While sports heads constantly argue back and forth with hot, cold and lukewarm takes on who-was-better-than-who, it’s practically unheard of for someone to pretty much be unanimously accepted as the Best EVER at their particular position in the sport.
I can’t think of anyone making a serious argument for anyone other then Mariano Rivera as the best closer of all time, both in the regular and especially in the post-season. When the bullpen door opened and “Enter Sandman” blasted over the speakers at Yankee Stadium as Rivera took the mound to protect an 8th or 9th inning lead, you could see the opposing dugout simply shrug since they knew the game was over. The man was practically unhittable.
Yeah, I know… he’d been gotten to in a few key games in the post-season, like in the ’97 playoffs, ’01 series and ’04 against the Red Sox… nobody’s perfect. The Yankees winning championships in that period boiled down to whether or not Rivera got saves, and he most often did.
Most closers don’t last as long as he did, unless they’re knuckleballers like Hoyt Wilhelm. 18 seasons of consistency from closers is just unheard of – most of ’em have a few stellar seasons and then blow their arms out, or fail to fool hitters, or just lose control. The history of baseball is littered with guys who had one to a few amazing seasons as a lights-out closer and then vanished – I can think of all the ones I remember over the years – Bill Campbell, Eric Gagne, Tom Niedenfuer, Rawly Eastwick… the list goes on. And then there were the ones who had the staying power, the ones who most often made in into the Hall like Rivera: Eckersley, Sutter, Hoffman… but even those guys weren’t as good as Rivera.
Practically every other position in baseball presents a debate over who was the best ever: Catcher? Berra or Cochrane? Wait, what about Bench? Fisk? Maybe shortstop is easier… Wagner? Jeter? No, no… maybe Ripken. How can you compare different baseball eras, some will say. Even the greatest ever gets debated, by those in the Ruth camp and those offering various alternatives for assorted reasons.
I don’t think anyone can argue with Rivera as best closer ever. And the eras argument is out the window, since the position has really only been clearly around & defined, really, since the 1970s, maybe.
And he did it for MY TEAM while I got to watch. I feel truly privileged as a sports fan. (I also got the greatest quarterback ever on my team to watch as well… pretty good luck in choosing teams to root for, especially since both of ’em sucked when I first became a fan!)
The Hall added another Yankee from the same team, too! Mike Mussina, my fellow crossword puzzle fan & terminal no-hitter/perfect game hard luck case, but a solid, consistent pitcher for many years with both the Orioles and Yankees. Glad to see him also get in.
Both these guys are also humble gents who graciously acknowledge and thank everyone who helped them become what they became. They both run extensive charity operations and did while they played. No celebrity flash and BS from either of these two. Just performance and standards of excellence.
And how BOUT them Yankees!