Humble as ever, Mariano Rivera began his special day by paying tribute to a Hall of Famer.
The New York Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 Sunday, and the great reliever honored Jackie Robinson during a ceremony in Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park.
Robinson’s No. 42 was retired throughout the major leagues in 1997 on the 50th anniversary of the day the Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman broke baseball’s color barrier. Players wearing 42 at the time were grandfathered.
“It is a great pleasure and honor for me to be the last player to ever wear number 42,” Rivera said during the 50-minute ceremonies before the last regular-season day home game of his 19-season career.
As Rivera stood nearby, Robinson’s wife Rachel unveiled a plaque dedicated to Jackie. Then with his wife and three sons, Rivera uncovered his number — changed from Robinson’s Dodger Blue to Yankees navy — that will be on display in Monument Park alongside the 15 other retired Yankees numbers, honoring 16 players and managers.
Before a sellout crowd, the Yankees staged a sort of this is your baseball life pageant for Rivera. Several of Rivera’s former teammates were on hand, including Core Four member Jorge Posada, who in a role reversal threw a ceremonial first pitch that Rivera caught. Former manager Joe Torre also was on hand along with Gene Michael, the general manager at the time Rivera signed with the organization in 1990.
After video highlights of a 19-year big league career that includes a record 652 saves, a recording of Yankees longtime public address announcer Bob Sheppard introduced Rivera.
Then the bullpen door swung open and the first chords of “Enter Sandman,” rang out. Only this time the song that for more than a decade almost always indicated the end of the game for New York’s opponent was being played live.
Metal icon “Metallica” performed their hit from a stage in center field, lead singer James Hetfield crying out, “For you Mariano.” Instead of jogging in from the bullpen, Rivera slowly walked to the infield.
Standing in front of the mound, many of Rivera’s friends and family took photos and videos as the 13-time All-Star was given several long ovations and serenaded with chants of “Mar-i-ano!”
While “Metallica” played, Andy Pettitte, Rivera’s teammate on five World Series championships, began his warmups in right field.
Pettitte announced Friday — with Rivera’s encouragement — that he was also retiring at the end of the season and, in a neat coincidence, his final regular-season start was to come on Rivera’s day.
Rivera has saved 72 of Pettitte’s 255 regular-season wins, the most for any tandem in major league history.
At every stadium the Yankees visited this season, Rivera was presented gifts of appreciation. He was given checks to his foundation and everything from a surfboard from the Oakland Athletics to a rocking chair made of broken bats — some caused by Rivera’s signature cutter — from the Minnesota Twins.
The San Franicsco Giants, led by pitching coach Dave Righetti — the former Yankee that Rivera supplanted as the team’s career saves leader — gave Rivera an ink print of his appearance at their ballpark in 2007 and a guitar from “Metallica” member Kirk Hammett signed by Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays.
“It’s a credit to not just his talent but who he is,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said of the adulation Rivera received from opponents. “He’s one of the greatest people in the game as far as how he handles himself, how humble he is, how well respected and revered he is by all the other clubs.”
Finally, it was Yankees turn.
Jennifer Swindal, a daughter of late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, was accompanied by team president Randy Levine and chief operating officer Lonn Trost as she presented a $100,000 donation from the organization to the Mariano Rivera Foundation.
Yankees captain Derek Jeter and manager Joe Girardi — one of Rivera’s first catchers — carried out a rocking chair made of bats and stamped with the logo honoring Rivera that the Yankees are wearing on the side of their game caps for the remainder of the season.
“He was the greatest pitcher I ever caught, he was the easiest pitcher I ever caught,” Girardi said. “The numbers speak for themselves but the way he has gone about his business is something you wish everyone could do.”
The Steinbrenner family presented Rivera with a crystal glove holding a ball, and a framed replica of his retired number and the plaque that will have a permanent place in Monument Park.
Rivera, a son of a Panamanian fisherman, made his big league debut in 1995, starting 10 games, spoke for more than six minutes on a beautiful autumn afternoon, the time of year he excelled. He finished his speech eager to shift the spotlight off himself and back to his team.
“Let’s play ball,” Rivera said.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.