Exit Sandman

In my recent season preview of the New York Yankees, I mentioned at some length the welter of age and injuries afflicting the team (which has since only gotten worse). I struck a pessimistic tone on most of them, but not on the 43-year-old Mariano Rivera, returning from a flyball-shagging ACL blowout that cost him most of 2012. I quote myself:

“Mariano’s been so consistent for so long that, even with the combination of freak injury and Father Time, I’d feel like a sucker betting against him: Mo will let us know when Mo’s finished.”

Not long afterward, Mo let us know. Rivera is going to retire at the end of this season, ending a career that has made him the consensus choice for the greatest relief pitcher baseball has ever seen. Having watched the Chipper Jones farewell tour last year, we can confidently foresee a string of ceremonies across the league honoring him, if sometimes with gritted teeth for all the doors he slammed in their faces for so many years. Not long after that, the New York Yankees will grant him their ultimate honor, retiring his number 42.

That number, 42, has become unusually strongly connected to Rivera, for well-known reasons I will talk about in time. So my look at the career (so far—he’s not done yet, folks!) of Mariano Rivera will take 42 as its definition. In this pre-retrospective on Mariano’s playing days, I’m going to give you 42 facts about Mo, encompassing the whole range of sabermetric intensity from deep analysis to simple biographical notes. I’ll also make a running tally, to keep myself honest.

And now, on with the countdown.

(Central) American Top 42

It’s no great leap of faith to say that Rivera is probably going to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If and when that happens, [1] Mariano will be the second Panamanian in the Hall … but only the first born on Panamanian soil. This one’s sneaky. Rod Carew was born in 1945 in the city of Gatun, back when Gatun was part of the Panama Canal Zone, an American territory. This gained Carew permanent resident status in the U.S., though not citizenship (and he has remained solely a Panamanian citizen throughout his life). Rivera was born in Panama City, dodging those pesky sovereignty issues.

[2] Rivera was born on Nov. 29, 1969, which produces a curious alchemy with me personally. I was born one day later, but one year sooner: Nov. 30, 1968. (Don’t panic: I don’t have that as my password for anything.) This means that there is exactly one day a year when Mariano Rivera and I are the same age. Weird, the things that can forge a bond between you and a stranger.

Being Panamanian, Rivera was not eligible for the first-year draft, so we can’t look at when he was chosen and marvel at the Yankees’ perspicacity in choosing him early or luck in nabbing him late. Instead, [3] he was signed as an amateur free agent on Feb. 17, 1990. Herb Raybourn, who directed Yankees Latin American operations, did the official honors, but it was really scout Chico Heron who discovered Mariano, at least as we know him.

Raybourn had seen Rivera playing amateur baseball [4] as a shortstop, but despite obvious athleticism passed on him as a prospect. (Yep, Derek Jeter dodged a bullet.)

The next year, to fill a gap in his Panama Oeste club, Rivera volunteered to pitch. Impressed teammates called Heron, who came, saw, and invited Rivera to a tryout camp. Raybourn was surprised to find the passed-on Rivera there, but a second look showed him promise. Rivera was a fringe prospect, but worth a shot, and a $3,000 signing bonus.

[5] That bonus represents about 0.00188 percent of the money Rivera has earned in his professional career, going by Baseball-Reference’s numbers. Including his 2013 contract, Rivera will have made just under $160 million. To answer the unasked question, yes, Rivera was worth a three-grand flyer.

He took five years to climb the minor-league ladder, and when he reached the New York Yankees, [6] he did it as a starter. He debuted on May 23, 1995, against the California Angels, the first of 10 starts he would have that season.

And he was a flop. He yielded more baserunners than he recorded outs: eight hits and three walks in 3.1 innings, including a Jim Edmonds round-tripper. He departed the game down 5-0 in a game his Yankees would lose 10-0.

His remaining time as a starter was up and down, generally down. Only once did he pitch more than six innings, producing eight frames of two-hit, shutout ball at Chicago on the Fourth of July, a game that got his ERA out of double digits. By the end of July, he had pitched himself out of the rotation. [7] Manager Buck Showalter sent him in for his first major-league relief appearance on Aug. 1 against Milwaukee. He coughed up three runs in the sixth and seventh innings, blew the save, but vultured a win when the Yankees staged a comeback.

