Drafted excellence & River Avenue

They will be naming part of River Avenue after Mariano Rivera. The city council voted today that the section of River that runs on the east side of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx will be renamed in honor of the great Yankee legend. There has been a bit of talk regarding the issue since Rivera announced his retirement in March, and he already has a street partially named after him near the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan. But there was nothing official that was specifically tied to the Yankees in that regard. This is yet another honor for the Yankee great this year; he is certainly racking up the accolades.

Today was the day of the Rule 5 draft, something that takes place the last day of the Winter Meetings. This draft was instituted to prevent teams from “stacking the deck”, so to speak, in their minor league systems. There are a whole bunch of restrictions and guidelines that prevented the Yankees from picking up anyone and allowed them to lose 5 young prospects to other teams, mainly due to their current 40-man roster being full. (The first link of this paragraph is a Wikipedia article that attempts to explain the details of those restrictions and how finances plays into those selections.) The players other teams pick up in the draft included a reliever and an outfielder at the major league level (meaning there is compensation involved), and three more pitchers for the AAA level. Several notable players selected in a Rule 5 draft have gone on to do great things in baseball, like Roberto Clemente, RA Dickey, Josh Hamilton, and Yankees Jeff Nelson and Ivan Nova.

But I guess that’s part of the gamble the GMs and other executives make on every trade, draft, and signing. You just never know if you’re signing the next Clemente or Rivera, or if the team will regret having agreed to a high contract to a player that doesn’t end up living up to his potential. Almost every fan can name a handful of players that fall in the latter category, but rarely do they recall those that do well.

I think every player is aware that a single injury, a single moment in time could very easily end the career they’ve been working toward their entire life. But then what 20-something doesn’t hope to be somewhat invincible, somewhat short-sighted about living for the now? There is a common phrase trend “YOLO” (You Only Live Once) that is popular among those young 20-somethings, and I think it really reflects that common attitude, that feeling of invincibility, that hope for great things right now, something that certainly isn’t specific to just this current generation of 20-somethings.

It’s that attitude that can produce some diva-ness in young players, but it also can produce a drive to excel when they’re most physically capable. The easiest example of the latter was the greatness achieved when the Core Four was in the 20’s — the 1990’s dynasty and 4 World Series wins (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000). And that foundation of either diva or drive in the 20’s will carry players into their 30’s and create potential for either greatness in their own eyes or greatness in Cooperstown. Of course, some players may switch their focus at some point due to an injury or other humbling experience. And that decision defines their ultimate legacy.

It reminds me of a line from the recent Thor movie, where the hero would rather be “a good man than a great king”. And I think that’s why everyone respects Rivera. He made a point of making personal integrity more important than professional greatness. Because at the end of a career, even an exceptionally excellent one like Rivera’s, he still has another 40-ish years (God-willing) to live as a husband, father, and man of faith. The world may remember him as a great player, but he would rather the legacy be a great man.

Fortunately, we get both from Rivera, and (fortunately for my example) from the entire Core Four. And that makes me very proud to be a Yankees fan.

Go Yankees!

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