USA TODAY Sports is counting down the top 10 candidates on the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in advance of the Jan. 22 election results. The countdown is based on voting by our power rankings panel, which includes five Hall voters.
No. 2: Mariano Rivera
We’ll try to wax poetic about Rivera, but his candidacy really boils down to this: The Hall of Fame was made for immortal players like Mariano Rivera.
He is the greatest closer in the history of the game. He is quite possibly baseball’s all-time best postseason player. There has never been another pitcher like Rivera and there probably never will be.
He was the embodiment of the Yankees’ dynasty. The bullpen door swinging open sucked the life out of the opposing team. Rivera was going to get you out – probably breaking your bat in the process – and you were going to lose.
That went on for nearly two decades.
The only question to answer is whether Rivera will become the first player to ever receive 100% of the vote.
The numbers back up the hyperbole.
His 652 saves are the most all time and that looks like a record that won’t be falling any time soon. Craig Kimbrel is the closest active player with 333 and he’ll need to average 30 saves for 10 more seasons in order to pass Rivera.
Rivera had a 0.70 ERA in 141 postseason innings – the best of any pitcher with 30 career innings. He had 42 postseason saves and recorded the final out in the World Series on four separate occasions.
Most striking about Rivera is his longevity. Other closers have had stretches of dominance (paging Eric Gagne) but Rivera did this for his entire career. Rivera’s final season at age 43 was just as good as his first as a full-time closer, 16 years prior.
(I should probably write more than this, but seriously – Rivera’s reputation speaks for itself.)
Haters may cite Rivera’s high-profile blown saves in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series – which effectively ended the Yankees dynasty – as well as Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS, triggering perhaps the worst postseason meltdown in sports history.
Before latching onto that argument, remember that to even get to Game 7 in his game log, you have to wade through the first 77 ⅔ postseason innings of Rivera’s career that included 24 saves and all of six earned runs.
Ultimately, unless you’re waging some kind of holy war against the specialization of relief pitchers, there is no coherent case to be made against Rivera’s induction.
While there’s nobody in history who rivals Rivera, there was some precedent for full-time closers not getting into the Hall – until Trevor Hoffman’s 2018 induction kicked the gate open. Lee Smith’s controversial induction this year via the Veterans Committee continued the trend, and there’s no way Rivera can be kept out now.
Rivera is getting in on the first ballot and there’s a good chance he breaks the record Ken Griffey Jr. set in 2016 with 99.32% of the vote.