He got a couple more spot starts, with discouraging results, and come September was a bullpen arm, usually trotted out in low-leverage situations. The one-time fringe prospect looked like a fringe major-leaguer, a good bet to wash out altogether.

The man responsible for saving Mariano Rivera’s career? Painful as the admission is, I have to say it’s Bud Selig. [8] Really.

The Wild Card, Selig’s brainchild, first came into play in 1995, and Mariano’s Yankees were the first winner in the American League, qualifying them to play the Seattle Mariners. An extra-inning jam in Game Two saw Rivera brought in, with mere hopes rather than expectations. What he did for 3.1 innings was a revelation, one I’ll detail below. That performance, and two others in the next three games (for a total 5.1 scoreless innings), were the first flash of Mariano showing his true destiny.

It’s a destiny that almost played out with the Seattle Mariners. [9] During 1996 spring training, he was dangled as possible trade bait to bring Mariners shortstop Felix Fermin to the Bronx. A Yankees prospect, penciled in to start the season at short, was struggling in exhibition games, and owner George Steinbrenner wanted Fermin as insurance. It took most of the Yankees brass to talk George out of this panic move.

It’s the best trade The Boss never made. Felix Fermin’s career had 19 plate appearances left. That shortstop prospect, Derek Jeter, did fine once the games started counting. And so did Mariano.

With John Wetteland still slotted as the closer, Mariano established himself that year as the Yankees’ setup man. [10] It was a dominant performance. He threw 107.1 innings, easily the most of his career (second best is 80.2 in 2001). His K/9 rate was 10.87, against a BB/9 down at 2.84. He wasn’t perfect, though: He did give up a home run. One, in 107.1 innings. Generally working two innings a game, he notched 26 holds (out of 28 career), and sneaked in for five saves when Wetteland wasn’t looking.

[11] Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs agree, in two separate metrics apiece, that 1996 was Mariano’s best season. bWAR puts him at 4.8 wins in ’96, with 2008 second-best at 4.2; the lower-balling fWAR gives him 4.4 in ’96, against 3.3 in 2001. If you go by Win Probability Added, which heightens high-leverage situations like those a closer would be pitching, it still holds up. B-R marks 1996 at a 5.4 WPA for Mariano, beating out 2004′s 5.0; FG rates Mo’s 1996 at 5.26, just ahead of 5.22 for 2004.

There’s fodder for a huge sabermetric debate here. Many baseball students think closers today are not employed to the best advantage for their teams, holding too many three-run leads and being held out of critical ties to wait for the “save situation.” Mariano Rivera could be Exhibit A for the prosecution: how optimal can the standard closer’s role really be, if the greatest closer ever had his best year as a setup guy?

I raise the question here, but I won’t try to settle it here. This is about Mariano Rivera’s awesomeness as a baseball weapon, not about whether his managers deployed him perfectly or even well. Besides, his performance overwhelmed any theoretical shortcomings in the dugout. Wetteland departed for Texas after 1996. Mariano moved into the closer role, and became Mariano. Detailing the ebb and flow of his time there is almost meaningless.

Closers are notoriously meteoric: They can burn intensely bright for a couple seasons, then flame out. Jose Valverde‘s crash in 2012 is not remotely unique. It just coincided with a deep playoff run to get a lot of attention.

Mariano is the opposite. He’s never had a bad year. He’s never had an average year. [12] The worst ERA+ he has ever posted, outside his rookie season as a starter, was a 144 in 2007. That got some people thinking he might be about finished. [13] His ERA+ the next season was 316. [14] That 2007 blip was the only time from 2003 to 2012 that Mariano’s ERA+ did not finish above 200 for the season, a stretch beginning at age 33, when pitchers are supposed to be in decline.

To look at his career ERA+ is to wonder whether Mariano Rivera is a refugee from a video game. For players with at least 1,000 innings pitched, the second-highest career ERA+ (with 100 as the average) is Pedro Martinez at 154. [15] Mariano is number one … at 206. True, Mo has fewer innings under his belt, but does anybody really believe this is an artifact of small sample size?

