"This award means a lot," Rivera said. "And it will be in a special place. Not in my corner [at home] but in a special place, because it means that I've had a chance to play for one Commissioner. It's an honor and a privilege to play for the same Commissioner all these years. I'm humbled to receive this, because all I did was try to do my job and help as much as I could. And I'm proud of that."
This is just the 13th time this award, which was created in 1998 to recognize accomplishments of historical significance, has been presented. The last to get it was Ken Griffey Jr. in 2011. Rivera played for the Yankees during his entire 19-year career, was part of five World Series championship teams, made 13 All-Star teams and finished his career with a record 652 saves.
Selig was clearly tickled to be handing the trophy to a player he holds in such high esteem.
"Clearly, unequivocally, he's the greatest relief pitcher of all time," the Commissioner said. "I don't want to embarrass him and I don't want to embarrass the family, but he became the face of baseball for this generation. And he did it with so much class and so much dignity and so much honor."
Selig referred to Rivera as a role model, and the pitcher made it clear he embraces that as much as some players turn away from it.
"It doesn't take anything to be nice, you know," Rivera said. "I don't know why you would say you're not a role model, because kids look at you. And I think that if we do the right thing and play the game the way we should play it, that's all we need to do. And outside the game, [you should] help as much as you can. That's being a great role model. You don't need to do something different that you don't know how to do. You just do what you know to do."
Even at age 43, Rivera earned 44 saves with a 2.11 ERA in 2013. But he's resisted suggestions that he could pitch another year. Rivera joked he's now a chauffeur and that he plans to spend a lot of time with his family before thinking about returning to baseball in some capacity. But he also noted that since this is just the offseason, little has changed yet.
"Right now, you're not talking about retirement, you're talking about temptation," Rivera said with a laugh. "I don't think it's hard [to retire] when you've made up your mind. I asked the Lord for one more year and he gave it to me. I gave it everything that I had in the tank. I have nothing left. So if you look at me and think I can play, I will tell you that I can't play no more, because I have nothing left."
Then, with a sly smile, looking at Selig, Rivera added: "Boss, listen to this, OK? Since I did the whole American League [farewell tour] with my family traveling with me, I've decided I'm going to give it another shot in the National League."
The Commissioner cracked up along with everybody else in the room. Rivera won't play anymore. How much he'll be missed is symbolized by the trophy he received Thursday night.