Now over the past few weeks, several people at ESPN and Yahoo Sports have written about the Mariano Rivera last hoorah tour. Yahoo Sports did an interesting piece on the different retirement gifts he had received from teams. ESPN likewise did a piece on the great, humble man that Mariano Rivera was. Both articles (linked above) are definitely worth a read, but I have never met Mariano, so I can't speak to his kindness (though I will say from the ESPN article I do not doubt it). Likewise, I am not one to rank sculptures and gifts (though the broken bat rocking chair, and enter sandman record were really cool). So what I want to talk about in this article is really what he accomplished as a closer and how 'Enter Sandman' became a song of dread for many Major League hitters.
If you are baseball fans, or maybe if you're not, you probably know that Mariano Rivera is the all times saves leader with 652 saves (at time of writing) in his illustrious career. What you may not know is that only one active player has more than half that many (Joe Nathan at 338). Only 5 other players, including Nathan, have over 200 saves, and only one is under the age of 30. Craig Kimbrel of the Braves is one of the few players on the list who is young enough and successful enough to possibly make a run at Rivera's record, but he even would need to average over 32 saves a year for the next 15 seasons to tie Riveras current number. Think about that for a second. 32 saves a year for 15 years. Only 18 of the 30 teams have a player that has 32 saves or more this season. And that 32 number assumes that he pitches in all 15 of those years, which looking at pitchers today and how many go down with season ending injuries, which is a big assumption. And even if he is healthy, how many teams have different save leaders than last year? (That would be double digits for those of you keeping score at home).
Mariano Rivera really as been successful where a lot of people haven't, he has been able to keep his nerve in the toughest of situations. When the closer comes into the game, the game is always on the line. The reason the turnover rate is so high at the closer position is because so many guys can't stand the stress or the failure. With most players, when you have a rough day or outing, the next situation they walk out into is a lower stress situation. The opposite is true of closers, they often walk into a situation just as stressful the next day. One blown save turns into 2 or 4 and they are out of a job, and often off to a new team or down in the minors within a few weeks. It is so easy to lose that mental edge. So easy to let doubt creep into your mind when things start falling apart. Only especially mentally strong players can do it, and that may be the greatest testament to Mariano Rivera has blown 80 saves in his career, 9 of which came in his 3rd season (1997). The thing about Mariano and other good closers is that when they blow 2, 3 or 4 saves it doesn't rattle them, they go back out there the next day and shut down the team and that is quickly becoming a lost art. Mariano will always be remembered for his cutter, and 'Enter Sandman', but he also should be remembered for his mental toughness. His ability to continue to go out there in the highest stress situation and weather the bad times and continue to be successful through his 19 year career.
-T.O. signing out