By Michael Parente
Imagine it’s your wedding day. Your tux is on point, the floral arrangements look sharp, and everyone in your family – even the crazy molester uncle – is on his or her best behavior. You’ve been married and divorced already, but you think you got it right this time. You’ve found your soul mate, and you’re finally ready to love again.
Now imagine your best man preparing for his speech. Instead of a glowing tribute to your friendship and a ringing endorsement of your new bride, he plays a video with testimonials from each of your ex-girlfriends describing all your faults, most notably your clumsy, oafish love-making and frequent bouts with erectile dysfunction. The presentation concludes with a page-by-page slideshow of your divorce papers and a detailed look at what’s left of your 401K, most of which you spent on new furniture for that studio apartment after your ex-wife took the house.
That, in a nutshell, sums up what the Boston Red Sox did to Mariano Rivera Sunday night at Fenway Park in a vain, self-aggrandizing celebration of their 2004 World Series championship team poorly disguised as a tribute to the greatest closer in baseball history.
Since Rivera announced back in spring training that this would be his final season, teams across the league have gone out of their way to pay tribute to The Sandman during his final visit to their respective city, not only honoring his on-field accomplishments, but celebrating his off-the-field persona as one of baseball’s great ambassadors, a perfect gentleman by all accounts. The Twins, for example, presented Rivera with a chair made of broken bats, a clever nod to Rivera’s famous cut fastball, a pitch he has lived and died with through 651 career saves and one that has turned many Louisville Sluggers to shreds.
At times, the Yankees and Red Sox have been able to put their historic rivalry and general disdain for one another aside for a greater cause, whether it’s the Yankees making an annual donation to The Jimmy Fund in Boston, or the Red Sox honoring the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at Fenway Park last year on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Not Sunday night. With a chance to give Rivera a proper sendoff, the Red Sox’ genius marketing department of Sully, Fitzy and Paddy instead decided to roast The Sandman as if he was David Hasselhoff at the New York Friars’ Club.
The ceremony started with a pitch-by-pitch video replay of Rivera’s blown save in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, the one that sparked Boston’s eventual comeback after trailing the series 3 games to none, arguably the worst professional failure of Rivera’s career outside of blowing the save in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. The testimonials from key participants Kevin Millar and David Roberts, the latter of whom swiped second base as a pinch-runner following Millar’s leadoff walk and scored the game-tying run in the ninth inning, added an unnecessary kick in the groin to an already cringe-worthy tribute.
The Red Sox also paid tribute to Rivera’s touch of class that following spring when he tipped his cap and smiled at the Fenway fans who sarcastically cheered him during the player introductions at Boston’ 2005 home opener, no doubt thanking him for the blown save the previous fall. Rivera’s humility that afternoon endeared him to the Fenway faithful, and the Sox decided they’d memorialize it by presenting him with a tacky oil painting of him smiling like a trained seal while the crowd of 37,000 laughed at his expense.
Why stop there? Why not present Rivera with a pair of commemorative Red Sox floaties to remind him how his brother-in-law and nephew died in his electrified swimming pool nine years ago? The donation to Rivera’s charitable causes in his native Panama and the green placard of his uniform number “42” used on the scoreboard at Fenway were a nice touch, but there’s a time and a place for everything, and if you’re going to call something a tribute, it better be a tribute, not a glorified roast.
In typical Rivera fashion, The Sandman brushed it off as a “humbling” experience, but you could tell manager Joe Girardi was pissed. When asked if he thought the ceremony was tasteless, Girardi simply said, “They gave him some nice gifts.”
We could’ve done without the drunken idiot Millar and the grotesque painting. The Yankees might as well return the favor if and when David Ortiz goes on his farewell tour a few years from now. A copy of the 2003 Mitchell Report signed by the entire Yankees’ organization would be a nice touch, or perhaps a $200 gift certificate to GNC so he can buy some legal supplements. Boston’s “tribute” was as unique as it was embarrassing. There’s a fine line between roasting someone and humiliating them by rubbing their failures in their face. The Red Sox crossed that line Sunday night at the expense of one of the game’s great ambassadors and true gentlemen. Nothing could be more mortifying, except erectile dysfunction.
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