HOF Class of 2019: Mariano Rivera
There was little doubt that Marino Rivera would get the call to the Hall as soon as he was eligible and, as is often the case with superior players like Mo, the conversation has often been about whether or not he will be the first player voted in unanimously. All it would take is one person who doesn’t think a closer deserves to be in Cooperstown or that saves are overrated (apparently enough to discount any other pertinent statistics, such as a 205 ERA+) to keep it from being unanimous. Luckily, that was not the case as Mo became the first player to get 100% of the vote.
On May 23, 1995, Rivera made his MLB debut and he threw his final pitch on September 26, 2013. Since baseball is a game that is about the numbers, arguably more than any other sport, let’s get the numbers out of the way, especially those controversial saves. Rivera collected 652 of them over his nineteen years in the Majors and regardless of how highly you view them, that is an impressive feat. He has 51 more than Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman and the next three players on the saves list don’t even crack 500.
Rivera’s 1115 appearances is fourth all-time for a pitcher (behind Jesse Orosco, Mike Stanton, and John Franco). His 2.21 ERA is in the top twenty all-time and the best for closers. He was a thirteen time All-Star, picking up four saves in All-Star games. Over his entire career, Mo had a 8.22 K/9, a 2.01 BB/9, and a 0.50 HR/9. He held opposing batters to a .209 average. His postseason numbers are even more insane. These are all good reasons for why Rivera is joining the rest of the greats in Cooperstown, but these aren’t the only reasons fans love him.
My earliest memories of baseball are of Don Mattingly’s Yankees struggling, but as my interest in baseball grew, so did the Yankees’ talent. Soon enough, I had a great group of young players in Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera to cheer on. For almost two decades I had the luxury of knowing that when I heard Metallica start playing over the speakers in the Bronx, the game was virtually won. Night after night, Mo would take the mound for the ninth inning and his infamous cutter would make short work of the other team’s hitters.
Rivera dominated on the mound and he was always the consummate professional. The son of a fisherman in Panama, he learned to play baseball by fashioning gloves, balls, and bats out of milk cartons, fishing nets, and sticks. He is the ultimate rags to riches story, but through it all he remained almost painfully humble. While the rest of us are out here talking about how he is the greatest closer of all time, he will quickly remind you that he was nothing without his teammates. With some players you hear comments like that and you know they are just making smart PR moves, but this wasn’t the case with Mo. I can’t help but think his humility was probably part of his unanimous selection, as I can already hear him downplaying this last record of his.
Nothing better exemplifies why Rivera is a player that Yankees fans loved and other fans couldn’t help but like, even if he did wear the hated pinstripes than his final season. Rivera made a point of privately visiting with fans and often overlooked employees of the different teams the Yankees visited during the season. He said he did this because “It was important for me to meet the people who make baseball what it is, the people who work in the game every day. They have given me far more than I have given them.” The fact that Rivera was the final player to have the honor of wearing Jackie Robinson’s number 42 in the Majors seems all the more fitting for the type of player and person Rivera was during his career.
The greatness of Mariano Rivera doesn’t come down simply to the saves he collected, the innings he logged, the five World Series rings he has, his World Series MVP trophy, or any of the other accolades he received. What made Mo great was that he was able to take one pitch and fool batters with it for almost two decades. What made Mo great was the time he put into helping his teammates and any young players coming up. He was great because of the example he set, each time he stepped onto the mound and each time he left it. You could always count on Mo to come through, and on those rare occurrences when he didn’t, you knew he would be more than ready the next time he took the ball.