Mariano Rivera refused to let torn knee ligaments at age 42 end his career, instead returning for one final season in 2013.
In doing so, Rivera not only managed to end his legendary 19-year tenure on his own terms, but reinforced his status as the most dominant closer in Major League history during the process. For his impressive comeback campaign this summer, Rivera on Monday night was recognized by his peers at the MLB Players Choice Awards as the American League Comeback Player of the Year, edging out fellow nominees Scott Kazmir (Indians) and Victor Martinez (Tigers). Rivera was similarly named Major League Baseball's officially sanctioned AL Comeback Player of the Year, as voted on from a list of finalists (one per team) by MLB.com's 30 club beat reporters.
At the same time, he was honored for more than just his impressive comeback season. Rivera on Monday night was also named the Marvin Miller Man of the Year, an award given annually to a Major Leaguer "who inspires others through his on-field performances and contributions to his community." Other finalists included the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran and the Mariners' Raul Ibanez.
"Without my peers, I wouldn't be the same," Rivera said on MLB Network during the Players Choice Awards announcement show. "I definitely appreciate what they have done for me, choosing me and voting for me."
The recognition only further cemented for Rivera what was already an incredibly successful farewell tour, and one that even he would have had a difficult time envisioning just a year and a half ago.
Originally expecting to retire following last season, Rivera's plans all changed on May 2, 2012, when he collapsed in center field at Kauffman Stadium in a freak incident during batting practice. Rivera suffered a torn ACL and partially torn MCL while shagging fly balls -- something he had taken joy in doing his entire career -- and the closer was left wondering if he'd ever again toe a Major League mound.
The day after the mishap, an emotional Rivera repeated softly when asked if he'd return from the injury: "At this point, I don't know. At this point, I don't know." In the midst of a sleepless night in a Kansas City hotel room that evening, Rivera decided that would not be how his career ends.
After missing the rest of 2012, he returned for a final year, declaring this season would be his last before it even started. He went on to dazzle one final time, finishing with a 2.11 ERA and 44 saves over 64 appearances, marking the ninth time he surpassed the 40-save plateau. He finished the season with 54 strikeouts in 64 innings, while walking only nine batters.
Rivera showed zero lingering effects from the gruesome knee injury, tallying a 1.83 ERA and 30 saves prior to the All-Star break. Needless to say, he earned his 13th and final All-Star nod, setting the scene for a memorable All-Star Game moment at Citi Field, the home of the crosstown Mets.
Rivera entered in the eighth inning to his typical "Enter Sandman" entrance song and a rousing ovation from the crowd. The rest of AL All-Star teammates delayed their taking of the field behind Rivera, keeping the spotlight solely on the legendary closer as players and coaches from both teams joined in the standing ovation.
Rivera went on to pitch a scoreless frame and earn his first career All-Star Game MVP Award. The accomplishment was just the latest in a storied career that included five World Series titles, a 1999 World Series MVP Award and an all-time record 652 saves, among countless other honors.
Monday's set of awards came less than two weeks after Commissioner Bud Selig bestowed upon Rivera the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award. Reserved only for individuals or groups that make a "major impact on the sport," the Historic Achievement Award is not given annually, but instead only at the Commissioner's discretion.
As for the Players Choice Awards, they have been distributed annually since 1992. This year's crop of winners each had the added honor of designating charities to receive grants totaling $260,000, from the Major League Baseball Players Trust, which raises funds and attention for issues affecting the needy and promotes community involvement. Rivera announced that his $70,000 worth of grants from his two Players Choice Awards would be donated to his church, Refuge of Hope.