By Lenn Robbins
Any fan that has ever received an autograph from Mariano Rivera has an insight into what made him the greatest closer of all time.
Rivera’s signature after signature is so precise you’d think it was produced by a rubber stamp.
The swirling upper case M and R letters are exactly the same height with an artistic flourish. The lower-case letters, again, exactly the same height with exactly the same spacing.
It’s a work of art that defines Rivera’s approach to pitching and to the execution of the greatest cut fastball anyone has ever thrown.
Statistics can be twisted and turned every which way to support or counter any argument but consider these mind-boggling numbers, courtesy of Rivera.
82 wins, 60 losses.
Trevor Hoffman, the only other closer with 600 saves (601) had an ERA of 2.87, 1,133 strikeouts, a 61-75 record and a WAR of 27.9. This is not to demean Hoffman in any fashion. He set the standard that Rivera shattered.
And now he has one more number, arguably the greatest number of all to add to his stat line:
Rivera was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. He was last of six inductees to speak which is fitting. He also is the first unanimous selection into the hallowed halls in Cooperstown, his name on all 425 ballots.
“I don’t understand why I always have to be the last,” Rivera quipped during his speech. “I’ve kept saying that for the last 20 years and the last 17 years of my career. I always said, ‘Why do I have to be the last one?’ But I guess being the last one was special.”
If Rivera had not gone last, chances are the Yankees wouldn’t have won the five World Series championships he was a part of. Yes, the Yankees in Rivera’s time were a much better team than any of Hoffman’s teams.
Rivera was even better in the postseason:
But the stats only tell half of Rivera’s story.
Ask anyone that every asked Rivera’s autograph and you’d be hard pressed to find a fan that didn’t get one. He didn’t care if his ball ended up in an auction or on EBay.
Born in small fishing village in Panama, Rivera never forgot who he was and where he came from. Panama embraced him as a hero.
Panama president Laurentino Cortizo was in Cooperstown on Sunday as was legendary boxing great Roberto Duran.
Rivera spoke no English when he came to America. He couldn’t communicate with his teammates. He cried himself to sleep.
Yet teammates Jeter, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Tino Martinez were all there on Sunday, sitting together. Bernie Williams played, ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ on the guitar.
They came because Rivera asked them to come.
“I tried to carry the pinstripes the best I could,’’ said Rivera. “I think I did all right with that.’’