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Barry M. Bloom

Rivera perfectly content with decision to call it a career

Rivera perfectly content with decision to call it a career

NEW YORK -- Though Mariano Rivera's numbers are gaudy right now, and perhaps even beyond his own expectations, there is no changing his mind, no change of heart about retiring at the end of the season.

"No chance, no chance," Rivera told MLB.com during a brief interview in the Yankees' dugout on Monday night at Citi Field before the Yankees lost to the Mets, 2-1. "Zero chance."

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In case you were wondering.

Rivera, who holds the all-time record for saves, with 626, seems like a first-ballot lock for the National Baseball Hall of Fame when he's eligible in 2019. He said that Trevor Hoffman, the guy right behind him, with 601 saves, should go in first. Hoffman is eligible in 2016.

"Why not?" Rivera said. "He certainly deserves it."

Rivera's return from surgery on his right ACL and blood clots in that leg certainly are what legends are made of. Going into this week's four-game Subway Series, the last of his storied 19-year career, Rivera was a perfect 18 for 18 in save opportunities.

About a third of the way into the season, those 18 saves are more than the total amassed by 28 of the 30 clubs. The Pirates have 22 and the Yankees have 20. Five clubs have half or less of the total recorded by Rivera, who will be 44 on Nov. 29.

He appears ageless, and in the mind's eye, it seems as though he can just keep right on pitching. It is the rare athlete who goes out on top of his game.

Jim Brown, the Hall of Fame running back for the Cleveland Browns, immediately comes to mind. But Brown retired at the age of 30, in 1966. The previous season he had 1,544 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns.

"I've had no regrets," Brown said years later of the decision. "In fact, I have the opposite of regret. I'm so happy I was able to make that choice."

Rivera seems equally as comfortable. Instead of a Chipper Jones-type farewell tour around Major League Baseball, Rivera has opted to keep his goodbyes low-key and discreet. During his first visit to every town and ballpark on the road, he has met with a group of handpicked season-ticket holders and personnel working for the opposing club.

On Monday, a group of 18 -- 14 men and four women -- met with him hours before the game in the middle of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. The setting couldn't have been more apropos.

Folding chairs were set up in a circle in front of the giant blue 42, the number worn by the late Brooklyn Dodgers infielder and by Rivera himself. Rivera was granted dispensation to continue wearing the number when it was retired for good throughout baseball in 1997.

When Rivera calls it quits at the end of the season, he will be the last 42.

Robinson, who passed away in 1972 at the age of 53, famously said that "a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."

Rivera continues to be a living, breathing legacy to the massive importance and impact of Robinson's life.

"I always am blessed, thank God," Rivera said in the dugout. "After the injury we worked hard, but in the end it paid off. It has been wonderful. The people have been wonderful."

It is a testimony to Rivera's character and personality that he is being honored throughout the Majors by fans who have watched him shut down their own teams. In Cleveland he met drummer John Adams, who has kept a steady beat in the bleachers for many years. On Monday he was asked by a longtime Mets employee what it was like to watch Mike Piazza hit the deep fly to center at Shea Stadium that ended the 2000 World Series in favor of the Yankees.

Rivera said it was an honor to be remembered by so many fans.

"It doesn't matter. I'm going to the fans because they are fans of baseball, first of all," he said. "They are baseball fans. Obviously, they are fans of their team, whoever we are playing, like the ones here. They are Mets fans. But they respect the game, and they respect what you do."

Robinson abruptly retired after the 1956 season when the Dodgers tried to trade him to the hated Giants. In contrast, Rivera seems to be having a blast as he finishes his career.

No matter how perfect his performance, it's his choice alone to determine the moment when he will don No. 42 no more.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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