Touching BasesJuly 29, 2010
The Bridge to Mariano
By Jeremy Greenhouse

Once upon a time, there was a man named Jeff. A man named Jeff and a man named Joe. Well, maybe you already know how the story begins.

The Great Mariano Rivera, the Hammer of God, had been banished to the bullpen, a failed starter. But John Wetteland welcomed him with open arms.

“You hand the ball to Buck,” Wetteland explained. “And Buck hands the ball to me.”

“Thank God for that,” said Mo.

But on October 8, 1995, Game 5 of the ALCS, Mariano handed the ball to Buck, and Buck handed it to Jack McDowell.

A man named Jeff. Jeffrey Allan Nelson had an idea. And a man with an idea is a powerful thing. Nelson was sitting in the Mariners bullpen during this, the first night of the Yankees Dynasty. Instead of celebrating his team’s victory, Nelson lost himself in thought. If only Wetteland had followed Mariano. What if bullpen roles were rigidly defined? No way would the Yankees give up runs! Bullpen roles so defined that the Yankees can forfeit wins by adhering to meaningless statistics used only in rotisserie leagues, arbitration cases and in deciding the Rolaids Relief Man Award!! Mmm, Rolaids.

Within a month, Joe Torre replaced Showalter as Yankees manager. Another month, and Nelson was shipped to the Bronx. The rest, as they say, was history, as they say.

In 1996, Nelson pitched in a team-leading 73 games, Rivera became the best reliever in baseball, and the Yankees won their first World Series in 18 years. And Wetteland won his Rolaids Relief Man Award.

But Wetteland left New York, and here’s where the story gets interesting.

Jeff pitched his plan to Joe.

Step 1: Assemble the best group of position players and starting pitchers in baseball so that the bullpen doesn’t really matter.
Step 2: Install Rivera as closer, ensuring a dominant bullpen.
Step 3: Build a fucking bridge.

And so it was. Joe Torre commissioned the building of a bridge. The Bridge to Mariano. Jeff was the architect, but he recruited his childhood friend Mike Stanton to help him build. Together, alternating shifts, they built the bridge. And what a bridge it was. It had aqueducts and arches and triangles and suspensions and all that stuff that makes bridges not spectacularly collapse. Quieter than the Bridge on the River Kwai. More flip than the Flipper Bridge. It was the most important bridge in the history of bridges. From 1997-2000, Stanton pitched to a 4.17 ERA and Nelson pitched to a 3.08. Their pitching was fine, and not much was made of it at the time. But what a bridge! How can you blame them for being pedestrian relievers when they were so busy building a fucking bridge?!?

Alas, in 2000, Jeff was passed over from the All-Star team by Joe, and upon leaving the Yankees, Nelson bitterly decreed, “Tear down this bridge.” Mariano was left bridgeless.

“Thank God for that,” said Mo.

The Yankees Dynasty crumbled with the departure of Nelson. Who could have known that the guy pitching 70-80 slightly leveraged innings per year could have been so influential? But as it turned out, Jeff was more than baseball. Jeff had pioneered, engineered and maintained the Bridge to Mariano. And Jeff left the bridge in ruins.

Upon Jeff’s departure, trolls could be seen patrolling the remains of the Bridge to Mariano. Yes, the trolls were the only ones who had realized the importance of the bridge. To the trolls, Jeff had been more than a decent relief pitcher. Old Nellie had also been blessed with the ability to try to pick a runner off first when there was already a runner on third! The gall! The ingenuity! There was once a dream that was the Yankees Dynasty, the trolls thought. And we fear that it will not survive the offseason. The trolls sought the bridge’s resurrection.

The Yankees acquired better relievers in those later years, having led the Majors in WPA in the decade since, but nary a relief man could pay the troll toll. Not a Flash, not a Proctor, not even the Rules Joba could recreate the Bridge to Mariano. For Farnsworth’s fastball flew forever straight. The eighth inning! And the dulcet melodies of the rotation beckoned Hughes. The eighth inning! Who can be the bridge to Mariano? The eighth inning!!

