Tucked away in a break room beneath the left-field stands Tuesday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark, the great Mariano Rivera sat with a group of some 20 Rangers employees and just talked with them.The Yankees’ closer listened to questions, translating his answers into Spanish for those who didn’t speak English. He asked questions, he joked around, he cherished his time with folks he didn’t know and will never see again.Rivera told them thanks for their service to the game, though all most of the do is stadium maintenance, and he was as genuine as his career has been dominant.Twenty-four hours earlier, almost to the minute, came the announcement that Ryan Braun had accepted a 65-game suspension and a $3.4 million forfeiture of salary for his ties to a clinic that distributed performance-enhancing drugs to him and helped him win an MVP award.He finally took a dose of medicine, albeit it a small one compared to the way he tarnished the game and ruined one man’s reputation during his appeal of a positive drug test in October 2011.And then he showboated at that infamous news conference the next spring after he got off on a technicality. He also lied to his teammates, lied to his peers, lied to his fans, lied to everyone, and he was as genuine as his career is untainted.And all Braun will earn the next six seasons despite his transgressions and being a Grade-A louse is $10 million, $19 million, $19 million, $19 million, $18 million and $16 million.At no point has Braun ever been mentioned on the same planet as Rivera in terms of class and respect of the game. That, of course, will never happen.But the contrast between the two was never as great as it was over a 24-hour stretch early last week. The shame of it is that more suspensions are coming, including almost certainly to Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz, during a season in which one of baseball’s greats bows out gracefully.Rivera, though, appears to have little interest being an all-time great on the greatest franchise in the sport’s history. Just playing for the Yankees is good enough for him, that and being a selfless teammate who always put others first.The thought that he might be the greatest Yankee, not just for what he accomplished but also for the professionalism with which he did it, is just short blasphemy to him.“I would never think about myself like that,” Rivera said Tuesday. “I would never talk about myself. If people say it, that’s what people think. I just want to continue doing what I’m doing and be humble. That’s more important than anything else.”Self, meanwhile, is all Braun is about. Even in his statement, which was issued through the commissioner’s office, he didn’t come out and admit what he did. He even had the nerve to say the matter was behind him “once and for all.”Once and for all? Braun will learn next season just how many of his peers don’t consider the matter behind him, if he hasn’t already, thanks to players like Max Scherzer and Matt Kemp speaking out against him.(All those vocal players better hope they don’t have any skeletons in their closets.)No player, possibly ever, has ever had a bad thing to say about Rivera, and the love continues to flow.The reason is the way he has carried himself throughout is career, which was evident Tuesday at Rangers Ballpark and during his visits with team employees and fans at every Yankees stop.In Kansas City, where Rivera wrecked his knee last year, he met with a married couple who had recently lost a son in a freak accident.In Boston, where he suffered the biggest blown save of his career against the Yankees’ fiercest rival, he met with victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.“What I’m getting out of the tours is being able to say thank you,” Rivera said. “That’s what I wanted to do. It’s been more than what I thought. Instead of them learning from me, I’m learning from them. It’s a blessing.”In Milwaukee, Braun sneaked away into suspension Monday without addressing the media. At least he addressed his teammates, who were duped worse than just about everyone. Brewers owner Mark Attanasio probably got it worse than anyone, considering how much money he still has to pay Braun.And Braun will slither back into baseball next season.Rivera has no intention of returning or doing anything other than gracefully bowing out.That’s a lousy trade.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson