Thom Loverro: Career of Yankees' Mariano Rivera finally coming to a close

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Mariano Rivera has done the impossible.

He has made the New York Yankees a sentimental story.

That's not easy to do. As the old saying goes, rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel -- at least it was back in the days when both ruled the world.

But Rivera is beloved and revered for the way he handles himself as well as his status as perhaps the greatest closer in the history of baseball. He brings a sense of humanity to the arrogant, rich Yankees franchise.

So at least the Yankees -- who are battered, bruised and broken down going into the 2013 baseball season -- will have the celebration of Rivera to divert attention from their likely struggles on the field. The closer announced Saturday this would be his last season at the age of 43.

The absence of Alex Rodriguez -- the third baseman with a bloated contract and steroid-racked body who is not expected to be back from hip surgery until July -- will serve to make Rivera's goodbye a better tale in juxtaposition.

Though it is not official -- and hardly a lock either way -- we also could be saying goodbye to perhaps the only Yankees player more revered and respected than Rivera -- Derek Jeter, who is coming back from a broken ankle last fall.

Jeter is in the final year of a three-year contract and is coming off an impressive season in which he batted .316 and led the major leagues in hits. But he will be 39 by the end of this season and has an $8 million option for next year.

Legitimate questions exist about the ability of a shortstop to come back from a broken ankle and play everyday at his age.

Maybe we won't be saying goodbye to Jeter this year, but his retirement is close, and the departure of Rivera only calls attention to the class both men have brought to baseball and the Yankees since they came up to the major league club together in 1995.

"I think it's going to be a special year for him," Jeter told reporters. "I'm happy for him. He's made this decision, and it's the best one for him and his family."

Like Jeter, Rivera is coming back from an injury. The torn knee ligaments he suffered while shagging balls in batting practice happened in May and kept him out for the rest of the season.

The irony is that Rivera and Jeter -- along with other so-called "core" Yankees like Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada -- might have long been gone from the Yankees if it wasn't for George Steinbrenner's ban from running the franchise in the early 1990s that kept him from dealing young players for overpriced veterans -- his standard move.

Just another sentimental twist to the Yankees story.

Examiner columnist Thom Loverro is the co-host of "The Sports Fix" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN980 and espn980.com. Contact him at tloverro@washingtonexaminer.com.

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Thom Loverro

Sports columnist
The Washington Examiner