Well, the deep stats act like it is. [16] While his career ERA stands at 2.21, the FIP metric (strikeouts, walks and homers) puts his career value at 2.75, while xFIP (which reverts homers to an average rate per fly ball) drops him all the way to 2.99. Still excellent, but not otherworldly.

These stats follow the McCracken Hypothesis that pitchers have no consistent effect on balls in play. Much as I respect McCracken’s discovery, I believe the disparity in Mariano’s numbers exposes its weakness. There are a few pitchers who can induce the fabled weak contact. Knuckleballers qualify. So does Mariano Rivera and the Cut Fastball of Doom.

Did you know … that with all the left-handers’ bats he’s sawed off over his career, Mariano Rivera’s cutter is the third leading cause of deforestation in North America?

The only way you can tell that’s a joke is that I didn’t number it as a fact. That, and the lefties aren’t laughing.

Some advanced metrics show Mo more love. There is a new set of statistics called Shutdowns/Meltdowns that use Win Probability Added to analyze a reliever’s (not necessarily a closer’s) performance. A reliever who scores a WPA of +0.06 or higher in a game is credited with a Shutdown; one who scores -0.06 or worse is tagged with a Meltdown. A SD/MD ratio of 2.5 is considered average. Season results far above or far below this ratio are fairly common, due to the volatility of the reliever’s role.

[17] For his career, Mariano Rivera has a Shutdown/Meltdown ratio of 547/113, working out to 4.84. To provide a benchmark from another excellent closer, Trevor Hoffman’s career total is 518/138, for a 3.75 ratio. [18] Rivera has not had a season with a ratio below 3 since 1995, when he relieved in nine games and accumulated just one Shutdown and one Meltdown.

[19] His best season mark was in 1998, the year his Yankees went 114-48. Mariano carded 31 Shutdowns against just two Meltdowns. [20] Mo has been named to 12 American League All-Star Teams in his career—but not in 1998. This is where I could start denouncing AL All-Star manager Mike Hargrove, who chose the pitchers, for stupidly ignoring an obscure metric that wouldn’t be conceived for more than a decade. I haven’t got time for that. Too many facts to cover.

Mo-tober (plus a bit of Mo-vember)

As superb as his numbers through 162 games are, Rivera enters a different realm when the playoffs begin. Against a higher level of competition, everyone’s numbers are supposed to regress. I’ve avoided showing career stat lines until now, so you can get an uncluttered look at how Mariano “regresses” come October.

                    W-L-S    GP     IP     ERA    K/BB    K/BB Rate  WHIP   WPA
[21] Reg. Season  76-58-608 1051  1219.1  2.21  1119/277     4.04   0.998  54.0
[22] Post-season    8-1-42   96    141    0.70   110/21      5.24   0.759  11.7

Mariano has done the equivalent of two seasons’ worth of pitching in the postseason, and his numbers there act like he’s pitching against Double-A squads. He takes the second-lowest WHIP in league history—leader Addie Joss pitched the Deadball Era, not the Steroid Era—and knocks a quarter off it. [23] His Shutdown/Meltdown ratio more than doubles, 57/5 all-time in the playoffs.

Another indication of his extra gear comes from inherited runners. The percentage of inherited runners that relievers allow to score has hovered between 30 and 35 percent during Mariano’s career, dipping to 29 percent in 2012. [24] Mo’s regular season numbers are 102 of 352, 29 percent, better than average but not ridiculous. For the postseason, he’s 10 out of 53, for a 19 percent rate. That’s … maybe not ridiculous, at least for Mariano. He sets a higher bar for the ridiculous.

It isn’t remotely as though he’s gotten lucky in a few opportunities. [25] Mariano Rivera has competed in 16 postseasons, sharing the all-time record with teammate Derek Jeter. A related record he holds all by himself: [26] from 1995 to 2007, Rivera played in 13 consecutive postseasons. His teammates all fall short: Jeter missed ’95, Jorge Posada missed ’96, and Andy Pettitte went to Houston in 2004 and missed the playoffs. If you count ’93 and ’95 as consecutive due to the strike (I don’t), John Smoltz would have beaten him … had his Braves not gotten swept out in 2000 before his turn in the rotation came up. So close, Smoltzie.

