Monday, July 31, 2006

Mariano Rivera Donates Cap from 400th Save to Baseball Hall of Fame

Yankee closer becomes first reliever to record 400 saves with one team

  • (The actual number at that time was 434, including 34 post season saves.)

July 25, 2006 | Jeff Idelson

COOPERSTOWN, NY): " On July 16, Mariano Rivera notched his 400th career save, as the Yankees beat the Chicago White Sox in Yankee Stadium, 6-4. In doing so, he became the fourth relief pitcher to amass 400 saves, joining all-time leader Lee Smith, along with Trevor Hoffman and John Franco.

Rivera has been a staple in the Yankee clubhouse since joining the team in 1995 and has been a part of four World Series championships. And with Rivera, the bigger the spotlight, the better he pitches: In 27 Division Series games, he is 2-0 with 15 saves and a 0.43 ERA (42IP, 2 ER, 29K). In 25 League Championship Series games he is 4-0 with an 0.93 ERA (38.2IP, 4ER, 29K) and in six World Series and 20 games, Rivera is 2-1 with a 1.16 ERA (31IP, 4ER, 29K). Oh yes, he's not allowed an earned run in six All-Star Game appearances, earning the save two weeks ago when the American League staged a ninth inning rally to win, 3-2.

Rivera donated his cap worn during his historic 400th save to the Hall of Fame three days after notching the milestone, and the Hall of Fame's Jeff Idelson traveled to Yankee Stadium to collect the donation from Rivera. While there, Idelson had a chance to ask the Yankee closer a few questions.

Thank you for donating your cap to the Hall of Fame from your 400th save. You're welcome, Jeff.

Who were your heroes growing up in Panama? My hero didn't even play baseball. It was Roberto Duran. He was my main guy. (Duran was a champion boxer who won WBC titles in lightweight, welterweight, light middleweight, middleweight, and junior middleweight divisions.)

How much did you know about the Yankees as a young boy? Not much. Just what I saw on television.

Which coaches helped you most along the way? Hoyt Wilhelm was one. He was my first coach. And Mark Shiflett was very good for me. He was terrific. Tony Cloninger was great too. He was the roving pitching coordinator for a while. Of course Mel Stottlemyre in the major leagues. Mel was the main guy.

Did Hoyt try to teach you the knuckleball? (Laughing)…. No!

Who taught you how to throw the cutter? God. That came from God. It just happened.

You pitched against Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. Did you learn anything from watching him pitch? I talked with Dennis a little bit, but not too much. Watching him pitch, I liked his aggressiveness and how he went about his business.

You now have three important artifacts in the Hall of Fame: Your spikes from the 1999 World Series when you were MVP, your cap from the 2000 World Series, and now this cap. How do you feel about having these items in Cooperstown? It makes me feel special and grateful. I am thankful for my accomplishments. I am thankful to God, my family, my teammates and to everyone who supports me. It's really great to have those items in the Hall of Fame.

How does it feel to be part of a Yankee dynasty? It's the greatest. Every time I get to put the pinstripes on, it is nothing but the best.

What is the most important element to being a successful closer? Being able to be there every day for your team, being able to pitch and be successful doing it.

If you were not a major league pitcher today, what would you be doing? I like cars. I would be a mechanic.

Any significance to wearing #42? You are the last major leaguer allowed to wear it, since baseball retired it for Jackie Robinson in 1997. It's what Nick [Priore, Yankee clubhouse manager at the time] gave me. The first number I had was 58 when I made the major leagues in 1995. I was sent to Columbus during the season and when I came back, he gave me 42. I know the number was made famous by Jackie Robinson, and it's an honor to also wear it.

What are your thoughts about Bruce Sutter being elected to the Hall of Fame? I'm all for him. I think he deserves it. It's great that as a closer he as the opportunity to be there. He opened doors for us. Eckerlsey and now Sutter. It's great to have those guys there.

And maybe you'll be joining them in a few years. Hopefully. I have never been to Cooperstown.

Two players on the Hall of Fame ballot next year are Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Any memories of facing Ripken? What impressed me most about Ripken was how prepared he always was, and of course, the consecutive games streak. Every time I pitched to him, I wanted to make sure I did not hit him or even come close to hitting him. I didn't want to be the reason his consecutive games streak ended! I was so focused on that, plus I had so much respect for him and what he was doing for baseball. It was great. Ripken was like Gretzky in hockey or Michael Jordan in basketball. He was something special and I did not want to be the guy who shortened his career. I made sure I didn't give him anything too close to him!

How about Gwynn? Tony is also a guy who had great respect for the game. I didn't know too much about Tony, but watching him play in All-Star Games and seeing him in the World Series, I admired the way he went about his business. Having a chance to play against him in the '98 Series was tremendous, and I was proud to have the chance to face him."

  • FYI any ESPN types, Mariano was put on the spot about donating something of his own to the HOF on this occasion. The first instance I heard of this was by the very smug Jack Curry of the NY Times in the press interview immediately following the game. Curry, who has done his best to minimize Mariano (as I've documented) had the gall to say, "Mariano, are you going to give the game ball to the Hall of Fame?" The HOF is infested directly & indirectly with hoards of slime who've done their best, like Curry, to deny Mariano the recognition he long ago deserved. Nevertheless, Mariano politely answered he thought he'd keep the ball but might give them another article. This is for all those who might wonder about the origins of Mariano's very generous contribution.

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