Ghost in Mariano Rivera’s comeback?

Last September, as New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera established himself as baseball’s all-time leader in career saves, a New York Daily News writer lamented that the media ignored a key part of what drove Rivera to greatness — his faith in God.

The writer, Bob Raissman, shared this anecdote to illustrate his point:

Moments after Mariano Rivera notched his 600th save in Seattle, Kimberly Jones held a Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network microphone in front of his face, asking the majestic one to explain the mystery of the cutter.

She wanted to know how he and the pitch had been so “dominant and durable” for so many years?

“God gave it (the cutter) to me,” Rivera said.

Jones followed up asking: “When you discovered that cutter by accident way back in 1997 did you have any idea what you and it would become?”

Rivera smiled at Jones before setting her straight.

“Again, I didn’t discover it,” he said. “It was given to me by the Lord.”

This week, Rivera suffered a season-ending — and career-threatening — injury that has dominated sports headlines. He has talked openly about his trust in “the Lord” as he plots his future. It has been interesting to see how various news reports have acknowledged and/or ignored such statements by Rivera.

I chuckled at this exchange about a minute into a video interview on ESPN’s New York website:

ESPN: “What makes you think you’ll be able to come back and be the way you were?”

Rivera: “Because I trust the Lord — I trust the Lord — and I trust what I’m capable of. So that’s the reason why I say that.”

ESPN: “All right, Mariano. Thank you very much.”

And by “All right, Mariano,” the reporter meant: “Get me out of here before I have to ask a follow-up question about religion that might get at the heart of who Rivera really is and what motivates him on the baseball mound and off.” Or maybe I’m the only one who heard that …

On the front page of today’s New York Times, there’s an ode to Rivera’s determination to come back from the injury with this headline:

For Rivera, Maestro of Ninth, Injury Is Not Final Symphony

The Times piece, somehow, manages to ignore terms such as God, faith and “the Lord” entirely. Readers can be updated, however, on Rivera’s dignified demeanor and defiance in the face of this injury.

A separate Times story in the sports section allows in — ever so briefly and without any context — some religious language from Rivera:

“Miracles happen, guys,” he said. “I’m O.K. I’m a positive man. I’m O.K. The only thing is I feel sorry I let down my teammates. But I’m O.K.”

In a column for Fox Sports before Rivera made clear his intention to play next year, baseball writer Ken Rosenthal suggested:

The injury almost certainly will sideline Rivera for the remainder of the season, a season that he had said might be his last. Surely he will not want his 18-year career to end this way, but Rivera, 42, is a man of immense faith. He may consider the injury a sign from above, accept his destiny and move on with his life.

The Associated Press quoted Rivera’s God talk in its coverage, including his reference to “Miracles happen” and this:

“I love to play the game. To me, I don’t think going out like this is the right way,” Rivera said. “I don’t want to retire because I got hurt in the way that it happened. I don’t think like that. With the strength of the Lord, I just have to continue.”

However, the AP provided no background information or context to help readers understand why Rivera might be referring to “the Lord” or why he might believe in miracles. ESPN, too, used such a quote with no details to explain it:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Get ready for One Mo Time.

“I am coming back,” Mariano Rivera said Friday afternoon in the New York Yankees’ clubhouse. “Put it down. Write it down in big letters. I’m not going down like this. God willing and given the strength, I’m coming back.”

Cutter, it seems, refers not only to Rivera’s famous pitch but also to the spin-and-run approach of so many sports reporters frightened by the ghost in the Yankees’ clubhouse.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • carl jacobs

    There are acceptable and non-acceptable ways for interviewees to broach the subject of religion in interviews.

    1. Vague non-specific references to Deity are allowed. Specific references that indicate exclusive truth are not allowed. Acceptable: “I want to thank God.” Not acceptable: “I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    2. Vague non-specific references to any intersection between the transcendent and the immanent are allowed. Specific claims of Divine intervention are not allowed. Acceptable: “God watches over us.” Not Acceptable: “God gave me that pitch.”

    3. Outright denial of any religious entanglements is always acceptable. “I am not a religious man.”

    Unacceptable responses produce embarrassment and discomfort in the interviewer. I suspect this is mostly due to the expected reaction of the audience, but it also expresses the lack of seriousness with which journalists take religion. It’s as if the interviewee just said “I made that pitch by mixing tongue of bat and wool of dog in the cauldron in my back yard.” There is a fair amount of patronization and condescension in the media’s reaction to these kinds of statements. They might as well say to the interviewee “Look, reasonable people don’t believe that stuff anymore. If we give you air time for that, you will make both us and you look ridiculous.” Then they cut to a commercial with Jimmy Johnson protesting the miracle benefits of Extenz.