As someone who grew up hating the Yankees and is still sick of constantly hearing their fans talking about the 27 World Series championships they’ve won (though since 2001 they’ve won one while their arch rival Boston Red Sox have won four), even I’ll admit that Mariano Rivera is a class act and was one heck of a closer. That’s why I’m glad to see he was the first person unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame and will be formerly inducted in Cooperstown today.
Throughout his 19 year career, Rivera won five World Series championships with the Yankees on his way to making 652 saves, appearing in 13 all star games, winning the 1999 World Series and 2003 ALCS MVP awards, and having a career 2.21 ERA. As if that weren’t impressive enough, he seemed to step it up the most when the pressure was on and had a 0.70 ERA and 42 saves in the postseason.
His teammates recognized the importance of having the Sandman coming in to pitch the ninth inning as Mike Mussina credits the closer with securing him many of the victories that led to him being inducted into the Hall of Fame today too. Mussina deferring to Rivera helps show how much respect players had for him as a person. He’s known for being extremely humble and giving credit to his teammates for his success on the mound. It’s also part of why he was honored by so many teams when he played his final game in their stadium before retiring back in 2013.
Of course, all the respect Rivera received wouldn’t have caused him to receive so much attention if it weren’t for his incredible playing career. His cutter was so devastating that players used to use old bats when they faced him because they were so worried about a new one won’t survive an at bat against the closer.
“I just take an old, cheap bat that I don’t really care about and try to stay as short as possible,” Carl Crawford told the LA Times back in 2013. “I don’t use the same bat that I’ve been playing good with because chances are real high” that it’ll be destroyed.
Rivera’s dominance is somewhat interesting considering batters almost always knew what pitch was coming as almost 90% of the pitches he threw were cutters. While relievers often don’t have as many pitches as starters, the element of surprise is often still a weapon they use to get outs. Nonetheless, his cutter was effective at breaking both the bats and egos of the league’s best players.
It seems fitting that one of the Sandman will be the last player to give a speech during the ceremony today and a touching way to honor an incredible career. He might have come from humble beginnings in a small village in Panama who came to the US speaking very little English, but he’s now baseball’s best closer and a member of the Hall of Fame. And he’s done it all while remaining incredibly humble and an absolute class act.