Mariano Rivera, the career saves leader whose elegant efficiency helped the Yankees win five World Series, on Tuesday became the first player ever elected unanimously to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Two other right-handed pitchers, Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina, also were elected, Halladay on his first try and Mussina on his sixth. Edgar Martinez, the longtime Seattle Mariners designated hitter, gained entry in his 10th and final year on the ballot. Halladay, a former ace of the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies, died in a plane crash in 2017.
Rivera was named on all 425 of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, eclipsing the previous record percentage, 99.3, by Ken Griffey Jr. in 2016. Halladay and Martinez both received 85.4 percent of the votes, and Mussina — a stalwart for the Baltimore Orioles and the Yankees — 76.7 percent. Candidates need 75 percent for election.
“After my career, I was thinking that I had a shot to be a Hall of Famer,” Rivera said on a conference call with reporters. “But this was just beyond my imagination. I was amazed the way all this has been, through my whole career — and this being the pinnacle of every player that plays the game of baseball, to be unanimous.”
The players will be inducted to the Hall of Fame on July 21 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with designated hitter Harold Baines and reliever Lee Smith, who were passed over by the writers but were elected by a smaller committee last month.
Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose dominant careers stretched from the mid-1980s through 2007, were again denied entry in what was the seventh appearance on the ballot for both players. Both have strong ties to performance-enhancing drugs, which baseball did not test for until 2003. Bonds got 59.1 percent of the vote, and Clemens 59.5 percent — their highest totals yet, but still shy of 75 percent.
Rivera, 49, signed with the Yankees from Panama in 1990 for a $3,500 bonus. He reached the majors five years later and started 10 games; the last batter he faced as a starter was Martinez, who singled home a run in the fifth inning against him on Sept. 5, 1995, knocking Rivera from the game and sending him to the bullpen forever.
It was a perfect fit. Rivera thrived as a setup man in the Yankees’ 1996 championship run and took over as the team’s closer in 1997, the year he discovered his devastating cut fastball, which broke hundreds of bats with its hard, late movement into the hands of left-handers. Rivera remained the closer through his retirement in 2013, compiling 652 saves with a 2.21 earned run average, the lowest in baseball history for anyone born after 1889 (and with a minimum of 1,000 major-league innings).
Rivera was even better across his record 96 postseason games, with a 0.70 E.R.A. and 42 saves — matching his uniform number. He was the last player to regularly wear No. 42, which is retired across Major League Baseball for Jackie Robinson.
Rivera was so prolific that M.L.B. named an award after him to recognize the American League reliever of the year. Likewise, Martinez is the namesake for the award recognizing the best designated hitter. Martinez, 56, made only 560 career starts in the field (mostly at third base) but nearly 1,400 as the Mariners’ D.H.
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SOURCE: NY Times, Tyler Kepner