Except there is no king, nor should there be. Hopefully Mariano Rivera will ride off into the sunset and take the closer role with him. The probable end of the career of Mariano Rivera is bittersweet. It may finally lead to the end of the closer role for ninth inning relief pitchers, an odd role that Rivera defined better than any in the brief history of that role, which began with Dennis Eckersley in Oakland. To say that Rivera was the greatest closer of all time is to limit the discussion to the last 25 years. It’s not like Cy Young could be considered or even Rivera’s Yankee predecessors Wilcy Moore, Johnny Murphy, Joe Page, Ryne Duren, Sparkey Lyle or even Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.
Rivera carried himself magnificently, the coolest guy on the field in the final inning.
However, while Rivera was the best at what he did, what he did was not all that important. In fact it’s importance had become something of a joke to some of us. See my post:
Rivera pitches in about 70 games and throws about 80 innings in a season. Why not start him every other game? He would get regular rest … I’ll bet that Rivera’s contribution to the Yanks winning would be at least as great as it is with … following the (ninth inning) formula
It seems to me that the most difficult inning to pitch is the first inning, not the ninth inning. The top of the batting order is always up in the first and those batters are chosen to do maximum damage to the particular pitcher starting that game.
Rivera’s playoff record is amazing but even there many overlook his failings. The most obvious is the biggest blown save in MLB history: game seven of the 2001 World Series in which Rivera blew both the lead and the game. But there are more failures.
The Yankees won 4 of 5 World Series with Rivera playing a conspicuous role: 1996 (setup man for John anything might happen Wetland), 1998, 1999, 2000. The Yanks could have matched the only team to win five consecutive World Series, the 1949-1953 Yankees, were it not for Rivera’s blown save in game four when the Yanks could have closed out round one against Cleveland in 1997. Rivera allowed an eighth inning home run to Sandy Alomar, Jr. and the Yanks lost that game and game five.
In 2004 in round two against Boston the Yanks were on the verge of humiliating the Red Sox with a four game sweep but Rivera blew the save in game four in Boston. The Red Sox won that game in extra innings, then the next three and it was the Yankees who were humiliated as the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918 when Babe Ruth was Boston’s star pitcher.
Rivera was a non factor in the Yankees round one loss to the Angels in 2002. The Angels went on to win the World Series.
In 2009 Rivera won his fifth and final World Series.
Would the Yankees have won those five World Series without Rivera? Maybe. They could have also won in 1997 and 2003 when Rivera blew saves that would have closed out series. Plus, 2002 when he was marginalized, which can be pretty easy.
What if a batter were a closer? In the 1960s when Mickey Mantle’s career was winding down and Yankee manager Ralph Houk needed to rest him, Mickey was used to pinch hit, usually in a game changing situation. I wondered if it might not be more effective to hold Mickey out and wait for that one big moment when he could pinch hit and try to win the game in that one at bat.
But suppose you could find batting specialists, pinch hitters who were otherwise not great players? Would you consider them for the Hall of Fame?
How about fielding specialists who enter late in games to protect a lead? Would you consider them for the Hall of Fame?
Probably not. Then why consider Rivera, no matter how well he performs his role? That role is very limited and probably ill-defined.