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.