SECAUCUS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — The greatest closer of all-time is now officially part of the most exclusive club in Major League Baseball.
Mariano Rivera was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, in his first year of eligibility. The legendary relief pitcher made baseball history in the process, becoming the first player to receive 100 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Designated hitter extraordinaire Edgar Martinez, former Orioles and Yankees right-hander Mike Mussina, and the late Roy Halladay joined Rivera in the class of 2019.
Rivera, the all-time leader in saves with 652, pitched his entire 19-year career for the Yankees and was an iconic member of the fabled “Core Four.”
Jogging in from the bullpen to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” Rivera established a level of dominance for a relief pitcher that had never been seen before and may never be duplicated again. In a role that had traditionally been filled by “failed starters,” Rivera redefined the modern bullpen in MLB.
After transitioning from a starting pitching prospect in 1995 to a late-inning weapon for manager Joe Torre’s bullpen a year later, the Yankees’ strategy to win ballgames was forever changed. The idea of at least a nine-inning marathon was replaced by a sprint to the sixth so that the Bombers’ relievers could slam the door on opponents.
Rivera’s first year in the bullpen is still viewed as one of the greatest in MLB history and among the best of his career. Working mostly the seventh and eighth innings, “Mo” struck out 130 in 107 2/3 frames in 1996 as New York captured its first World Series championship in 18 years.
From 1997 until the end of his career in 2013, Rivera held down the top spot in the Yankees bullpen and quickly became the reliever by which all others were measured. In 1997, Rivera said he received his “gift from God” — the cutter — while playing catch with teammate Ramiro Mendoza. Rivera would go on to use that one devastating pitch to break hundreds of bats and cement his dominance for the next decade.
The 13-time All-Star saved more than 40 games in a season nines times. He finished with an ERA under 2.00 an unprecedented 11 times. The native of Panama also set all-time records for games finished (952) and ERA+ (205). Despite traditionally being awarded to starters, Rivera also finished in the top five in the AL Cy Young Award voting five times, unheard of for a reliever.
For as much success as the lifelong Yankee had in the regular season, Rivera saved his finest work for October.
He was close to automatic in the playoffs. His staggering 0.70 ERA in 141 postseason innings is the lowest of all-time among qualifying pitchers. His 42 career postseason saves are more than double the total of the next closest pitcher (Brad Lidge with 18).
Forever calm and cool on the hill, Rivera fired the final pitch of Yankees championships in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009.
The most telling stat surrounding Rivera’s playoff legend might be this: more men have walked on the moon (12) than have scored an earned run against him in the postseason (11).
“Amazing. All I have to say is thank God for that. It was a beautiful, long career for me with the best organization in baseball,” Rivera said following his unanimous induction into baseball immortality.
Now 49, Rivera’s induction into Cooperstown has been a foregone conclusion for the last five years, but the legend’s legacy didn’t end on the field. The final major leaguer to ever wear No. 42 brought class and dignity to Jackie Robinson’s retired number.
Since retiring, Rivera has continued to be an ambassador for the game of baseball and an active philanthropist in the New York area. It is a safe bet his Hall of Fame speech this summer will draw one of the biggest crowds in Hall history — at least until longtime teammate Derek Jeter’s in 2020.