In the wake of Saturday’s announcement that New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will be retiring after the 2013 season, many have already begun to look ahead to the next stage of his career – the Baseball Hall of Fame. In six years, Rivera will be headed to Cooperstown as an unquestioned first-ballot Hall of Famer, easily achieving the 75 percent threshold needed for enshrinement. Despite the fact that he will likely receive one of the highest vote totals in Hall of Fame history, the vote will not be unanimous in Rivera’s favor, with an inevitable few sportswriters leaving baseball’s all-time saves leader off their ballots.
There are six pieces of criteria that voters are asked to consider when determining whether a player deserves enshrinement to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Among these are the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team on which the player played. For Rivera, each of these is an area that he has exceeded expectation in throughout his career.
Rivera has never won a Cy Young Award, and has finished in the top ten in Most Valuable Player voting just twice in his 18-year career. He has never won more than eight games in a season, and that was back in 1996 when he was still a set-up man. Yet, he has consistently been referred to with the title of “Greatest relief pitcher of all-time.” Rivera has led Major League Baseball in saves in three separate seasons, and will retire as the all-time leader in saves. In regards to WHIP, Rivera’s career 0.998 mark is the second lowest in baseball history, and the lowest since Addie Joss retired in 1910. His postseason pitching record – 42 saves, an ERA of 0.70, and a WHIP of 0.759 – is beyond flawless. Even more remarkably, Rivera did all this with just one pitch – a devastating cutter that he has used to dominate the ninth inning of games for almost two decades.
His record and ability are two categories that speak for themselves, with five World Series championships, a World Series MVP award, a dozen All-Star games, and countless modern-era records to boot. In regards to Rivera’s integrity, sportsmanship, and character, just look at how today’s press conference was handled. Flanked by his family, Rivera showed his trademark humility and showed off his quality character as he gave thanks to every person who has helped him get to where he is today. His integrity has never been questioned, even while playing during the dark times known as the steroids era.
In regards to his contributions to the team he has played for, the five-time World Series champion was arguably the most valuable player during the Yankees' late-1990's championship runs. In ten appearances in the 1998 postseason and eight appearances during the team's 1999 World Series championship run, Rivera did not allow a single run, effectively shutting down opposing offenses. In 2000, despite allowing three runs in 15.2 innings pitched, Rivera held his postseason opponents to a WHIP of 0.724, continuing his string of dominance.
While the voters review those six factors for Rivera, they need to consider one more aspect of Rivera’s résumé. Never before has Major League Baseball seen a player as dominant in one position as Rivera has been as a closer. The only player who even enters the discussion in regards to dominating one position the way Rivera has is former Yankee Babe Ruth. Ruth, who at one point in his career hit more home runs in a single season than a few entire teams, received 95.13 percent of the vote when he was inducted in 1936.
In an era where Hall of Fame voters are plagued with indecisiveness over whom to vote for, Rivera provides a can’t-go-wrong alternative to mark on the ballot. To put it in perspective, Rivera is indeed the "perfect" candidate. If Rivera’s résumé, integrity, and dominance of the relief pitching ranks for almost two decades does not warrant being marked down on every ballot submitted, then I don’t know what does.
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