On Tuesday, Mariano Rivera will complete his journey from the humblest of beginnings to the Hall of Fame.
The iconic closer, who grew up the son of a fisherman in the small Panamanian village of Puerto Caimito, saved a record 652 games in a 19-year career with the Yankees from 1995-2013. He will get “the call” from the Hall of Fame before Tuesday’s 6 p.m. announcement.
Pitcher Roy Halladay, who died in a plane crash in November 2017 at the age of 40, appears all but certain to be elected in his first year on the ballot. So does designated hitter Edgar Martinez, who received 70.4 percent of the vote last year (an inductee must receive 75 percent from eligible Baseball Writers’ Association of America members).
With just over 50 percent of the ballots calculated by Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux (Twitter: @NotMrTibbs), Martinez was on 90.3 percent of this year’s ballots.
It will come down to the wire for former Yankee Mike Mussina, who received 63.5 percent of the vote last year and was on 81.2 percent of the known ballots this year, and Curt Schilling, who got 51.2 percent in 2018 and appeared on 71 percent of the 2019 ballots. Based on trends from the last few years in the final tally, Roger Clemens (57.3 percent last year) and Barry Bonds (56.4 percent) again look as if they’ll come up short. Many voters choose not to publicize their ballots before the final announcement.
Much focus will be on whether Rivera, signed by the Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 1990 for the now unbelievable sum of $3,000, becomes the Hall’s first unanimous selection (Ken Griffey Jr. came the closest when he received 99.3 percent of the vote in 2016). Yet in many ways, that is irrelevant.
Rivera, unanimous vote or not, is the greatest closer of all time, and in a sport rife with debate about almost everything, it’s nearly impossible to find someone to debate that.
“To me, Mo was the perfect closer because (A), he was extremely athletic, (B), he was extremely durable, (C), he was extremely efficient,” Joe Girardi, a teammate and manager of Rivera’s, told Newsday’s Neil Best last week.
“He didn’t have 25-pitch innings. They were nine, eight, 12. So he was able to bounce back extremely well. He knew his body extremely well, and he knew how to prepare. He never threw more than eight pitches in the bullpen before he came in to the mound. So I think all of these things attributed to his longevity. He was the perfect closer. No emotion out there, very calm. No moment was ever too big for him.”
The numbers continue to amaze. Besides the save total, 2.21 career regular-season ERA and 1.00 career WHIP, there’s the unfathomable 0.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in 141 postseason innings. And there’s the consistency, too. In his first full season as closer, 1997, Rivera saved 43 games with a 1.88 ERA. In his last, 2013, when he was 43, he saved 44 games with a 2.11 ERA.
“Mariano is one of the greatest players of all time without a doubt and the best closer ever, in my opinion,” former Red Sox star David Ortiz, likely a future Hall of Famer, recently told The Boston Globe. “That guy was special and he was even better as a human being.”
Girardi managed Rivera from 2008-13 and joined MLB Network as a contributor after the Yankees didn’t bring him back following the 2017 season. He said he would be “somewhat” disappointed if Rivera wasn’t voted in unanimously.
“I’m trying to think of a reason why someone wouldn’t vote Mariano in,” Girardi said. “Just because no player should ever be unanimous? I’m not big on that reasoning. There are players to me that are unanimous Hall of Famers. That’s the bottom line. When you look at ’em, it just says: Hall of Famer.”