Muhammad Ali enjoys a figurative copyright on the term, “The Greatest,” so it may not be appropriate to apply that moniker to another athlete. However, there probably won’t be much of an argument if anyone refers to newly retired New York Yankees pitcher, Mariano Rivera, as the best ever.
“There isn’t anyone who could argue that Mariano isn’t the greatest,” said former Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson.
Joe Torre, considered one of the best managers in the storied history of the Yankees, pretended to be outraged when it was suggested that his own success resulted simply from the fact he had Rivera at the ready for late-game situations.
“He’s the greatest ever,” Torre said. “It certainly isn’t a knock at the other guys, but he did it in New York, the biggest fishbowl in the world and in the postseason where everybody gets a chance to scrutinize.”
At age 43, Rivera retired after 18 stellar seasons in the Bronx, helping the Yankees capture five of its record 27 world championships, seven league titles, and 12 division crowns, including nine in a row from 1998 to 2006.
Over his career, Rivera posted an 82-60 record, a 2.21 earned run average, and 1,173 strikeouts. He appeared in 13 All-Star games, won five Rolaids Relief Man and three Delivery Man of the Year awards, World Series and League Championship Series Most Valuable Player award trophies, and last month, he captured the coveted Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award.
For the man known as, “The Closer,” the most eye-popping stat will forever be the record-shattering 652 career saves he posted over 18 superb seasons.
“I always believed in attacking the hitter,” Rivera said. “Just going out there and attacking, getting the job done and, thanks to God, I’ve been quite successful.”
Rivera’s accomplishments dazzle even more considering the superstar baffled hitter after hitter with just one specialized pitch: a cutter.
The pitch travels at about 92 miles per hour, but just prior to reaching home plate, the ball moves about one foot off course, badly fooling most batters.
“Rivera’s cutter is virtually unhittable, by consensus and by the numbers, but the wasteland of broken bats that litter the plate when he is on the mound is all the proof anyone needs,” said New York Magazine sportswriter, Lisa Miller. “A Rivera inning has thus been compared to a horror movie: The excitement is sharpened, not dulled, by the fact that everyone— the players, the ticket holders, and Rivera himself— knows exactly what’s coming,” she said.
Rivera’s status among the elite in the game’s history can never be questioned, solidified by the season-long farewell tour where opponents in every city honored the future first-ballot hall-of-famer by showering him with gifts and plenty of pre-game ceremonies.
If Rivera’s Yankee Stadium retirement ceremony wasn’t the best in history, it certainly ranked high on the list.
For instance, it’s customary that a song representing a player’s favorite tune plays over the public address system when he enters a game. For nearly two decades, Rivera emerged to Metallica’s, “Enter Sandman.”
At his last Yankee Stadium appearance in September, the famous rock group set up a stage in centerfield and when Rivera entered the contest, the band performed the hit song live, much to the delight of nearly 56,000 people in attendance, including, “The Closer” and his family.
Rivera said he wanted to give all he had before retiring.
“I think I squeezed every ounce of fuel that I had in my tank, and it’s empty now,” he said. “I have nothing left. I gave everything I had.”
In the final game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Rivera retired the last four batters to face him, before walking off the field to a thunderous four-minute standing ovation from the stadium crowd. The Yankees have officially retired Rivera’s uniform number 42, meaning it will never be worn again.
“There’s nobody, I don’t care what era you are talking about, that’s ever going to do what Mariano has done,” former manager Torre said. “He’s the top of the game as far as his position.”
Torre then summed up Rivera by using a title that by all rights probably should never be used again: “He’s the Closer!”