By Steve Light
My favorite record seems to get further out of reach for all who might one day chase it each October. That’s because the man who owns it, keeps raising (or is it lowering?) the bar when the autumn chill returns to the Bronx, year after year.
As all baseball fans know – seasons come and go, and teams change. Players grow old, or leave, or are traded away. Next year’s team might very well look nothing like the last. But as a Yankees fan, it seems like Mariano Rivera never changes. I feel like I’ve followed Rivera my whole life. He broke in with the Yankees in 1995, when I was just 12, and became a dominating pitcher one year later.
So many of his career moments are engrained into my memory: I remember the sinking feeling as I watched Luis Gonzalez’s blooper in 2001 and the euphoric feeling I felt as Mo sprinted to the mound and collapsed with joy as Aaron Boone rounded the bases in 2003. I even had the chance to fulfill a life-long dream and witness the Yankees clinch the AL pennant in 2009 at Yankee Stadium, with Mo, of course, on the mound. Now in 2011, can I be blamed for assuming that the Yankee’s 9th inning will always belong to him?
When Mo finally calls it quits – which given recent performances could be many years away – he will undoubtedly leave the game as one of the greatest postseason performers in baseball history. Numbers don’t lie, and Rivera’s record-setting postseason ERA of 0.71 serves as a testament not only to his excellence, but his consistency.
Rivera, who will soon kick off his 17th season in a major league uniform, is the closest thing baseball has to a sure thing: Batters know what he’s throwing, and fans know the game is already over. In the postseason, his achievements are nothing short of stunning. He has recorded his historic 0.71 ERA over the course of 139.2 innings. To put that into perspective, throughout his career Mo has averaged 79 innings per season. That means he has recorded a 0.71 ERA over nearly two full regular seasons worth of postseason ball. In other words, as good as Mariano is in regular season play (2.23 ERA), he is one and a half runs per game better in the postseason.
On the postseason ERA leader board, Mo keeps company with some impressive names: the top ten includes Hall of Famers Eddie Plank, Sandy Koufax, Christy Mathewson, and yes, Babe Ruth. One may strongly suspect that when Rivera finally leaves the mound, it won’t be long before they keep him company here in Cooperstown as well. This, however, is one Yankee fan who hopes that those days are still many years away.
It’s memories like these that will be brought to life in the Hall of Fame’s new One for the Books. The exhibit opens Memorial Day Weekend in Cooperstown.
Steve Light is the manager of museum programs at the the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.