Former Yankee Reflects On Mariano Rivera

Rivera was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past weekend

Reiter Than You
July 23, 2019 - 9:20 pm
Mariano Rivera Hall Of Fame

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Mariano Rivera – 13-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion – was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past weekend. Rivera, 49, was the first player ever unanimously elected into Cooperstown.

Former Yankees teammate Jeff Nelson, who played with Rivera from 1996 to 2000 and again in 2003, knew immediately that Rivera was different.

“He was a special pitcher then, and basically did it with a high four-seam fastball and a little cutter with electric stuff,” Nelson said on Reiter Than You. “But to watch him grow and become the closer the next year in ’97, it was a no-brainer. He was fun to watch. That’s an understatement saying he was fun to watch.”

Rivera holds the record for most career saves (652).

It seems, however, that closers have been devalued in recent years. What does Nelson say to those who don’t think “closer” is a position?

“I think they’re foolish, but at the same time, there’s not the closers that there were back then as far as Mariano,” Nelson said. “Look at the teams that win the World Series. They always have a good ninth-inning guy. Mariano has even said it: ‘It takes a special person to pitch the ninth inning. It takes a different mindset to pitch in that inning.’”

Still, there are few elite lockdown closers in today’s game.

“I don’t know if you can name five closers in the league that are that dominant or that lights out – that, ‘OK, here comes the ninth inning and the game is over,’” Nelson said. “Maybe a couple, but when Mo was closing, you probably had a lot more – maybe 10 or 12 or 15 – in the major leagues that you could say, ‘OK, if it got to the ninth inning, the game’s over.’ 

“I’m for (sabermetrics) in a lot of ways,” Nelson continued, “but when you’re talking about the ninth-inning guy, it takes a special person. I don’t believe that it’s a lost art or a lost position now.”

Click below to listen to Nelson's interview in its entirety.