When Mariano Rivera announced Saturday that he would be retiring from baseball at the end of this season, fans were prepared for his decision. Rivera, 43, is entering his 18th season with the New York Yankees and will likely be remembered as the greatest closer of all time.
The statistics are impressive, to say the least. Since becoming the Yankees’ closer in 1997, he has racked up the most saves of all time — 608. He has 42 postseason saves, which is also the most in history. In 141 innings of playoff baseball he has an ERA of .70, and has allowed only two homeruns. In 58 postseason appearances of over one inning, he has only given up six runs — good enough for a .53 ERA. He is the only pitcher in the live-ball era with a walks plus hits per inning pitched that is under 1.00, meaning that he has allowed fewer base runners than total innings pitched. The numbers go on and on — 12 All-Star Games, 1,119 strikeouts and most career games finished (892) are just some of the highlights.
But Rivera is special in ways these statistics cannot show. He helped the Yankees win five World Series in his tenure, and to many non-Yankees fans he is the one guy everyone can respect. He is not known for his hot temper or flashiness. He is known for his consistency but most of all his ability.
It is remarkable that Rivera has maintained this character and civility throughout his career. The media have never run him down, though it may be more apt to say that he has not allowed them to. He has remained above it all, letting his arm do all the talking.
When Rivera stepped onto the mound with a lead, opposing teams knew the game was over. He emitted an aura of sheer dominance. Players and managers around the league can often remember the one or two times they were lucky enough to beat Rivera. Needless to say, he will be an impossible act to follow, even for the deep-pocketed Yankee organization.
After spending nearly two decades with the most demanding franchises in baseball, and arguably of all sports, Rivera leaves with his image intact. Critics and fans who work tirelessly to tear apart the Yankee franchise and its players found Rivera to be nothing but a dedicated, humble and dominant closer. On a team that often finds itself ridden with stars, individualism and unnecessary spotlight, Rivera kept one thing in mind: the team. He summed his position up best when asked how he wanted to be remembered by saying, “I am a team player. I would love to be remembered as a player who was always there for others.”
A version of this article was published in the Tuesday, March 12 print edition. Sam Barder is a contributing writer. Email him at [email protected]