"I think you look for those moments," Rivera said. "I must be a masochist, but I look for those moments."
Thanks in large part to those moments, the Yankees honored Rivera's 19-year career Sunday by unveiling his Monument Park plaque during a ceremony that included Rivera's wife, Clara, his three sons and several former teammates, including Derek Jeter. The man known as "Mo" is baseball's all-time leader in saves (652) and games finished (952), as well as the pitcher with the best career WHIP since the 1920s at 1.00. And that doesn't even count his postseason history, in which he saved 42 games, closed out four World Series and posted a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings.
Rivera is the ninth pitcher to have a plaque in Monument Park, joining Hall of Famers Lefty Gomez, Whitey Ford, Red Ruffing and Goose Gossage, as well as Allie Reynolds, Ron Guidry, longtime teammate Andy Pettitte and longtime pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre. But when asked about the importance of this honor, Rivera didn't mention his fellow pitchers. Instead, Rivera couldn't help but marvel at the baseball legends he's now immortalized beside.
"It's amazing, thinking about all of the people out there in Monument Park, starting with Babe Ruth," Rivera said. "You have Mickey [Mantle], you have Mr. Joe DiMaggio and my favorite Yogi Berra, and the list is going on and on. And then me, a humble guy from Puerto Caimito, Panama, being in that group of men means a lot."
That attitude, that sort of humility, is what stands out about Rivera to Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Girardi, who had the good fortune of winning championships with Rivera both as a player and a manager, said despite all the success, Rivera never changed as a person, and that, to Girardi, is his most respectable quality.
Still, on the mound, Rivera was pretty memorable too.
"I do remember Rafael Palmeiro coming up to the plate and saying, 'I don't know why they send me up here. The only place I can hit it hard is over our dugout,'" Girardi said when asked his favorite Rivera memory. "Mo had the ability to cut it in and they couldn't do anything with it. I just thought, 'Man, this is some kind of hitter saying that.' So that story always amazed me."
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner was also on hand, explaining that it wasn't until Rivera retired that he fully understood how assuring it was having The Sandman on the roster.
"Some closers are great. But nobody was like that," Steinbrenner said. "So to have kind of a sure thing was something that we never took for granted, but we certainly became comfortable with it, then all of the sudden he retires, and it's a whole different world."
Rivera was a sure thing until the end. Even in his last season, Rivera saved 44 games, held a 2.11 ERA, was worth 2.5 wins above replacement and posted a 190 ERA+.
But despite how well Rivera pitched in his victory lap, he said he never second-guessed his decision to call it a career.
"I exactly knew that when I retired was the perfect time to retire," Rivera said. "I don't doubt myself or anything like that, or what would've happened if I could've or not. That was it. That was my last season, my last game. The feelings that I have for the game are because of my love for the game. But that's it. It's not about trying to compete or wondering if I can compete. Those things are way, way behind me. I'm happy where I am."
Nick Suss is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.