|Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and Mariano Rivera flanked by National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum President Jeff Idelson (l.) and its chairwoman Jane Forbes Clark, at right.|
The 2019 Hall of Fame class' inductees, Yankees legends Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina, and slugger Edgar Martinez, met with the media on Wednesday at the St. Regis Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Pitcher Roy Halladay, who was inducted posthumously, was represented by his family.
Rivera, Mussina, and Martinez shared priceless stories about their experiences in baseball and playing against each other.
Martinez was perhaps the best hitter ever against Rivera, with a .579 batting average against him, to which Rivera responded self-deprecatingly to hearing, "Why you have to say that? Say the average but don't say the number. Am I right? By the way, thank you."
Mussina chimed in, "He said it was easy," to which Rivera replied, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, I have to say something. Was it that easy, Edgar?"
"No, that was tough," the Mariners legend said, to which Mussina reiterated, "He said it was easy."
Edgar continued, "You know, facing Mariano always was a challenge. I might have some numbers, good numbers, but you know, when you come in late in the game to face Mariano, you know that it's going to be a challenge. You know, every at-bat, even if you get a hit, it doesn't feel like you're getting a hit. It's tough. He's one of the best in the history, and his consistency through the years is like the best ever. You never feel comfortable. I might have got lucky a few times, but never felt comfortable."
"You want me to answer that question?," Rivera said to Edgar. "It was tough. I mean, that's one of the guys that -- especially in my young career, my first few years. I didn't want to see Edgar in a tough situation. As a matter of fact, I used to tell Joe, if you put the second base or bring in Paul O'Neill right behind second base, we might get him out because there was a hole that he was leaving in that place. It was amazing.
"I mean, again, when you face a hitter, the type of hitter that Edgar was, you had to really, really bring your game because if not, he will have you for breakfast, lunch and dinner like he did me. But it was good. It was good.
Edgar then revealed one at-bat he wanted to do over, "I have to say something about -- there was one at-bat that I would change pretty much all those hits, just to get one hit in that at-bat, and I can remember the series, was it 2001?," and Rivera replied, "Yes, sir."
Martinez continued, "So the game is on the line. I'm the last out of the game. So Mariano always will throw the cutter, and I'm like, okay, he's going to throw a cutter, I'm going to look middle away, like I always did, and then Mariano, I don't know the first sinker I ever seen of Mariano my whole career, he threw a sinker in, and I just hit a weak fly ball so I think it was left field, game over, we're going home. So we went home. I want to trade all those hits just for that at-bat."
The game Martinez was referencing was Game 6 of the 2000 American League Championship Series, which the Yankees won to advance to the World Series. They took on the Mets in the Subway Series, and they won it in five games to clinch their third straight World Championship.
Martinez also did well against Mussina, who said of what made Edgar such a tough out, "Well, I think the guys for me and for Mo and for Doc and the guys that are willing to use the field from the left field line to the right field line who don't want to pull the ball all the time, who don't want to hit the ball off the fence all the time, the phrase is they take what we give them, and if I throw him down and away, he's going to hit a line drive to right field; if I try to throw him down and in, he hits a line drive to left field. And he had that ability. He saw the ball that well, and it didn't matter what I messed -- I could have a different order of pitches, I could have tried fastball first, breaking ball first, got ahead in the count, got behind in the count. It doesn't matter. When you're successful and as good a hitter as he was, then you just -- listen, I'm going to throw it in the middle and hope he hits it really hard right to somebody because if I try really hard and he still gets a hit, then it's just going to make me mad. So -- and honestly, sometimes you do that. I'd say, listen, I'm going to throw a sinker right down the middle, man, just hit it in the first two pitches and let's move on because you're going to get a hit anyway.
"And that's the truth, and so I mean, I don't know what my numbers were against him. We all know what Mo's numbers were against him because we brought it up when we got here, and he only had one pitch. I mean, come on," he said to laughter. "He talks about minimizing his pitches. He had one pitch. Cutter in, cutter away, cutter in, cutter away. He threw his sinker his whole life, one time.
"But you don't do what he could do and frustrate us as starters and pitchers like he could if you weren't willing to just take our best stuff and put it wherever you wanted to put it and not trying to do too much with the ball, and that's how I survived for as long as I did. Guys tried to hit the ball off the fence too much, and I'd get a ground ball to short or fly ball to center, and that's how I survived, and Edgar didn't do that. He just took a line drive to right field. It worked for him, and it drove in a ton of runs, and like I said, frustrated me to death. That's why he's sitting up here. He did that to everybody.
Martinez said of Mussina, "Mike was the type of pitcher that he'd never give you the same look. He'd change sequence. He would elevate, change eye level, and that was difficult for a hitter. I just tried to not do too much, just like he said, and that was my style. But you know, like Mo, when it's a big at-bat or a big situation, that's when they can succeed. They made their pitches. Like Mo when he threw that sinker I wasn't looking for, Mussina would do the same thing. Sometimes it's 3-1, and you're thinking, okay, here is a fastball, and he will throw the cutter, and it looks like a fastball, and that's how he will get you out. And again, because he made those adjustments, that's why he is here, too."
Rivera was asked if there was one point that he realized that he could really be an effective closer in this game, and he said, "Well, definitely when I had the opportunity to be a closer for the New York Yankees, I realized that I have a good shot to do that job. I didn't expect it to be that well. I was just happy to do it."
Rivera was also asked what Mel Stottlemyre, who passed away on January 13, meant to him in his career when he was the Yankees pitching coach from 1996 to 2005, and he said, "I was blessed that I had one of the best pitching coaches, and that to me was Mel Stottlemyre. I remember after winning the World Series in '98, we went to instructional baseball to go and throw some pitches to minimize the amount of pitches that I was using for every outing. And to me, that was one of the best things that I did in my career because that helped me -- I think that that was one of the reasons why I was able to pitch for so long, because I was using less pitches, and that was -- that I can say was the help for my longevity in the game. But I have to attribute that to Mel because he was a person that always wanted me to be successful and wanted me to be the best, and he always tried to bring the best out of me. Definitely that was the person that made it happen. Thank you."
They were each asked if they have one favorite moment, accomplishment, memory on the field that sticks out as they sat here as new members of the Hall of Fame, and here's what they had to say:
MARTINEZ: "I think for me, the biggest game and at-bat, it was probably '95 in the Kingdome when we won (against the Yankees). That year, the team, we didn't know if it was going to stay in Seattle or was going to move to Tampa. I think that that team that year was big for us, just to be able to win the series. That's probably one of the reasons why the team is there in Seattle still.
I think for me, that was the biggest moment probably in my career.
RIVERA: "Well, I mean, mine wasn't just on the field because there's a few of those, but I would say that my biggest moment just was wearing the uniform, wearing the pinstripes. I was telling Mike Mussina that that was my time, putting my jersey on the field, on the clubhouse day in and day out for all those years. That was a great moment because I always remember all those players that were before me, representing the organization with class and dignity. I just was blessed to be in that same ballpark and wearing the same uniform. That to me was just the moment of feeling great about the uniform."
MUSSINA: "All right, I've got two, and they're pretty obvious ones, I think. I think the relief appearance in the postseason game in front of him (Rivera) that the now-manager (Aaron Boone) hit a home run for us and won the game, that was -- I had never been asked to do that before. It's Game 7 of the ALCS (in 2003) and the place is packed, it's Yankee Stadium, and I have to jog from the bullpen to the game mound in the midst of the game, and I don't do that. I walk in before everybody is there. People haven't got in from work yet. That's when I go out and walk or jog to the mound from the dugout, not from the bullpen. To get in there and do that with my heart pounding in my chest and be effective and get a strikeout and a double play to get out of that inning and give us a chance and pitch a couple more innings and give us a chance, that was a big part.
"And then obviously the very last day of my career in Fenway Park, we got rained out the day before. When I woke up, the ceiling and the clouds were probably 300 feet off the ground. It looked like it was going to rain again. We're supposed to play a split double header to end the season, and (Yankees Manager Joe) Girardi asked me which game I wanted to pitch, and I said, well, if we're going to play one, I gotta pitch that one, and I got to pitch -- I threw well and ended up winning my 20th game, the only time I won 20, on the last day of my career. Those two things really stick out for me anyway. Those are my two pretty memorable moments."
Rivera was asked, as the first unanimous electee, if he feels like it's given him a bigger platform to do what he wants to do, and he said,"Well, definitely, definitely. I would not call it a life-changing, but it's something special, yes, and I wanted to take the opportunity to -- my first year, 1995, there was a family, a man called Joe Fosina that brought me to New Rochelle, and I fell in love with the town of New Rochelle. It reminded me of my hometown in Panama, Puerto Caimito. I fell in love with the family. The family took me like one of their own, and we are still close today. Therefore, we have a church in New Rochelle, which my wife is my pastor.
