Not Ruth. Not Aaron. Not Mays. No one else achieved what former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera achieved on Tuesday.
The all-time saves leader reaching the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot wasn’t a surprise, but the fact that Rivera became the first unanimous selection was a bit of a shock to many baseball purists who still don’t appreciate the role of the closer.
The phone call during which Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, told the 13-time All-Star about his Hall of Fame selection was captured on video.
Rivera smiled broadly at the news that he was chosen for induction in Cooperstown, but he and his family jumped for joy and cheered when they learned he had made history by being named on every single ballot.
Rivera was asked what getting 100 percent of the vote meant to him in an interview with the YES Network.
“It’s amazing. For me it’s just a blessing,” he said. “Hard work, dedication, determination and passion for the organization and baseball. Respect to others. It means a lot — wearing the pinstripes uniform. A blessing.”
The previous high percentage of votes was by Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016. He was on 99.32 percent of the ballots and had been the only player to eclipse the 99 percent threshold.
Rivera pitched for the New York Yankees from 1995 to 2013 and won five World Series. He is MLB’s all-time leader with 652 saves, and his 42 postseason saves are more than twice as many as anyone else.
Rivera became the greatest closer in MLB history almost by accident. He grew up as a shortstop and only converted into a pitcher when his local amateur team needed someone on the mound after a poor performance by the starting pitcher.
Scout Herb Raybourn saw Rivera play as a shortstop and was unimpressed. But after seeing him on the mound, Raybourn signed him as an amateur free agent to the Yankees in early 1990.
Rivera talked about the influence that Raybourn had on his career.
“I have to thank God for Herb because he saw something in me that nobody did,” he said. “Not even myself because I was playing the game of baseball just to enjoy it and someone gave me the opportunity.
“Here’s Herb Raybourn watching me pitch, and the rest is history.”
It took some time for Mariano Rivera to become Mariano Rivera. He didn’t make his MLB debut until he was 25 years old and was initially a starting pitcher.
He earned his first save as a second-year player in 1996 and then became the Yankees closer the following season. As he would say, the rest is history.
Rivera will join Rod Carew as the only Panamanian players in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Joining him in the Cooperstown Class of 2019 are Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines and Lee Smith.
Yankees fans will surely descend upon Cooperstown for Rivera’s enshrinement, and they might as well book tickets for next year as well. Derek Jeter will be on the ballot, and he most certainly will join Rivera as a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
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