Peter Gammons: The Good in the Game

Joe Girardi embraces Mariano Rivera as he walks of the mound for the last time in New York.

There are places I remember

All my life, though some have changed

Some forever, some for better

Some have gone, and some remain

All these places have their moments

In my life, I’ve loved them all.

-Lennon/McCartney

They are two of the greatest people I have ever had the privilege of covering, of knowing, and so when I awoke on the last day of the regular baseball season knowing this is, indeed, the end for Mariano Rivera, then bought my Boston Globe and read Bob Hohler’s interview with Bobby Orr, the lines connected between these two giants who never lost their dignity, never compromised their modesty or integrity or civility and each will be remembered as the best at what he did. Period.

Mariano is the best relief pitcher who ever lived, so good a person that he reduced millions to tears Thursday night when Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter walked to the mound at Yankee Stadium to take him out of the last game he would ever pitch in New York, a man who days earlier left a sign in the visiting bullpen that read “Thanks For Everything,” a phrase he emailed out to many, including my niece Debby Gammons-Brown, whom he treated with the grace and respect of a humble giant.

Mariano left us all better than he found us. “I try to return the respect others give me,” he said that night in The Bronx, the night of the seventh game of the 2003 American League Championship Series. That was a night in which Grady Little removed Pedro Martinez and Aaron Boone homered off Tim Wakefield, and after the game, when my friend and ESPN producer Charlie Moynihan and I finished what interviews we could get—as always, Jeter, Boone, Jason Giambi—there was no one left so we packed up to go to the visiting clubhouse for the saga of Pedro.

Moynihan nudged me. “Look who’s coming out,” he said. It was Rivera. He walked over to us. “I got rushed into the clubhouse,” he said. “I knew you’d be looking for me. So I came out.” Which entailed going through the media in the hall and down the runway, through the dugout and onto the field.

He talked about how “this was the most exhausted I’ve ever felt. That is an incredible lineup. Every pitch was very tough. Three innings. A tie game.”

Indeed, Rivera came into a tie game, threw three innings and 48 pitches. He got Todd Walker to line out with a runner in scoring position to end the ninth. He stranded David Ortiz, who had doubled, in the 10th. In a sense, he saved and won the game, and repeated, “this may be the most exhausted I’ve ever felt.”

But not too exhausted to come out of the clubhouse onto the field and explain that exhaustion, because he is Mariano Rivera.

Less than three years later, in June, 2006, I suffered a severe aneurysm and was flown to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. After a month’s stay, I was driven by ambulance to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Sandwich, Massachusetts. After finishing the check-in procedure, I was shown to my room.

Lying on the bed, with a smile on his face, was Robert Gordon Orr. Because he is who he is.

My brother-in-law King Durant and I were in the old Boston Garden the first time Orr played in Boston, an exhibition game between his Oshawa Generals and the Niagara Falls Flyers. First turn, he was different than anyone we’d ever seen, right before a Niagara Falls center named Derek Sanderson jumped him. Medical science was crude when he played, and his career was short, but his impact was that of Ruth or Russell, opening it up, averaged nearly a point-and-a-half a game and deflecting attention and adulation, face down.

We’d go to Cape Cod League games and when adults and kids alike asked for his autograph, he thanked them. He has devoted his life to the good of others, never complaining about being robbed of so much by a scoundrel named Alan Eagleson.

That day in that Cape hospital room, Orr asked me about a cross around my neck, whether it was family, whether I felt it helped me through my health issue. I explained that when I was at The Brigham, my wife Gloria brought me some mail, which included a fedex envelope. When opened, I found a silver cross and necklace with a note from Don Mattingly. His wife Kim had given him this cross when they were teenagers. They sent it to help in my recovery, and today, fully recovered, the cross is still around my neck.

Mariano and Bobby Orr and Donnie Ballgame are part of the life I’ve experienced. We all get asked about “athletes,” and these are three of the thousands, of the many remembered. Do I hope that Mattingly wins a ring? Of course, but not at anyone else’s expense.

The best player in baseball this season may well have been Clayton Kershaw, who with his wife Ellen has built an orphanage in Africa. Jon Lester might face Kershaw in the World Series after doing one of his many events for pediatric cancer. The road of good goes on forever, which is why on a day that began with the sadness of losing the good of Mariano Rivera and reading of the impending release of Bobby Orr’s book, we all move on, to Don Mattingly or Kershaw or Jason Heyward or Craig Breslow or Adam Wainwright or Adrian Beltre or Justin Masterson or Victor Martinez with a ring…

Some have gone, some remain. In my life.

  • VtBob

    This type of writing is why I have followed Peter since I first started reading the sports pages. Its why I donated to help keep him writing online, so not only I, but we all can continue to read his work. There are very few, if any, who are better at their craft than you Peter. You have truly blessed us all like the the men you wrote about today. Thanks!

  • Fenway 1974

    Lovely article. I am honored by the fact that in college I once shared a school desk on the floor of the Case Center with Peter typing out our respective BU-UMass basketball game stories under deadline on our manual typewriters. Now, just to play senior editor here — isn’t it “All these places have their moments” — not “meanings” ?