By Rob Lep
Stop the presses. The unthinkable has happened.
It’s official: Mariano Rivera is the first player to be a unanimous induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. No one can argue the ‘Sandman’s’ resume. On the field: a 13x All-Star, 5x World Series Champion, and the MLB’s All-Time Saves Leader (652) among many other accolades.
Off the field: a first-class human being who started his own Mariano Rivera Foundation which helps provide underprivileged children with an education, runs an annual charity golf classic every summer with the White Plains Hospital, etc.
Mo deserved to receive 100% of the vote from the 425 baseball voters. But he never should have been the first person inducted in with a perfect ballot. Rivera’s place in baseball history as the greatest closer of all-time cannot be disputed.
But he’s far from the all-time GOAT. Hence, it shouldn’t have taken until 2019 for someone to receive this unanimous recognition.
We have this stigma in society about unanimous. Perfection. All in agreement. Our current political climate is a perfect example. Sports debate shows another.
It’s almost impossible to get everyone to agree on anything.
"The sky is blue." Well.... is it a light blue? ocean blue? sky blue? turquoise? purple? orange? green?
Baseball writers are no exception. They are unique human beings just like you and I who come from many different walks of life. We are shaped by our experiences. Everyone has different ways of judging the word “Hall of Famer”.
To earn Hall of Fame election, players must be named on 75 percent of ballots cast by eligible members of the BBWAA. The cutoff point this year was 319.
The Hall's motto is "Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations."
Who or what exactly exhibits that quote is up for interpretation. That’s where the fun starts. It got me thinking...
What about legends like Ken Griffey Jr? Tom Seaver? Nolan Ryan? Cal Ripken Jr? They all got close to 100% (over 97%) but didn’t quite make the cut. Who wouldn’t put these GOATS into the Hall?
Babe Ruth is regarded by many as the greatest baseball player ever. Even he only got 95%. Willie Mays right behind him at 94%.
Another thought: Barry Bonds is the all-time home-run king. He isn’t even in Cooperstown. Pete Rose, the MLB’s all-time hits king, holds the same fate.
Steroids and gambling aside for a second, how can you have a Baseball Hall of Fame without the home run and hit kings? I get it, their legacies are more complicated. Tainted are other words that come to mind.
I like to look at it like this: you can’t tell the story of baseball without Barry Bonds and Pete Rose.
Second on that home-run list is Hank Aaron, a 25x All-Star who jacked 755 bombs without any performance-enhancing drugs questions. Not even he could get to the 100% mark (97.83%).
We live in a world where baseball writers are rewarded for going against the grain. To have a differing belief than their peers.
Let me introduce you to Bill Ballou, who has covered the Boston Red Sox for the Telegram & Gazette newspaper in Worcester, Massachusetts since 1987.
Back in December, Ballou made national headlines when he wrote a column titled: “Mariano Rivera: not getting this writers Hall of Fame vote,” comparing the Yankees legend to a PAT kicker in football or a shootout player in hockey.
For Ballou, Rivera’s dominance as a closer was irrelevant. He viewed the save as the least meaningful stat in baseball. Mo wasn’t a starter and usually only pitched one inning, meaning he would likely only face a player once through the batting order. He deemed Rivera not to be Hall of Fame material.
As a result of his contrarian beliefs, we know Bill Balou’s name. As a baseball writer, isn’t that the point? To have people care enough about your work to actually read what you have to say.
If you got 425 people in a room together, they wouldn’t be able to agree on what to have for lunch. For over 80 years, they could never agree unanimously on a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Enough was enough. Mariano Rivera is finally the guy. If they’re smart (not exactly holding my breath here), they’ll vote his teammate Derek Jeter in the same way next year.
Luckily, his tenure as Marlins CEO won’t be accounted for on the ballot by voters. Hopefully.
As for Bonds, Rose and Roger Clemens, I’ll save that one for another day. Let’s enjoy this one. For now...