Mariano Rivera yesterday became the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to be voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. The argument of some voters over the decade was always something along the lines of "If Babe Ruth wasn't elected unanimously, then so-and-so shouldn't be." And by the way, why on earth wasn't Babe Ruth voted in unanimously???
Mariano Rivera was a remarkable relief pitcher. Likely the best of his era. Possibly the best of any era (though the era of relief pitchers being so prominent only goes back about 40 years at most). And he obviously deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. And voted in on the first ballot. And probably even unanimous. But the fact that he was unanimous and the first-ever is – to me – SOOOO New York.
I can absolutely justify him being a unanimous choice. It’s just notable to me that Hank Aaron wasn’t, Willie Mays wasn’t, Ted Williams wasn’t. Sandy Koufax wasn't. Warren Spahn wasn't. Roberto Clemente wasn't. Stan Musial wasn't. Ernie Banks wasn't. Frank Robinson wasn't. Bob Gibson wasn't. Rod Carew wasn't. But a New York relief pitcher was.
Before the vote, there was a lot of wondering in the baseball world if this was finally going to be the year and that Mariano Rivera would be the first to get voted into the Hall of Fame unanimously. Most I heard thought "No." I thought he would be. Because...baseball writers were finally ready, and -- he played in New York.
Someone had to be first. Rivera is utterly deserving. And we live in a different time when I guess enough voters said “Enough is enough.’ But the Hall of Fame is littered with players who were as deserving if not more so to have been unanimous before this. (Not just in terms of credentials, but they were everyday players and played nine innings every day. Not one inning three times a week. To be clear, I know full well that the way the game is played today, relief pitching is extremely critical, no matter how many innings one pitches.) What all these other full-time, deserving players weren't, though, is former players in New York.
And yes, I know some New York greats weren’t unanimous, too. But those greats were from another era, when it was almost a given that no one got a unanimous vote. In fact, the last, fully-New York position player (one who spent most of his career in New York) voted into the Hall of Fame was Mickey Mantle in 1974, 45 years ago. (And no, even Mickey Mantle wasn’t elected unanimously. Nor was Tom Seaver in 1992, the only other fully-New York player elected in half a century.)
I’m not saying Mariano Rivera shouldn’t have been unanimous. He should have been. And someone had to be first. Just that it’s SO New York to me that a New York relief pitcher was the first. In this era, indeed in these very recent years Ken Griffey Jr. should have been just as unanimous three years ago. Greg Maddux should have been equally unanimous five years ago. Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn should have been 12 years ago. And as for relief pitchers, Bruce Sutter should have been unanimous 13 years ago. And Dennis Eckersley 15 years ago. Or Nolan Ryan and George Brett. And on and on. But none of them played in New York.
Was Rivera “the greatest relief pitcher ever”? Arguably, yes. But at the time he was voted in, Sutter probably was, too. And then Eckersley succeeded him and was, as well. They just didn’t play in New York.
Again, as clearly as possible, I think Mariano Rivera is deserving of being a unanimous choice. And someone finally was going to be first. It’s just that it is SOOOOO New York to me that a New York relief pitcher was. And not Ken Griffey Jr, Greg Maddux, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley…
But congratulations to him. It's no aspersion on him what the baseball writers did. And what they did was proper. They just should have done it years earlier.