The Greatest There Ever Was: The Legacy of Mariano Rivera

There are a handful of players in the history of Major League Baseball that have played in a way that fans of all teams will be forced to remember them forever.

But never has there been a player -whose job is to pitch for 1 inning per game- so respected by fans, and so feared by hitters.

Then along came a young, quiet amateur pitcher from Panama, who at the time of his pro baseball debut in 1990, no one would guess he would become the single greatest relief pitcher of all time.

Mariano Rivera played for the New York Yankees his 19-year entire career. Along the way, he collected 652 saves, 1,173 strikeouts, an ERA of 2.21 (0.70 in the postseason), 13 All-Star selections and 5 Championship rings.

During the 1996 championship season, Rivera was a set-up man. Since then he was converted to a full-time closer, and the Bronx Bombers won four more World Series Titles (’98, ’99, ’00, ’09), with Mo contributing in all of them.

So now that his farewell tour of the MLB is over, what is his legacy? The answer is in the headline of this story.

Rivera is, without a doubt, the best closing pitcher there ever was, with his iconic slow-moving wind-up and commanding signature pitch: a mid-90 mph cutting fastball that has sent over 1,100 hitters back to the dugout. Even as he aged, Rivera was still dominant, still throwing that 90+ mph cutting fastball, still racking up strikeouts. His legacy was validated even more by wearing the number 42, which is probably the most hollowed number in baseball. Worn by Jackie Robinson, another legend, the number 42 was last worn by Rivera, and will officially be retired by the New York Yankees. Soon enough, Rivera’s 42 will be joined with Derek Jeter’s 2 and possibly Andy Pettitte’s 46.

Will baseball ever see a pitcher like Mo again? It’s possible. But Rivera has left a trail so decorated and so pristine that we may never see another player like him during our lifetime. It seems like such a simple task pitch the final inning, with the lead, and just produce three outs. But for one man to completely dominate his craft and this was his craft and leave no doubt to who was the best at what he did is beyond rare: it’s legendary.

So no more will Rivera play for the winningest franchise in professional sports history. No longer will “Enter Sandman” blare in Yankee Stadium. No more will Rivera throw his cutting fastball or strike out another batter. But he has earned the right to step down from the game and continue his life off the diamond through his charity. The Mariano Rivera Foundation, which supports under-privileged communities in his native Panama and to be with his family Clara, his wife, and his sons Mariano Jr., Jafet, and Jaziel. All good things must come to an end, but it is especially painful and sad to watch a legend like this depart from his game.\

Photo: Porter Binks/Sports Illustrated

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