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Much to learn from saves-leader

Published: September 23, 2011
Section: Opinions


The extraordinarily ordinary took place this Monday night. New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera quietly put down the three Minnesota Twins batters he faced to seal a 6-4 victory in the Bronx. This, in and of itself, was not a special occurrence: Rivera has nearly perfected the role of closer since inheriting the role from John Wetteland 14 years ago. He has saved 40 or more games in a single season eight times and has won the American League Rolaids Relief Award five times, the 1999 World Series Most Valuable Player Award and the 2003 American League Championionship Series MVP Award along with many other titles on his way to winning five World Series. What made this save special was that it was save number 603 of his career and made him the all-time saves leader in Major League Baseball. More than that, it proved what many of us have known all along—Mariano Rivera is the greatest closer in Major League Baseball history.

In a season full of celebrations for the Yankees that includes the best record in the American League at 95-60, the American League East crown, Curtis Granderson’s league-leading 119 RBI and, most famously, Derek Jeter’s milestone 3,000th hit, Rivera’s record-breaking save is the greatest of them all. Though there is nothing better for Yankees fans than a 95-win season, the division title and the heady smell of October baseball in the air, reaching the post-season is nothing special to the Yankees. Granderson’s excellent season, while worthy of applause, only encompasses a single season. Reaching the 3,000-hit plateau is a hall-of-fame worthy feat for Jeter, already a hall-of-fame shoe-in, but he is certainly not the first to get there (former Houston Astro Craigo Biggio was the last to achieve the feat in 2007). Rivera’s saves record is great for all of the reasons these other accomplishments are not: It is an unparalleled record that reflects on an entire career of greatness and will likely stand the test of time in the way only the greatest records can.

Still, this record has not and will not likely receive as much attention as the others. Naturally, Yankees fans are proud, but their high expectations have ultimately already drawn their attention to the playoffs. They hope—if not demand—that the team writes the next chapter in New York World Series lore. In their defense, their long-time closer is just as doggedly focused on the playoffs (where his dominant 0.71 earned-run average and 42 saves in approximately 140 innings are already the greatest of all time) as they are. It is unlikely that a documentary will be made about Rivera like HBO made for Derek Jeter. Not that Jeter’s accomplishment and his status as a national and global representative for the sport do not warrant the praise bestowed upon him. But Rivera deserves just as much. That there won’t be a parade in his honor should not stop us from lauding his incredible achievement. If anything, it should make us love him more.

Mo, as he is affectionately called, is neither a flashy pitcher nor a macho clubhouse personality. He doesn’t trying to intimidate hitters with the stare-downs of Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon or the crazed, emotional flourishes of Yankees reliever Joba Chamberlain. He’ll neither be in Gatorade commercials nor would ever want to be in one. This is why Yankees fans love him and why he deserves all of the accolades in the world. The combination of his quiet personality, soft features, penchant for deflecting praise and focus on the team effort make him almost as lovable as his unflappable poise and un-hittable cutter, which has bewildered most of the games greatest players for the past 20 years. Mo is, in every sense of the word, a real Yankee, whose character and career of unparalleled achievement make him worthy of our praise, of wearing the pinstripes and of having his name in the history books for all time.