These records highlight how Rivera has gotten so many chances for postseason glory by playing on the Yankees in the Wild Card era. This does not factor in how many of those chances the Yankees got because Mariano was pitching for them April through September, or earlier in October to get them through to the next round. I can’t pull such a smooth chicken-and-egg maneuver with the Wild Card stuff, but since it gave us more opportunities to watch Mariano pitch, I am not complaining.

The stat lines above include Win Probability Added, which measures how much a player’s performance adds to or subtracts from his team’s chances of victory. Theoretically at least, Mariano and other closers exist to rack up WPA, getting outs when we know it matters, turning a great chance to win into a certainty. Observe how the ratio of WPA to innings pitched gets rather higher for Rivera come the postseason.

This gives me a chance to do something I enjoy: rating stuff! Out of Mariano’s 96 playoff appearances, I’ve rated his best five by the WPA metric. You’ll see in all of them that his managers pitched him longer than the standard closer’s one-inning role (once because he hadn’t become a closer yet). If you want to raise this as another point against the standard closer’s role, you are at liberty to do so.

[27-31] Here’s a Top Five within the Top 42:

5. 10/11/2003, ALCS Game Three, at Boston Red Sox. 0.377 WPA

Mariano entered in the bottom of the eighth, his Yankees clinging to a 4-3 lead against their arch-rivals. He firmed up their grip. Starting at the top of the formidable Red Sox order, he cut down Johnny Damon, Todd Walker, Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Kevin Millar with an economical 19 pitches for the save.

4. 10/9/2004, ALDS Game Four, at Minnesota Twins. 0.379 WPA

New York went into extra innings trying to clinch the ALDS against Minnesota. Mariano took the bump in the bottom of the 10th, the game knotted at 5-5. Six batters; 20 pitches; six outs. Alex Rodriguez tallied the go-ahead run in the top of the 11th, giving Mariano the win.

3. 10/17/2009, ALCS Game Two, vs. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. 0.395 WPA

Mariano entered a 2-2 game in the eighth to get a clutch third out with two men on. He pitched the next two innings, allowing one single, keeping his team even with the Angels. He came out after 2.1 innings, and while his successor would promptly let the Angels ahead, New York would pull back level on an A-Rod homer (wait, I thought he was an October choker) and win in the 13th. No decision for Mariano, but a critical job well done.

2. 10/16/2003, ALCS Game Seven, vs. Boston Red Sox. 0.432 WPA

I won’t give the capsule here, because there is a more appropriate place for it.

1. 10/4/1995, ALDS Game Two, at Seattle Mariners. 0.471 WPA

By WPA, Mariano’s greatest playoff performance was his very first. That’s fitting, as what he did that day and later in the ’95 ALDS made all the rest possible.

The Yankees were in bad trouble before Mariano ever reached the mound. Ken Griffey Jr. had blasted the Mariners ahead with a home run off relief ace Wetteland in the top of the 12th, putting Seattle ahead 5-4. Rivera came in with two outs and Edgar Martinez on first to face Jay Buhner. He wasn’t Showalter’s first option, merely the best one he had left. Showalter did not yet know how true that was.

Mariano fanned Buhner, then watched from the dugout as his team clawed back to tie (involving the now-hilarious move of using Jorge Posada as a pinch-runner). Rivera set down the Mariners on six pitches in the 13th, then struck out the side in the 14th. He wobbled in the 15th, allowing back-to-back singles up the middle by Martinez and Buhner, but bore down to whiff Doug Strange and induce a fly-out by future Yankee Tino Martinez. Jim Leyritz‘s walkoff homer won the game for New York, and capped Mo’s debut as a playoff pitcher with the win. What’s more, it established him as a bullpen force, an impression he would not betray in the years to follow.

Two out of five isn’t bad

But this may not be the best way to measure Mariano’s value to his team. For the New York Yankees, it all comes down to championships—and there’s a metric for that now.

Buyers of the THT Baseball Annual 2013 read Brad Johnson’s article devoted to the Championships Added statistic. This takes the WPA a player accumulates in a game, and multiplies it by the importance of that game in deciding the winner of the World Series.

As examples: Game Seven of the World Series provides one full ChampAdded; Game Six of the Series is 0.5 ChampAdded; Game Seven of a League Championship Series rates 0.5 ChampAdded, as it fully decides who will have a 50-50 chance of winning the World Series. The numbers follow their probabilistic path down from there: e.g., the Wild Card knockout game is 0.125 ChampAdded.

