Very few players in Major League Baseball history can say that they were undeniably the best at their position, but Mariano Rivera is surely one of them. The greatest closer to ever step foot on a baseball field has not only been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but he became the first to do it in unanimous fashion.
Of all the greats to ever get elected to the world’s greatest fraternity, none have ever been elected unanimously and many thought no one ever would. Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, and Ken Griffey Jr. are some names that come to mind when the feat is brought up, but none could ever do it. Now, Mariano Rivera has etched his name into the history books as the first Hall of Famer to be elected unanimously. It is worth noting that the closer role has been under constant scrutiny as far as the Hall is concerned with Trevor Hoffman being proof and it is fascinating that the Hall of Fame’s first unanimous selection was a closer.
“After my career, I was thinking that I had a shot to be a Hall of Famer,” Rivera said on a conference call with reporters. “But this was just beyond my imagination. I was amazed the way all this has been, through my whole career — and this being the pinnacle of every player that plays the game of baseball, to be unanimous.”
Previously, the closest to players to be unanimously elected into the Hall of Fame were Ken Griffey, Jr. (99.32% in 2016), Tom Seaver (98.84% in 1992), Nolan Ryan (98.79% in 1999), Cal Ripken, Jr. (98.53%), Ty Cobb (98.23% in 1936), and George Brett (98.19% in 1999).
Rivera undoubtedly had the greatest career of any pitcher to call themselves a closer. Rivera spent all 19 of his seasons in the Major Leagues with the New York Yankees. He was originally utilized as a starting pitcher but was moved to the closer role where he revolutionized the position. Rivera compiled 652 saves, a record that may never be broken, during his illustrious career and had a career 2.21 ERA with 1,173 strikeouts across 1,283 2/3 innings. Rivera won five World Series Championships, five Rolaids Relief Awards, as well as Most Valuable Player awards in the World Series, American League Championship Series, and All-Star Game. Rivera was a 13-time All-Star selection.
What Rivera did in the regular season made him a superstar, what he did in the Postseason made him a legend. Through 96 career postseason games, Rivera recorded saves in 42 of them through 47 opportunities with a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings. To put Rivera’s Postseason dominance into perspective, more men have set foot on the moon (12) than there have been runs given up by Mariano Rivera in the Postseason (11).
“Mariano was a fierce competitor and a humble champion, which has made him such a beloved baseball legend,” said New York Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner. “Success and stardom never changed Mariano, and his respect for the game, the pinstripes and for his teammates and opponents alike makes this day such a celebration of his legacy. There will be many more great and talented relief pitchers, but there will never be another like him.”
After a legendary career, the man who was known for walking out to “Enter Sandman” will now “Enter Cooperstown” as the first unanimous selection in National Baseball Hall of Fame history. Not that the threshold has been broken, will the unanimous Hall of Famer become a more common breed? Who’s next? Derek Jeter? David Ortiz? Ichiro? Albert Pujols?
Only time will tell.