Mariano Rivera, who is expected to announce his retirement at a 10 a.m. news conference on Saturday, is one player who earned it. Not only has Rivera carved out an amazing major league career, but he has done the unthinkable in the process, which is why it’s only fitting that he’s in line for a season-long farewell tour.
One of the best things about sports is the ability to debate any topic. So often, the conclusion is the same: agree to disagree. Regardless of the topic, you’re bound to come across someone who has a conflicting viewpoint, and it’s usually hard to sway that person’s opinion.
Who is the greatest hitter of all time? Ted Williams? Babe Ruth? Lou Gehrig? Hank Aaron?
Greatest catcher? Johnny Bench? Yogi Berra? Mike Piazza? Ivan Rodriguez?
What about the greatest closer? Mariano Rivera? Mariano Rivera? Mariano Rivera? How about Mariano Rivera?
While plenty of solid closers have come and gone, Rivera stands head and shoulders above the rest. Not only is he the greatest ninth-inning hurler of all time, but it’s not even close, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who would argue for someone other than the longtime Yankee.
Sure, there’s Trevor Hoffman, who is the only other member of the 600-save club. And there’s Dennis Eckersley, who won a Cy Young award and was one of the most dominating pitchers of the late 80s and early 90s. But one glimpse of Rivera’s resume says all that needs to be said when someone fruitlessly wanders into anti-Rivera territory.
Rivera enters the 2013 season with an MLB record 608 saves (and counting). He owns an all-time best 206 ERA+, an impressive 2.21 ERA and a minuscule 0.998 WHIP, all of which somehow manage to pale in comparison to his postseason success.
Rivera is 8-1 with 42 saves, a 0.70 ERA and a 0.759 WHIP in 96 playoff appearances. As USA Today’s Mike Foss points out, more people have walked on the moon (12) than have scored against Rivera in the postseason (11). That’s staggering; almost as staggering as Rivera’s five World Series rings, all of which he played a huge part in earning.
Rivera’s accomplishments and legacy extend beyond the stat sheet and his jewelry collection, though.
It’s not often that you see a player bring a revolutionary element to the table, yet that’s exactly what Rivera has done. Pitchers come in all different shapes and sizes, and each one is unique in how he approaches hitters. Rivera has gotten batters out for 18 years with essentially one dynamic pitch that is almost unexplainable in and of itself: the cutter.
No matter the situation, the count or the velocity with which he throws it, Rivera can use the cutter to make hitters look foolish. He did so all the way up until suffering an ACL injury that ended his 2012 season prematurely, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to wreak havoc on major league sluggers during his farewell tour in 2013.
What is also truly amazing about Rivera’s pure dominance in the closer’s role, however, is that he did it all under the bright lights of New York. There might not be a more pressure-packed gig in all of baseball, and Rivera has seemingly laughed at the situation, painting a career-long masterpiece while everyone gawks at his every stroke.
And through that gawking, it’s hard not to fall in love with what the guy’s done. Rivera is a rare breed. He’s a player who can dominate your favorite team time and time again, yet at the end of the day, it’s a struggle to find anything negative to say about him.
So as we get set for Rivera’s season-long farewell tour, let’s be sure to shower him with the respect he deserves. He certainly won’t demand it, but he sure as hell earned it.