But he's sticking to his plan. Rivera officially announced Saturday morning at George M. Steinbrenner Field that he will retire at the end of the 2013 season, bringing an end to a journey that will surely take him into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"They were always saying I am going to retire for the last 10 years, and I might play another five more years," Rivera said. "No, I won't. This is it. I made my decision before coming to Spring Training."
Rivera made the announcement as he sat at a table next to his wife, Clara, and two of his three sons, Jafet and Jaziel. Jeter and Pettitte sat just off to the side, not far from Cashman and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner. Standing behind them were all of his Yankees teammates, the one part of an emotional day that nearly brought tears to Rivera's eyes.
"It's not so easy when you come to a decision like this," Rivera said. "But I would love to say that it has been a privilege and honor to wear the pinstriped uniform that I have proudly worn for so many years in good times, great times. It has been wonderful."
Rivera, 43, left little doubt as to why he'll step aside at the end of the year. He has always vowed to leave the game he loves under his terms, and he admitted Saturday that his "tank is empty." As much as he still enjoys pitching and being with his teammates, he's had enough of the constant traveling, the hotels and everything else involved in the 162-game Major League grind he's been through since 1995.
"Now is the time," Rivera said. "I have given everything, and the time is almost ending. The thing that I have, the little gas I have left is everything for this year. After that, I'll empty everything. There's nothing left. I did everything, and I'm proud of it. That's why it's time."
Rivera owns a Major League-record 608 saves, converting 89.3 percent of his 681 opportunities. He owns a career 2.21 ERA and has recorded at least one save in 17 consecutive seasons. A 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, Rivera also owns a record 42 postseason saves -- including 11 in the Fall Classic.
Playing a volatile position known for having a short shelf life, Rivera has been the model of consistency. Cashman said there's no doubt he's the greatest closer of all time, and he doesn't see anyone ever putting together a career like Rivera's.
Girardi, the only man who's both caught and managed Rivera, agreed and advised those following Rivera's last season to appreciate what they're watching, the unmatched blend of talent, poise and grace who has baffled hitters and left a trail of broken bats for nearly two decades.
"It's amazing what this man has done and what one man can mean to an organization and how he's done it," Girardi said. "I think maybe the greatest lesson that you could take from Mo is how he's done it with class and humility. Not how great he's been, but in that greatness, how he's handled it. And that's what you'd want every player or person to do."
Longtime manager Joe Torre, who oversaw Rivera's development with the Yankees from 1996-2007, also spoke about Rivera's character.
"What he did on the field is just a fraction of what he does off the field," said Torre, currently managing Team USA at the World Baseball Classic. "He's a special human being and I'm happy for him. Because I know last year he was sort of torn and then once he got hurt, there was no way he was going to go out like that."
Rivera said he wanted Saturday to be a day of "celebrating," not sadness. So it seemed appropriate that he also made his Spring Training debut on Saturday against the Braves, striking out two batters in a 1-2-3 inning. It was his first time on a mound against an opposing team since April 30, 2012, when he picked up his 608th career save against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, and his first time in a competitive game since undergoing surgery for a torn right anterior cruciate ligament that threatened to end his career a few days later.
"It was great to be on the mound again," Rivera said, smiling at the end of an emotional day. "It felt wonderful. Everything went well -- that's the most important thing. It's overwhelming, but it's great."
So began the Mariano Rivera Farewell Tour. He looks forward to saying goodbye to each city's fans during his last tour of the Majors, and the Yankees announced that they will help him seek out and thank "special people in the game" who share his passion for baseball.
There will be plenty of time to reflect on his legacy, but Rivera said he wants to be remembered as a team player, someone who was there for others without thinking of himself. Cashman said that's the kind of person Rivera has been since he was in the Yankees' Minor League system, that all the success and fame and wealth haven't changed him one bit.
"He still, every spring, goes over to the Minor Leagues and to that chain-link baseball setting and spends time with the Minor Leaguers," Cashman said. "He's a giver. He's always been a giver of himself, and he's still a giver."
Sure enough, Rivera said he wants to stay involved in baseball post-retirement by working with Minor Leaguers. But first, he's going to spend time with his family and go on a "long vacation" after he's thrown his final pitch.
And he hopes that his final trademark cutter comes this year on the same stage where so much of his legend grew, where the universally respected pitcher and man established himself as the consensus greatest closer of all time.
"The last game, I hope, will be throwing the last pitch in the World Series. That's how I envision to be my last game of my last pitch on the mound," Rivera said. "Winning the World Series, that would be my ambition.
"The best thing for me that happened on a baseball field -- actually the best thing that happened -- was the Lord blessing me with this uniform. He put the New York Yankees uniform on me. I've been thankful for every minute that I've worn this uniform, until the day that I retire. The last day that I throw my last pitch, I will be more proud than anything, not because of what we accomplished, but what the Lord allowed me to wear, a New York Yankees uniform."