Greatest Yankees of All-Time -Number 5
Adam: Here sits the home of the number five Yankee on my list of greatest Yankees of all-time, Mariano Rivera. Can you hear “Enter Sandman” playing? I can and so have opposing hitters since the mid-90s. He is, without question, the greatest closer the game has ever seen and a sure-fire First Ballot Hall of Famer. The only question is how large a percentage he will receive. I will be looking for the inevitable in the comment thread, “How can you put Rivera ahead of Mantle?” “How can Rivera be listed higher than the Captain?” I have no doubt that my top-five Yankees all-time will garner some “hate mail” or “you do not know anything.” You are entitled to your opinion and so am I. My opinion is that you can make a solid argument for any of 12 players for the three-to-10 spots in Yankee history. It just comes down to the metrics or criteria you use. For me, that puts Rivera in the number five spot.
For those who do not know, Rich and I are doing these in the blind and compiling the results. If he ranks Rivera in the top-five, I am sure he will mention what I am about to discuss. Mariano Rivera was not scouted by the Yankees as a must draft player or international free agent. In fact, the Yankees were looking at his cousin. By he impressed enough for the Yankees to shell out a few thousand bucks to sign him. In reality, the Yankees owe Rivera’s cousin a debt of gratitude.
He was a pseudo failed experiment as a starter and was transitioned to the bullpen. In the bullpen, his lethal cutter became the scariest pitch in baseball. He is the all-time leader in saves with 652, career 2.21 ERA, and averaged 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. His adjusted ERA+ of 205 is the best all-time and his closest competitor is Clayton Kershaw at 161.
That in itself is great but his postseason numbers are the stuff of legend. He has appeared in 96 career postseason games, saving 42 with an ERA of .70! That microscopic ERA was in 141 post-season innings, which is an immense sample size making the number almost god-like.
Now this list is never about money but there is a piece that needs to be mentioned. Many will say he was just a closer but that closer, in February 2000, was awarded the largest arbitration salary in the history of baseball at that time. That speaks to his value to the team and league. The Yankees would not have won their five World Series without the greatest closer ever. His place, as a closer, in history has no doubt. That is why Rivera is number five on my list of greatest Yankees of all-time.
Rich: This is where the controversy will begin. People will ask: “How can you include a reliever in the Top-5 greatest Yankees of all-time? Rivera didn’t even pitch 1300 innings and players like Whitey Ford had over 3000, Guidry had 2300 and even Goose Gossage had 1800.” The answer is simple – Mariano Rivera was simply the greatest closer to ever play the game, had one of the most lethal pitches in history, and if you ignore the starter/reliever comparison, Rivera is one of the best pitchers in baseball history – this is why he is my Number five.
It is hard to believe that the signing of Mariano Rivera was an afterthought. The Yankees were in Panama scouting his cousin when they saw Mariano playing short and center field (to the end of his career he still shagged flies in the OF before games, at least until he tore his ACL and missed a year). What happened after that is Yankees history.
Rivera failed several times in his career – he failed as a starter, he failed against Sandy Alomar Jr. in 1997, and he failed against Luis Gonzalez and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. All that being said, there is still no other pitcher you would want on the mound in October with the game on the line and six outs to go. In October, Rivera was basically untouchable to the tune of a 0.70 ERA, 42 saves including 11 in the World Series, and a WHIP of 0.759 – all in 96 games and 141 innings.
During Rivera’s career, other closers throughout the league would come and go. Some had great seasons, even winning Cy Youngs, but they would flame out after two or three years. They all came and went, but Mariano remained and was the most consistent reliever over his entire career and he did it all with basically one pitch.
The Rivera Cutter – all players knew it was coming and they could do nothing to stop it. Players would rather sit on the bench than face him and lefties really didn’t want to face him (backwards for a right-handed pitcher, but that is what happens when the ball breaks into you as a batter instead of away). The only ones that loved Rivera’s Cutters, besides the New York Yankees, were companies like Louisville Slugger because Rivera broke so many bats during his career with one pitch. Pedro’s Changeup, Clemens’ Splitfinger, Kershaw’s Curve, Ryan’s Fastball – all some of the best individual pitches in baseball history. I do think Rivera’s Cutter was the best of them all.
I firmly believe the Yankees of the late 1990s would not have been the dynasty they were if they had anyone else closing (and yes, I do think Rivera was more important to those teams than Derek Jeter). Other teams during that time may have been better than the Yankees (except for 1998) but the Yankees had Rivera and those other teams did not. That is why the Yankees won as much as they did. The Yankees knew if they could get the lead going into the eighth inning and get the ball to Rivera, they would win; the other teams were still wondering if they would lose in a comeback because there simply was no other closer as great as Mariano Rivera and that is why he gets the final position in my top-five.