I was going to wait until seasons end to write this, but some readers are pushing me to it. Far be it from me to not acquiesce to readers will. So here we are.
Mariano Rivera is the greatest player at his position in the history of baseball. There, I’ve said it. That may sound like hyperbole, but its gospel truth. You can debate who is the greatest centerfielder in history.(Mays or Cobb) You can debate who the greatest first baseman is.(Gehrig is the only plausible answer, as far as I am concerned) You can debate who the greatest starting pitcher is. (Walter Johnson or Walter Johnson. Or Clemens or Seaver) But there is no debate over who is the greatest closer in baseball history. Thus, Mariano Rivera must be considered one of the greatest players in baseball history.
Mariano is an anomaly. Most closers in baseball have a shelf life of maybe, if they are lucky, five years. Think Dennis Eckersley. Some really gifted closers last eight great seasons. Think Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, or, more recently, anus mouth himself, Jonathan Papelbon. Rivera has been doing it at a higher level for longer than any closer EVER. Period. Its not even a point of contention. Some people will speak up and say TREVOR HOFFMAN. Really? Hoffman was a damn good closer, one who merits induction into the hallowed hall of Cooperstown. But in a tough situation, a World Series game, a tight game in September, or even the fucking All Star Game, could you be reliant on Trevor Hoffman? No. When the bright lights shined brightest, Hoffman shrank. He was a GREAT, and I do mean great, regular season closer. But when the bright lights hit, he was like Tom Glavine. Don’t get me wrong, I like Glavine and think he is a first ballot Hall of Famer. But aside from one truly great postseason game that he pitched in 1995, clinching the World Series for the Braves, he came up truly small. The 1990’s Braves should have won just about every World Series in the decade, but were stopped short. And Glavine was as big a reason as any on that squad. Trevor Hoffman ranks there as well, a great regular season closer who wilted in the October spotlight.
Rivera was not Trevor Hoffman. The Sandman relished October. He thrived in October. No pitcher has ever quite dominated that month like Rivera. Cold and calculating, Rivera dissected hitters with one pitch. ONE PITCH. The cutter. The cut fastball. Rivera cut hitters apart with one pitch. That seems to be the perception. Perception, though, is not reality. Rivera throws two and four seam fastballs. It is just his cutter is so unhittable that it garners all the attention.
Many people will ask “What is the definitive Mariano Rivera game?” The shrewd answer is none. Most people will remember Mariano for his failures, his foibles. Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Game four of the 2004 ALCS. That is what makes Mariano so great: He fails so infrequently that his failures are magnified. My greatest Mariano memory is Game seven of the 2003 ALCS. After Mike Mussina had stemmed the oncoming Red Sox tide, Mariano came in and pitched THREE scoreless innings, keeping the vastly superior 2003 Red Sox at bay to allow Aaron Boone to walk the Yankees off in the 12th. Mariano was so moved by that victory that he hugged the pitchers mound after Boone’s ball took flight. It is an enduring baseball memory for this Yankee fan, one permanently embedded into my skull.
So where does Mariano Rivera fit into baseball lore? I have been a Yankee fan for many years now, dating back to the awful zenith of Steinbrenner destiny. George got suspended from the game and, all of a sudden, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, and Mo were fostered and became Yankee icons. Gene Michael Ladies and Germs! Rivera was almost traded in 1995 for future Yankee David Wells, but Stick Michael was shrewd enough not to do it. What resulted was one of the greatest baseball careers of all time.
I hope to God people realize what Mariano Rivera is, was, and forever will be. Goose Gossage, himself a dominant, premier closer, stated it best: “When this guy comes in, the other team knows they have no fucking chance. I mean,,the game is fucking over.” Well put. Has Mariano Rivera blown games as a closer? Yes. And those games live in infamy. And there is good reason: Mariano Rivera blowing a game, especially in the postseason, is like the college of Cardinals picking a new Pope. In other words, it happens occasionally, but it is rare.
Mariano Rivera is the greatest player ever, EVER, at his position. People take the man for granted. Has he failed? Sure. But his failures are all time epics, which should tell you what type of player the man was and is. There is a very good argument to be made that Mo is the best ever. I do not agree with this assessment, but cannot detract from it. Mariano Rivera is one of the best who ever wore a glove. And I hope that perception lasts forever.