Keidel: Mariano Rivera: Mr. 600

By Jason Keidel
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New York Times writer David Waldstein recently wrote a lovely piece on Mariano Rivera. And the purpose of this piece is to echo his missive.

Did you know Rivera is one save from 600? Perhaps you didn’t, because the coverage is quieter than the laconic, iconic closer who is about to become the all-time saves leader, passing Trevor Hoffman, who has 601. No doubt Rivera was crowned long before he becomes the official king of closers, but there’s more meat to this feat than you may think.

“There’s only going to be only two guys with 600 saves, and after Rivera there won’t be anyone more. It will never happen again,” Jason Isringhausen told Waldstein. Isringhausen has 300 saves of his own, and knows better than most about what it takes to save games for so long.

We must praise Rivera because he won’t. He speaks and acts with the calm cadence of a surgeon, a rather pious pitcher who has been so gripped by the greater good of team goals that we’ve taken him for granted for 16 years. And since Yankees are judged by big deeds under brown leaves, Rivera separates himself from everyone in October, when he goes from great to transcendent.

His postseason save total matches his jersey number (42), with an obscene 0.77 ERA. Did I mention he’s a month older than I am? In November, his age will also match his jersey number, and I haven’t participated in competitive (and quite amateur) athletics in a decade, much less pitch in the closer’s cauldron of New York, with the grace of a legend and the grit of a little leaguer. Despite his advanced age, he still pitches under his career, 2.22 ERA. He has quietly racked up another 40 saves and a rather respectable (if not downright dominant) 2.09 ERA, with a laughable 7 walks in 56 innings, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio this year is over 7 to 1.

Derek Jeter, no doubt a first-ballot Hall of Famer, cover boy, team captain, and matinee idol, was lavished with lovely tributes in the thousands this season. His number will be retired, his visage stamped in endless media mutations, with statues and plaques bearing his likeness from Monument Park to Yellowstone Park. There’s even an HBO documentary about his latest achievement, reaching 3,000 hits, though it’s something 27 other men have done.

Where’s the Rivera film?

Buster Olney, former Yankees beat reporter for The New York Times, said there’s more separation between Rivera and the next best closer than there is between any other player at any other position in the history of team sports. Sweeny Murti and I have argued that Mariano is the best Yankee since Babe Ruth.

This may ruffle a few feathers, but I would argue that Rivera is the greatest pitcher in baseball history. Every game he enters is on the line, with each pitch a parcel toward a save or a blown save. History doesn’t favor Rivera because saves didn’t become a stat until 1969. But that’s not his fault. Mark Teixeira agrees. “I think we need to put Mo in that conversation,” he told The New York Times.

But forget the sentiments of stupid sportswriters, if you like. Rivera’s royalty is reinforced by the reverence of his peers, who still say Rivera is the last pitcher they care to face at the end of any game.

“When you go back and look at his career and what he’s done with that one pitch, I don’t think there’s a greater achievement in this game than that,” said Eric Chavez in the same article. “To go through major league hitters and dominate for all those years, it’s one of the greatest feats I’ll ever look back on. I honestly believe that, too. I don’t think people realize how incredible it really is. It will never be duplicated, ever. It won’t happen.”

Rivera has defied all laws by which we measure men. And this, as much as anything, adds to his eminence. Monastic Mo – nary a whisper of malfeasance in his life, from steroids to drugs to booze to babes – is, if possible, underrated. And this is because he doesn’t boast, doesn’t preen from the mound he made his temple. He has no dance, no scripted convulsions, like Francisco Rodriguez, who celebrates an April save like the seventh game of the World Series, pounding his chest and pointing straight to God, as though the deity had ten grand on the game.

Tell me a pitcher or player who has been the best at his position for 15 years. Exactly. There’s only Rivera. Perhaps he disappoints you because he’s so hopelessly humble, so strictly throwback. 16 years later, in his comically thick accent and soft monotone, he’s still just happy to be here. And we should be equally grateful. Mariano Rivera will leave quite a chasm when he retires, one that no one man can replace. Maybe you won’t realize it until he’s gone.

Feel free to email me:

  • coolnewyorker

    The Yankee dynasty of 1996 to 2000 was not possible without MO. It was possible without anyone else, including Jeter..

    • JK

      Bingo, sir. Jeter – heck, everyone – was replaceable, except Rivera. He’s the difference between Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.

  • Hector

    Funny, Nolan Ryan has the highest percentage of Hall of fame votes 98.79%. Yet, there were far better pitchers & players in the Hall then Nolan Ryan who received less.

    The question with Mo is, will he be the 1st 100% Famer to get in or will some Hall of Fame card carrying voter leave him out on the first ballot because he was not good enough.

    • JK

      Interesting, Hector, as I thought Tom Seaver had the highest %. But I don’t doubt that you’re right. As you say, anyone who rejects Rivera on the first ballot based on some abstract, archaic ritual is an idiot.

      • Jonas Altman-Kurosaki

        Seaver actually did have the highest percentage (98.84%). But just like with Seaver and Ryan, Rivera will unfortunately not be the first 100% Hall of Famer because some people, who somehow are allowed to vote for this prestigious honor, are idiots. Some will undoubtedly leave him off the ballot because he’s a closer; others will leave him off the ballot just to make sure he’s not the first 100% Hall of Famer. Ridiculous.

  • Kurt Spitzner

    If Rivera does not belong in the HOF then they may as well close the place down!

  • Victor Cruz

    He is only one man. He is only one pitcher. Anybody can come in in and pitch one inning! Christ, how many championships has he lost the Yankees? But you gotta be kidding me when you invite talk of Cooperstown? Monument Park? Are you kiddin me ?!?!?!?

    • JK

      I pray I sense sarcasm, Victor…

      • JK

        You mean to say he’s serious, Paul? Anyone can come in and pitch one inning? Then why didn’t he name anyone who could? (Great to hear from you, BTW.)

      • Paul D.

        I don’t think this cat was being facetious. He actually believes that. And yet, he probably owns a driver’s license and- egads!- probably has kids!!!!!!

  • Robert Richardson

    He still disappoints because no matter how good he is and blows a game the shrieks to be rid of him reach the high heavens! There is no appreciation of the crucial role he plays and the level that he performs on. The day will come when he is gone and fans will search for his clone in repentant desperation.

    • JK

      Indeed, Robert, I say he’s the difference between Joe Torre and Bobby Cox.

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