“He needs to pitch in a higher league, if there is one. Ban him from baseball. He should be illegal.”
- Former Minnesota Twins Manager, Tom Kelly (1996).
The bottom of the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium just ended, and the New York Yankees lead the Minnesota Twins by a score of 6-4. The bullpen doors open and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” a song that signals certain doom, begins to play. #42, Mariano Rivera, begins his jog to the mound with history, nevermind you the game, on the line.
The Twins, however, already know their fate.
or years, Mariano Rivera has been hailed as “The Greatest Closer of All-Time.” From his consistent regular season dominance to his postseason perfection, Rivera’s career will always be regarded as, quite simply, the best closing career ever. However, officially today, now we can say that Rivera is truly the greatest closer of all-time.
On Monday, Rivera recorded his 602nd save, passing former great San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman’s mark of 601, for the most saves all-time. Rivera and Hoffman are the only two closers in baseball history to reach the mark of 600 saves. Rivera, unlike Hoffman, did it all for one team. The one team that is the most recognized brand in the baseball world: The New York Yankees, who now, after Rivera’s historic save, have a magic number of four games for a playoff berth, and 5.5 games for the AL East Division Title.
Rivera joins other Yankee greats, such as Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth, and Roger Maris, in the record books. With Ruth regarded as the best hitter to ever play the game and DiMaggio one of the best centerfielders to ever play, the Yankees can also add Rivera as the greatest closer to ever pitch.
Mo’s career is one of mystique and aura. His regular season stats since taking over as the full-time closer in 1997:
- Two 50 saves or more seasons (career high 53 in 2004)
- Eight seasons with at least 40 or more saves
- Seven seasons of 30 or more saves
- 602 saves, most all-time
- 881 games-finished, most all-time
Mr. Automatic? If his regular season statistics were not enough, his career postseason numbers are even a greater testament to Rivera’s success.Â Consider his success over a span of 15 postseasons, meaning 94 games and a 31 combined series:
- 8-1, 0.71 ERA, 42 saves
- Allowed just 13 runs, 11 earned, two homeruns, 21 walks, 109 strikeouts and 86 hits in 139.2 postseason innings
- 11 saves in the World Series, all-time record
- Most postseason saves, all-time record
Oh yeah, and besides all that, he’s also a five-time world champion.
Perhaps what is most amazing about Rivera is that his career has been defined by one pitch, which Rivera discovered by accident while playing catch. One pitch that has been his “bread and butter” for 17 seasons. One pitch that all hitters in baseball know is coming, but cannot hit it.Â One pitch that has made Mariano Rivera famous.
“It was just from God. I didn’t do anything. It was natural,” says Rivera.
Jim Thome, the Cleveland Indians’ slugger and a member of the 600+ home run club, has described it as the single best pitch in the game.
Even Hoffman has been noted as saying that Rivera “will go down as the best reliever in the game in history.”
For my generation, it’s amazing to see a player that you grew up watching set such a record that probably will not be reached for decades. I can only imagine the generations that saw other greats set some of baseball’s greatest records. Imagine being part of the generation that saw Babe Ruth set the homerun record, only to then be part of the generation that saw Hank Aaron break it? Or how about the generation that saw Joe DiMaggio set the record 56-game hitting streak – a record that will never be broken? The generation that saw Pete Rose set the hits record? We can all now say that we are part of the generation that saw the greatest closer of all-time cement himself as the best. Of course, Rivera was always known as the best ever, no matter how many career saves he had.
Besides his regular season and postseason success, perhaps the other reason Rivera is going to be regarded as the greatest closer of all-time is because throughout his career he has never gone through something that even Hoffman suffered: a decline phase. Just 41 years young, Rivera has always been the same automatic pitcher since he broke in as a dominant force as a 26 year-old in 1996.
Even though he is one of the oldest players in the game, all throughout baseball know that Rivera has defeated father-time season after season, and there is no reason to doubt he will continue his success. Rivera certainly earned the right to keeping his uniform number after it was retired throughout major league baseball for Jackie Robinson in 1997, and has done it justice. Mariano Rivera is perhaps the second-greatest #42, along with Robinson, in baseball history.
However, he is the #1 greatest closer.