Years from now, when the Yankees struggle to find Mariano’s successor; most fans will miss the Greatest Closer of All-Time. But let this serve as a reminder; the trolls were right. Bullpen is principal to victory, yet Rivera was never key to the bullpen. It was always the Bridge to Mariano.

So we march on, analysts against the trolls, traversing an endless bridge to nowhere.


Brilliant. Especially the Great Gatsby reference.


This is too good.

Thank you, gentlemen.

First of all, great literary treatment. I'm duly impressed. Now, onto substance:

"Rivera was never key to the bullpen"

Huh? I might be slow today, and this comment might have been intended as sarcasm, but ...... HUH????

Without Mariano, there is no NEED for a freakin' bridge. You are stuck in the moat, fighting the crocodiles with the likes of Farnsy and Flash and Felix the Cat (Heredia). Yes, having a good bridge helps, but not having a good bridge after 2001 was about 10th on the list of reasons why the Yankees didn't win the WS for a decade. (Ever hear of starting pitching? Not trading away young players for overrated "stars"? Having one of the least-athletic teams of the millenium?)

Mike, I don't think it's a case of you being slow. While the whole piece, save the last line, is supposed to read as sarcasm/satire/what have you, for some reason, that doesn't always come across. I think it's a failing on my part that my tone can be misconstrued.

And the Yankees didn't win the WS for a decade mainly because they encountered bad luck.

Oh....OK, never mind. Thanks for setting me straight.

As a Yankees fan, I'd like to agree with you that nine years between WS championships is more bad luck than anything else, but I saw too many bad personnel decisions (mostly made by George's Tampa-based "baseball people," which I assume were his sons-in-law), starting with replacing Tino Martinez with one of the best arguments for the importance of steroids in artificially enhancing one's statistics and net worth -- Jason Giambi.

Thanks again for setting me straight.

I do not agree with the statement that replacing Tino with Giambi was a bad personnel decision. I will leave out the comment on steroids, a charge I consider indefensible, and just focus on the actual production of each over the next 4 years (and more in Giambi's case).

Here are there batting lines:
T.M.: .282/.337/.438; 105 OPS+; 21 HRs; 516 PAs
J.G.: .314/.435/.598; 172 OPS+; 41 HRs; 689 PAs

T.M.: .273/.352/.429; 106 OPS+; 15 HRs; 547 PAs
J.G.: .350/.412/.527; 148 OPS+; 41 HRs; 690 PAs

T.M.: .262/.362/.461; 117 OPS+; 23 HRs; 538 PAs
J.G.: .208/.342/.379; 90 OPS+; 12 HRs; 322 PAs

T.M.: .241/.328/.439; 104 OPS+; 17 HRs; 348 PAs
J.G.: .271/.440/.535; 161 OPS+; 32 HRs; 545 PAs

Giambi went on to have 2 more good years for the Yankees and one more poor one.

I suppose one could claim that the stark difference in offense was offset somewhat by Tino's superior defense, but hardly that it closes the gap much. And even in his terrible 2004 season, the Yankees got to the playoffs.

And incidentally, in 4 of the 7 post-season series Giambi played with the Yankees he had solid to outstanding performances, so Yankee failures to win the title cannot be laid at his door either.

Giambi was an excellent signing by NY, a player 3 years younger than Tino who was nearing the end of his career while Jason thrived.

Hitters decline faster than pitchers because hitters must rely on eye-hand quickness in pitch recognition to be effective. That skill seems to decline at the onset of age ~33/34/35. For pitchers, throwing is more brute force - had eye coordination is not as important.
I think a very interesting offshoot to this article would be the batting/onbase/slg averages of the pitchers themselves hitting. My guess is they decline exactly as do position player averages, even while their pitching statistics hold up. Are stats available for that endeavor?

how entertaining!