David Robertson has no chance of success in replacing Mariano Rivera. Zero. Zilch. None. The Sandman was the greatest reliever in the history of the sport. A 13-time All-Star who won five rings while playing his entire career with the Yankees and proved himself to be the best postseason pitcher, starter or reliever, of all-time. If Robertson sets his goal to be Mariano Rivera, he will fail. He will fail miserably.
However, if David Robertson merely wishes to be the closer for the Yankees…If he sets his sights on doing his job in the ninth inning every game…If he simply does the same thing he has been doing in the eighth inning for the last few seasons…If he does those things, he will be an overwhelming success.
Replacing a legend is nearly impossible. Tino Martinez took over first base from Don Mattingly in 1996. Don Mattingly was the Captain of the Yankees. He was the face of the franchise. He was a fan favorite. He was former AL MVP and batting champion with six All-Star appearances. Tino Martinez was a hired gun that came over in a trade that off-season from the Seattle Mariners. The same Mariners team that had eliminated Mattingly and the Yankees in Mattingly’s only postseason in pinstripes. The odds of Tino being endeared to the Yankee faithful were a long shot at best. Things got worse when Tino started the 1996 season slowly. But then came that fateful night in Baltimore in May of that year. Tino hit a game-winning home run to propel the Yankees into first place, where they would remain for the rest of year, eventually winning the World Series. The fans turned. They embraced Tino from that point on.
David Robertson will take over the closer duties this season from Day 1. The Yankees did not sign any of the free agent closers available this season. There was no competition in spring training. He has the confidence of both his manger Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman. He has received the blessing and well wishes of Rivera. The succession has been more like a coronation than a competition. For his part, Robertson is confident in his abilities and has gone out of his way to avoid comparisons to his incomparable predecessor.
Tino Martinez would of course be remembered in Yankee lore in his own right. He was an integral member of four world championship teams and made an All-Star appearance in 1997. But no one forgot about Donnie Baseball. Mattingly retained his spot in Monument Park and always got the loudest ovations at Old Timer’s Day. Tino did not replace Don Mattingly; he only played the same position as Mattingly immediately after he retired. Tino created his own legacy in pinstripes. David Robertson will have to do the same.