It was spring training of 1996 and Lou Piniella had to feel like he was on top of the baseball world.

His Mariners were coming off an industry-shaking run to the American League Championship Series one in which they had eliminated the Yankees and Lou’s old Boss George Steinbrenner by climbing out of an 0-2 hole in the AL Division Series. Their success had even prodded the Washington State Legislature to authorize public funding for a new ballpark so they could escape the dank Kingdome and the club had three mega-stars in Ken Griffey Jr. Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez.

Just think how higher he could have climbed had one more item a seemingly small one at the time gone right.

“The general manager Woody Woodward called” Piniella said in a recent interview. “He said he was working on a deal with the Yankees. He mentioned a few prospects including Mariano. It never materialized.”

It’s the ultimate baseball “What if …” of the past 19 years the entirety of Rivera’s big-league career: What if the ’96 Yankees concerned about the underwhelming Grapefruit League showing of their rookie shortstop Derek Jeter had pulled the trigger and dealt Rivera at the time a 26-year-old late bloomer with a live arm to the Mariners for stopgap shortstop Felix Fermin?

“I don’t think like that” Rivera said. “I don’t wonder about what might have happened. It’s not real.”
No surprise there. Rivera thrives by keeping things simple. For the rest of us though it’s exactly the sort of hypothetical we love discussing.