Do sports heroes still exist?

Yankees' Mariano Rivera surprises long-time A's employee

Do sports heroes still exist?
June 20, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Mariano Rivera is MLB's all-time leader with 633 career saves. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

“He stood for truth, faith, justice. The triumph of right, mother, home, friendship, loyalty, patriotism, the love of team and alma mater, duty, sacrifice, retribution, and strength of soul as well as body. He was manly. He was tolerant. Although he neither smoke or drank, he gladly downed ginger-ale when the team went to a local tavern."

Chad Johnson -- aka Ocho Cinco -- I think not. Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, Manti Te’o, Oscar Pistorius, not quite.

Of all the athletic heroes who have appeared on the America scene, probably none ever aroused the admiration or left a positive impression as one who never really existed.

He was Frank Merriwell of Fardale Academy, Yale and the sporting world at large. From 1896-1914, he performed unmatchable feats of athletic greatness in “Tip Top Weekly”, the most widely read nickel novel ever published.

The Jack Armstrongs, Frank Merriwells, Chip Hiltons and Gil Thorp All Americans of days and print media gone by are as prevalent in today’s sports world as finding gas for two bucks a gallon.

The American Sports scene has produced a new type of athlete. They are covered on multiple media platforms 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They are referred to by first names.  They can become larger than their team or even their league. They want to be in control, not be controlled. Today's sports mega-stars make more money than entire teams were worth in the not too distant past.

Pro athletes are workmen. They are employees playing for hire under all types of management structures and coaching regimes. Piles of money have been invested in long-term guaranteed contracts. They are playing to validate the investments in their skills. Their ability is ultimately judged by team owners, management, teammates, sponsors, spectators and the media.

A throwback to the days of these fictional All-American sports heroes is one Panamanian. Mariano Rivera is pitching through his final season for the Yankees. Baseball’s all-time saves leader is saving a heartfelt gesture for his farewell tour. At each stop on his swing through baseball’s visiting ballparks Rivera pays a visit to an employee in the host team’s front office. In Oakland last week, Rivera became a pizza delivery man and saluted A’s mail-room staffer Julie Vasconcellos. I know Julie well from my time with the A’s and there is no more unsung All-Star than her in the A’s organization.

[RELATED: Mariano Rivera's surprise delivery to A's employee]

Rivera does this type of gesture in every city he visits, and the idea sprang from his mind, not some suited PR type. He may not be Frank Merriwell, but he exemplifies the perfect combination of on-field abilities that are a sure ticket to Cooperstown, along with the off-field professionalism and care for the human engine that helped make his career so special.

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