This can be added up to show who was a particular “hero” or “goat” of a postseason. In 2012, Marco Scutaro‘s clutch work for the eventual champion Giants earned him a grand total of 0.196 ChampAdded, the best of the year. Raul Ibanez came second, his amazingly timely homers bringing him in at 0.171 even though the Yankees didn’t advance out of the ALCS.

How does this relate to Mariano? Well, if Marco Scutaro had the superb clutch performance he did in the 2012 postseason every year for nine straight years, he still wouldn’t match the lifetime ChampAdded of Rivera. [32] Mariano’s Championships Added for the postseason total 1.865. Championships are a team effort, but Mo can plausibly say—even if he is too humble to do it—that two of the five rings he wears are his doing alone.

That begs the question, at least to me: When did he accumulate the biggest pieces of this immense total? My answer is in this list, where we see Mariano doing his best in the innings that counted most of the games that counted most. [33-37] Mariano Rivera’s top five games in Championships Added are:

5. 10/26/1999, World Series Game Three, vs. Atlanta Braves. 0.07625 ChampAdded

Up 2-0 in the World Series but down as many as four runs to an Atlanta squad eager to play the 1996 Yankees comeback in reverse, New York scrambled to tie this game at five after eight innings. Mariano then took the ball, and while he allowed singles in the ninth and 10th, neither man reached second base. Chad Curtis opened the home 10th, and ended the game, with his walkoff homer, giving Mariano the win and the Yankees full command of a Series they would end up sweeping. Rivera would be voted MVP of the 1999 World Series.

4. 10/26/1996, World Series Game Six, vs. Atlanta Braves. 0.0845 ChampAdded

Speaking of the 1996 Yankees comeback, Mariano contributed to the game that finished it. He was still a setup man in those days, so he pitched the seventh and eighth with his club ahead 3-1. Terry Pendleton, with a leadoff walk, was the only man to reach base against him. Mariano handed the 3-1 lead intact to closer Wetteland, who gave up half the lead and put the go-ahead runs on base before getting the final out. Wetteland, with four saves, would win Series MVP honors. Mariano’s time would come later—as you saw earlier.

3. 10/25/2000, World Series Game Four, at New York Mets. 0.135 ChampAdded

Two innings. One baserunner. Nobody as far as second. One-run lead preserved. The Yankees one game closer to a title. It almost gets boring sometimes.

2. 11/1/2001, World Series Game Five, vs. Arizona D-backs. 0.149 ChampAdded

This one did not get boring. After a last-licks Yankees home run to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth (for the second straight night), Mariano got the call for the 10th and 11th innings, his third straight day of work. The 11th almost blew up: two singles, a sacrifice, and an intentional walk gave Arizona three men on with one out. Rivera squeezed free, getting an infield line-out and a grounder. But tightrope acts count, as long as you don’t fall off. Besides, in that hair-raising 11th, Mariano did not throw a single unintentional ball; he never quite lost control of the game.

New York would notch the win in the home 12th, too late for Mariano to get a decision, however crucial his innings were. The Yankees were up 3-2, the comeback almost complete, and Mariano was the hero again. For three more days.

1. 10/16/2003, ALCS Game Seven, vs. Boston Red Sox. 0.216 ChampAdded

It wasn’t even the World Series yet. It was bigger than that: Game Seven against Boston. Pedro Martinez had just melted down (or Grady Little, if you prefer), and the Yankees entered the ninth tied at five. Mariano had to hold the fort until his teammates could push across that sixth run. If necessary, he would pitch until he could not pitch any more.

That is just about what he did. He would pitch three full innings, more than he had thrown in one game since 1996, more than he’d worked in a playoff game since his very first one, back when he was still stretched out like a starter. He yielded a one-out Jason Varitek single in the 10th, and a two-out David Ortiz double in the 11th, keeping the tension ratcheted up. The 12th, with 37 pitches already behind him, was his best: down in order on 11 pitches, with two strikeouts.

That was as far as he could go—and Aaron Boone made sure it was enough.

