because he has never been a flashy player who actively sought the spotlight.  He is an all-time great and if he wants to partake in a “retirement tour,” I guess he has earned that right.

All that having been said, there does come a point where enough is enough.  I think this point has been reached.

Yankee Stadium (both old and new) has always been located at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue in the Bronx.  Therefore, since 1922, all Yankee fans headed to the Stadium – whether traveling by subway, bus, or car – knew the cross-streets of their intended destination.

This week, a Yankee fan named Tom Ferrara began lobbying to change River Avenue to Rivera Avenue in honor of the greatest closer of all-time. As the story goes, Ferrara was staring at the street sign for River Ave. when he had an epiphany:  by adding an “a,” the street could be renamed Rivera Ave.  And, the idea to name a street after Rivera was hatched.  Yesterday, New York Post writer Mike Vaccaro picked up the baton and stated that “[t]here is really no good reason not to do this.”

Actually there are.

First, the New York City Council has explained that “[p]roposed honorees must be individuals who are deceased and of significant importance to New York City.”  Thus, the City would have to make an exception to this rule.  Proponents of the Rivera Avenue idea point to the bill signed by Mayor Bloomberg in July, which renamed two streets near the location where the Polo Grounds once stood in honor of Willie Mays.  This is a significant tribute to a legendary Hall-of-Famer who is widely considered to be the best all-around player in major league history.  Notably, Willie Mays is 82 years old, and he last played for the New York Giants in 1957.  This means the City of New York waited over 55 years to rename a street in honor of the great Willie Mays.4   Is there any way to possibly justify naming a street after Rivera immediately upon his retirement when the Say-Hey-Kid waited over five decades to have a street named in his honor?

4  Yes, I am fully aware that Mays also played for the New York Mets in 1972-1973, but he is not being honored for the last two years of his career when he was a shell of himself.  The reason the streets are being renamed in his honor is due to his contributions as a star player for the New York Giants.  Regardless, even if you count his playing days as a Met, it still took 40 years for a street to be named in his honor.

Second, if a street near Yankee Stadium were to be renamed to honor a Yankee player, Rivera would not really be close to the first choice.  In fact, I am hard-pressed to include Rivera in a top-ten list.  Babe Ruth, the man whose star power enabled Yankee Stadium to be erected in the first place (i.e., the House That Ruth Built), would clearly be the number one choice.  Lou Gehrig, whose bravery in the face of a terminal illness inspired millions of people, would be second choice.  Due to their on-field accomplishments, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle would also rank ahead of Rivera.  Thurman Munson, who died tragically in the prime of his career, and Elston Howard, who was the first African American player on the Yankees roster, are also deserving candidates.  What about Casey Stengel, who managed the Yankees to ten pennants and seven World Series titles, and Jacob Ruppert, the owner who acquired Ruth and funded the building of Yankee Stadium?  And let’s not forget Derek Jeter, who has been the face of the franchise since his first full season in 1996 and who ushered in a new Yankee dynasty.  The point is that the Yankee organization is steeped in history and there are many legendary or otherwise deserving candidates for an honor such as the one proposed.  I just don’t see the logic or reasoning behind renaming a street for Rivera in lieu of any of the aforementioned players.

Third, as noted above, this entire season has been one gigantic celebration of Rivera.  Don’t get me wrong.  Rivera deserves to be celebrated for his accomplishments.  But, I think enough is enough.  He has received countless gifts, been honored at the All Star Game, and cheered heartily in every city the Yankees have played in.  On Sunday, the Yankees will no doubt have some elaborate and grandiose celebration for Rivera.  In five years, Rivera will be elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot and at some point his number will be officially retired by the Yankees.  He’s a great ballplayer, and he has been – and will continue to be – honored accordingly.  There really is no legitimate explanation for why it is absolutely necessary to have this additional tribute to Rivera.

At the very least, let’s give this idea some time to breathe.  Overall, it’s been a rough season to be a Yankee fan.  (I have previously discussed the trying nature of the season.)  The one thing all Yankee fans have had to cling onto has been Rivera.  He is the best story of this Yankee season.  And, I get why some fans don’t want to let go.  However, there is no need to rush into this decision immediately.  There is no imminent plan to rename River Avenue something else.  In order to obtain actual perspective on an issue, it is sometimes necessary to let time pass so that decisions are not ruled solely by emotion.5  

5  There are additional bases for not wanting to rename River Avenue.  For sentimental reasons, I would not like to see the street name changed.  Yankee Stadium has always existed at the corner of 161st Street and River Avenue (albeit on different corners).  Additionally, the popular Yankee blog River Avenue Blues would have to change its name.

Given the standings, it is likely that there are only nine games left to see Mariano Rivera in a Yankee uniform.  I would advise everyone to simply live in the moment.  Allow yourself to appreciate it  when Rivera charges to the mound while Enter Sandman roars in the background or when he breaks another batter’s bat with a surprisingly unhittable cutter.

Rather than worrying about whether a street should be named after Rivera when he stops playing, let’s just watch and enjoy his final games in pinstripes.