There might never be a farewell tour, a showering of gifts or an emotional final appearance involving several longtime teammates. But Jonathan Papelbon still aspires to land where New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera inevitably will end up: Cooperstown.
Papelbon, who has been the subject of trade rumors the last couple of seasons, is entering his 11th major league campaign at age 34. The five-time All-Star has had a successful career with the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies to this point, and the polarizing closer suggests he still has some unfinished business.
“My sights are on the Hall of Fame, and my sights are being the best I can be in every opportunity that I get to be in,” Papelbon recently told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford in Clearwater, Fla. “Now if you’re on a team that can’t get to the postseason, you can’t do anything about that. Mariano just happened to be extremely blessed to be on so many winning clubs. It makes a difference.
“I thought about that when I was in the minor leagues. They made me fill out these pieces of paper in instructional league, and I wrote all this stuff about being an eight-time All-Star and being in the Hall of Fame. They actually brought the paper to me and said, ‘This is serious. Stop messing around.’ I told them I wasn’t messing around. I was dead serious.”
Papelbon, who signed a lucrative contract with Philadelphia following the 2011 season, has remained consistent throughout most of his career. He’s also coming off a solid season in which he saved 39 games and had a 2.04 ERA in 66 appearances for the lowly Phillies. But while Papelbon’s numbers actually are fairly similar to those posted by Rivera through 593 career regular-season appearances, it’s historically been difficult for closers to punch their ticket to Cooperstown and Rivera’s postseason resume is second to none.
“I view it like this. The day I decided to be in this closer’s role, I decided to chase Mariano (Rivera), the best one,” Papelbon told Bradford. “I feel like I’m on that path, and it’s a tough path. Obviously, to get to that level is unheard of, but I strive to get there still.
“A lot of times a closer’s role is dependent on if he has a team that scores a lot of runs, etc. You don’t always get the opportunity to be on the team that scores the most runs every year. So, staying healthy and being able to be out there to produce is always going to be key for me.”
Papelbon’s future is unclear as the Phillies look to rebuild. His confidence and passion to succeed are as clear as ever, though.
It’s Hall of Fame or bust for No. 58.
Thumbnail photo via Jonathan Dyer/USA TODAY Sports Images