The loss and the save

Amazing as Mariano’s playoff numbers are, they could be better. Instead of 1.865 Championships Added, it could be a mind-boggling 2.865. Instead, calamity struck on Nov. 4, 2001—and Mariano would tell you himself, he’s glad it did.

I first learned this amazing story in THT’s 2012 Baseball Annual, and considered not repeating for free what I should be encouraging you to go and buy for yourself. I found, however, that sidebar author Jon Daly has the same story on his blog. I reconsidered, and with a little added atmosphere gleaned from Marty Appel’s Pinstripe Empire, I’ll recount it here. But I won’t count it as one of my 42 facts. This one’s free.

The pre-game words Rivera delivered to his teammates before Game Seven of the 2001 World Series struck an odd tone. He spoke not of history and destiny, themes familiar to Yankees players and fans, but of fate and how the game was in God’s hands. They likely preferred it in Mo’s hands. Specifically, his right hand.

Come the eighth inning, after New York got ahead 2-1, it was in Mariano’s hand. The eighth he negotiated unscathed. The ninth was different. He gave up a single to Mark Grace, then botched a throw to second on Damian Miller‘s bunt. He atoned with a force to third on Jay Bell‘s attempted sacrifice, and then it all fell apart. Tony Womack doubled home the tying run, snapping Mariano’s streak of 23 straight postseason saves converted. Craig Counsell got hit by a pitch, then Luis Gonzalez dunked a liner over the drawn-in infield, winning the World Series for Arizona.

New York was crushed, and that went beyond the team. It was not quite two months after 9/11. For millions of fans, the Yankees reclaiming the World Series would have been a shot of much-needed pride, a symbol that the world hadn’t turned completely upside-down. Instead, the inconceivable had happened again. Mariano Rivera had personally lost what was arguably the most important game in the history of the New York Yankees.

There would be no ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes. The defeated teammates went their separate ways. This included utility infielder Enrique Wilson, native of the Dominican Republic. He cancelled the post-parade reservation he made, and took an earlier flight to Santo Domingo.

On Nov. 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a residential neighborhood of Queens. All 260 people aboard perished, as did five on the ground. Enrique Wilson, already home, was not among them. (Neither, despite a brief scare, was Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano.)

Rivera’s own words to Wilson say it best: “I am glad we lost the World Series, because it means that I still have a friend.” I cannot cap the anecdote any better than that. He’s just that good a closer.

The magic number

There’s a second favor Bud Selig did to help create Mariano Rivera’s legend, and again, it happened with Mo nowhere in Bud’s mind. It was in 1997, 50 years after Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn debut, that Selig retired Robinson’s number 42 across all of baseball. Players who were wearing 42 at the time could keep wearing it until they retired or chose another number.

Thirteen players were eligible for that grandfather clause. It took seven years for 12 of them to set aside 42, some willingly, some kicking and screaming as their careers petered out. [38] It was at the start of 2004 that Mariano Rivera became the last number 42 in baseball—and when he throws his next regular-season pitch, he will have been the last 42 for 10 seasons.

(It’s a quirky coincidence that the last player besides Mo to wear 42 was also Mo. Mo Vaughn‘s last season was 2003 with the Mets, sporting the number he’d always worn in the bigs. [39] Our Mo apparently went easy on folks who shared his nickname: Vaughn was a lifetime 5-for-12 against Rivera, with a home run.)

Selig’s intent was surely to tie the number 42 forever to Jackie Robinson alone, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Year in, year out, carrying those digits across his back all by himself, Mariano has made that number his to a generation of fans.

It even seems to follow him across his own record. His postseason saves total, possibly the best single number to represent his accomplishments, stands at 42. [40] After Trevor Hoffman retired with the all-time saves mark at 601, Rivera entered the 2011 season needing, yes, 42 saves to tie Hoffman. (He got 44.) And the year he broke Hoffman’s saves record was the year Rivera turned 42 … though he was still 41 when he did it. Okay, I won’t count that one, but it’s close.

Selig got lucky. The last 42 could have been some journeyman playing out the string, with a personality that makes people talk in hushed tones about chemistry. Instead, we got a bona fide star, and a man with enough class and dignity that he need not be embarrassed by personal comparison to Robinson. It doesn’t hurt that the last 42 wouldn’t have been playing for the Yankees, or the other 29 teams, if not for the trail that the earlier 42 blazed. (Maybe that shouldn’t matter, but it does. That’s an argument we can have even later than the closer-strategy debate.)

