The final #42

Mariano Rivera’s 608 career saves should come with an asterisk. Not to make his record seem any less impressive than it already is, but to make it more so. In addition to having more career saves in the regular season than anyone in history, he also has (appropriately enough) 42 saves in the post-season as well. To put that in perspective, consider that nobody else even has 20. That’s just astounding.

Anybody who has ever played fantasy baseball can tell you that saves accrue more to the closers on the top teams. It makes sense that the more wins a team has, the more saves will be available for the team’s pitchers. And the Yankees have made the postseason every year except one in Rivera’s career. Being on a dominant team has made Rivera a dominating closer but, conversely, his dominance as a closer has fed the Yankees’ dominance, too.

When Rivera broke into the majors in 1995, MLB was still two years away from issuing its blanket retirement of number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. Rivera was grandfathered in as an exception, and every other player this exception applied to has since retired. So we’ll never see another player call #42 his own once Rivera hangs them up after the 2013 season, except for that game every year where all players wear the number in a game. I actually like that custom, and I’m not knocking it here.

My point is that we can legitimately call Mariano Rivera the best closer there’s ever been, statistically and otherwise, but he’ll never eclipse Jackie Robinson when it comes to his lasting impact on the game. Nobody could ever do this, because the hell that Robinson endured in 1947 (as spelled out in Jonathan Eig‘s fabulous Opening Day) helped to open the way for so many who have enriched the game.

I love the Jackie Robinson quote that says “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Coming from the man who changed baseball forever, these words are unquestionably true. The fact that Mariano Rivera was great enough to set the all-time saves record confirms his impact on the Yankees and their fans over the past seventeen seasons. But the fact that nobody after Rivera will ever wear his number confirms Robinson’s impact on baseball, and, by extension, all of American society.

4 thoughts on “The final #42

  1. I never thought about all those postseason saves. Nor did I realize he still wore #42. 600 saves is a huge accomplishment, with or without the postseason included. Considering only a select few closers are elite closers for most of their careers. It seems most closers are only good for a few years then fade. The fact that Rivera is still doing it after that many seasons is amazing.

    I think as amazing as Rivera is, #42 will always belong to Robinson.

  2. Mariano is an amazing closer that has done so much and deserved everything that he has accomplished. 600+ saves and all the post season accomplishments, he’s a definate hall of famer, and in my opinion is the best #42 to put the Jersey on. Robinson was great yes, but Rivera is the best to wear #42

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  3. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Alex. I wasn’t trying to take anything away from Rivera. I was trying to point out the coincidence that he and Robinson wore the same number.

    When baseball outlawed the spitball many, many years ago, those that already threw it were allowed to legally do it until they retired. Burleigh Grimes was the last of that breed of pitcher. We’ll remember Rivera for all his greatness, but we’ll also be able to say he was the last #42 that baseball will ever see.

    Thanks again for reading.

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