"And at the same time, I want to take this opportunity, and this is a blessing from the sky, from the Lord, that after I retire, my desire and my goal was to build a learning center in New Rochelle for the youngsters of the town of New Rochelle. And I think that this is the greatest accolade or event that has happened in my life because I want to take the opportunity to use this to build a learning center for the boys in New Rochelle. That's what to me I take the advantage and the opportunity that these blessings have given me.
"I mean, I could not be more happier, and I would share with my family, my wife and friends, that it felt like when we won the championship in 2009 after being there for a few years and didn't win it. It was an amazing feeling, a great feeling knowing that you were voted 100 percent. It was -- I couldn't comprehend it. But at the same time, I was grateful for it, so thank you guys. Thank you very much."
They each spoke of their memories of Halladay, starting with Rivera recalling, "I remember speaking to -- I got in trouble, by the way. You guys owe me, too, another dinner, because I mean, 2008, Halladay and myself, we were talking in the outfield about pitching. We always talked about pitching. I was teaching him the grip of the cutter, and he did. Actually he was throwing the pitch, and Derek and all the hitters from my team were mad at me. As a matter of fact, I got fined by our kangaroo court because Halladay was so good against us, and they blamed me. I said, you guys didn't hit the ball, not me."
Mussina said of Halladay, "I actually never really stood in the outfield and ever talked to Doc about pitching. He had, I just thought, tremendous stuff. I thought he had a very heavy ball, and when he learned how to sink it and cut it, it really changed how he pitched and how effective he was and what he could do. I mean, I'd bump into him once in a while in the weight room, and he's more than focused on what he's trying to get ready for the next turn or whatever was going on, and you know, I just never really had a chance to sit down and talk to him. But obviously he was there to pitch the whole game every time he took the ball, and it was his turn, and he was going to stand there as long as he possibly could and try to really stick it to you, and he did it a lot. It was impressive to watch him throw."
Martinez said of the late Blue Jays and Phillies hurler, "For me when I faced him, what I remember is the movement of the ball. He could move it in two directions. He could sink really hard, would use both sides of the plate, and also would cut it, and he will throw a breaking ball, too. Pitchers that can do that is very difficult. And sometimes with his movement, all he had to do is throw it down the middle, and he gets a ground ball. So it always was challenging to face him, and he was one of those pitchers that you hope that maybe he gets out of the game early so you can face a reliever. But that was -- that's the kind of stuff he had, and you could tell that he was there competing. Always very difficult."
They were asked about what their time in the Minor Leagues meant to them and how it helped shape their careers, and they said:
MUSSINA: "My Minor League career was interesting, I would say. I was only there for a year. I started in Double-A in Hagerstown, Maryland. First bus trip I got my luggage run over by the bus, so that's how it started for me. First game I actually pitched, it rained so hard they couldn't get the tarp on the field, so I pitched two innings, and so it didn't really count, so I got two debuts in the minors, which doesn't happen all the time. You know, they just let me pitch, though, and they tried to teach me a few things, and I talked to some older players, and that's kind of how you do it when you're young. You just try to learn whatever you can and let some of the older guys help you, and that's all I tried to do, and I got lucky and got an opportunity at a young age, and when they gave me a chance, I did okay, and I got to stay in the Big Leagues, and that's pretty much how it happened."
RIVERA: "Well, for me it was a little different because I mean, coming from Panama, I didn't know no English. I remember being in Greensboro, North Carolina, my second year as a professional, and I used to go to bed -- a few days I was crying, not because the game. The game to me was easier than I expected.
"But just the language factor. That was tough for me with the communication. I couldn't communicate with my manager, with my pitching coach. I mean, baseball language in the field, we all know that, even if you don't speak English or however language you speak. But when it comes to communication, if you don't speak that language, you're going to be in trouble, and that was me. Minor Leagues shaped me in a way that after I learned the language, the game was a little bit easier for me than anything else.
MARTINEZ: "I think the Minor Leagues for me, it was like Mariano, the beginning was tough. I was close to my grandparents and my family, so leaving as a young kid to play in the States, it was difficult at the beginning. But also I think I learned a lot by coming to the States and playing the game that I love.
"On the field, when I left Puerto Rico, I always, since a little kid, I had the ability to hit. I was a good hitter my whole -- since I was a little kid. In the Minor Leagues, the first year was tough. I didn't hit well. Double-A I didn't hit well. But Single-A and Triple-A, those were my best years in the Minor Leagues.
"Now, the good thing about Minor Leagues is that you have the skills, you have the ability, but in Minor Leagues you have good coaches that teach you to play the game right and teach you all the fundamentals that maybe as a young player in Puerto Rico I didn't learn. Minor Leagues is very important. It was key for my success."