The number is going out with honor, including of a more tangible variety when it gets retired at Yankee Stadium. [41] Assuming nobody butts ahead in line, Mariano will be the 17th New York Yankee to have his number retired. [42] He’ll also have the second number to be retired twice by the Yankees: Hall of Fame catchers Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra had the number 8 they both wore jointly retired in 1972.

There’s so much more I could say about the man—but I’ve hit my count. I’ll have to turn the ball over, and let Mariano Rivera himself author the close of his career.

He’s got some experience closing, so we can hope for something really good.

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Comments

  1. studes said...

    Great job, Shane.  It’s worth adding that Rivera’s total career Championship Added is the highest of all time by a good margin—Fingers is next at 1.21.

    Championship Added definitely favors relivers who pitch successfully in high-leverage situations, but you’ve still go to give the guy some credit.

  2. Paul Moehringer said...

    I think his ‘96 season presents a great case that you can be a dominate relievers without having to be a closer.

    He finished with in highest for the Cy Young that year for any reliever as he should have and had he won the Award, I can’t say I would have objected.  He had 47 less strikeouts then Pat Hentgen even though he pitched in not even half the innings Hentgen did.

    I just wonder if its even possible for a reliever like that to get the same amount of support as Rivera did that year.

    I go back two years ago to Tyler Clippard who had a very ‘96 Mariano like year and didn’t get a single point in the Cy Young voting.  Granted relievers as a whole didn’t do that well that year, but I thought that was a mistake.  He had more innings pitched then any other NL reliever, a sub 2 ERA and a SO/BB ratio of 4 to 1 and didn’t lose a single game.  Only thing missing from his resume was saves.  I digress on that though.

    As for Mariano, he’s the greatest reliever in baseball history hands down.  There’s been relievers as dominant as Rivera was at his peak, but nobody has been as dominant for as long as Mariano has been.  Only twice in his 18 year career has he had an ERA of over 3 and one of those came in his rookie years when they Yankees were trying to make him a starter.  15 years of being a sub 3 ERA reliever (not counting last year when he only pitched 8 innings).  Its a short list of guys who can even approach that mark and I don’t know of a single pitcher outside of Rivera that did for 15 years as a reliever.  To me that’s the most impressive stat of all with Mariano.

  3. Mike Erickson said...

    Outstanding article, Shane! What an amazing talent Rivera is – the best the game has ever seen reliever-wise. I am a Red Sox fan, and as such, has seen my team have some success against him at various times. “Some” being the key here. Considering I am a baseball fan first and Sox fan second, one has to admire the excellence he has shown year after year. I feel honored to have seen his entire career from afar, and I can imagine the pride Yankee fans have in him.

    Apart from the strikeouts, wins, and championships he has delivered, I am especially impressed with the way he handles himself in defeat (although rare) and in victory. He doesn’t flaunt his skills or rub it in to his opponents. Class is a term thrown around a lot, but Mo personifies it.

    My favorite Rivera moment actually occurred in Fenway Park to start Opening Day in 2005, the year after the Sox made that historic comeback against the Yanks after being down 3 games to none. When he was introduced, the Sox fans gave him a rousing cheer as if to say “thanks for helping us win” – a tongue-in-cheek ovation. Mo got it – he had THE biggest grin on his face! He understood that it was all in fun, and he thought it was hilarious. To me, that showed his true colors – he could take a hit and take a joke. Not many athletes can do that. I’ll never forget that moment, as I became an even greater fan of him for having the humility and sense of humor.

    He’s the best EVER at his craft, and us Red Sox fans are jealous that he didn’t pitch for us. Mo, hope you have a great final season to top off a tremendous career. I will be on the top step to celebrate you and to tip my cap in your final appearance at Fenway!

  4. starkweather said...

    As a deeply avowed Yankee hater I felt the need to point out the Yankees don’t really have a choice in retiring #42, Mariano or not.

  5. hopbitters said...

    #42 is already retired in honor of Robinson. They do have the choice of retiring it a second time or not.

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