The first unanimous inductee in the history of the National Baseball Hall of Fame leads the class of six being enshrined this weekend in Cooperstown.
The Hall has been inducting baseball’s greats since the eye-popping first class of Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb in 1936. But in his first year of eligibility, closer Mariano Rivera of the Yankees was the first to appear on every single baseball writer’s ballot.
“I remember receiving the call when they told me about it. I was in my house. My wife, my boys. The whole family here. It was some kind of shout. My god. Amazing, amazing, great feeling. It feels like when you just won the championship, the World Series. That level.”
For almost two decades, this sound in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium almost always meant one thing – New York was about to ice the game.
Rivera, the all-time saves leader, won five World Series with the Yankees over 19 years before retiring in 2013. He’s a 13-time all-star with a 2.21 ERA — all stats that brought the wiry son of a Panamanian fisherman to baseball immortality, largely thanks to a usually unhittable cutter.
Rivera was even better in October, and he talked about his mindset during high-stress postseason appearances.
“You focus on the next pitch, and the pitch-by-pitch, that’s what I focused on. Knowing that maybe this pitch will be the last pitch that I might throw to finish and win this championship,” he said. “It’s something that you don’t want to go ahead. You need to control those emotions.”
Rivera pitched in 96 postseason games, saving 42 games — of course — with a 0.70 ERA.
“I love it, I have passion for it,” he said. “My ability went to a different level, thank god, and my concentration level was even higher than the regular season.”
Also being inducted Sunday at 1:30 at the Clark Sports Center are Lee Smith, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay, posthumously, Harold Baines and Mike Mussina.
Rivera and Mussina were righty teammates on the Yankees after Moose came over from Baltimore. Over 18 seasons, the starter relied on precision off-speed pitches to rack up 2,813 strikeouts. He finished in the Top 6 in Cy Young voting nine times.
Mussina sees his induction as something of a reunion.
“Ripken and Alomar, now Harold, Mariano, Lee Smith was actually the closer in Baltimore for a couple seasons,” he said. “I played with Randy Johnson in New York. Joe Torre was my manager. There’s a lot of guys that are teammates or were teammates for years that are going to be there so it’s kind of neat to be in a situation like this, with guys that you played with, it’s really special.”
Mussina, who was known for his even demeanor and intense focus, tried to avoid hurt feelings in New York or Baltimore by opting for a blank hat on his plaque.
“Both organizations were tremendously involved in this, and I just don’t feel right picking one over the other, so the decision to go in without one logo vs. the other logo, was the only decision I could make that I felt good about,” he said.
More than 50 Hall of Famers will be heading to upstate New York for the ceremony, but it carries some melancholy. Halladay, a two-time Cy Young winner who was one of the dominant pitchers of his era, died in a plane crash in 2017.
In 2010, he threw two no-hitters for the Phillies: a playoff no-no against the Reds and a perfect game against Miami in May. He’s also going in with a blank hat.