Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees' iconic closer, entered uncharted territory today when he became the first pitcher to play in 1,000 games for the same team. That is a remarkable feat. Few doubt Rivera is the greatest closer ever, especially if you include his unequaled postseason record.
But does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Most, but not all, say yes. Those against say no closer belongs. These people argue no one filling a specialty role deserves enshrinement. Voters resisted putting Goose Gossage in the hall, for instance.
On the other end of the spectrum are the stataholics. You know them; they use all kinds of new-fangled formulas to compare players. Some of these people argue that Rivera is the greatest pitcher ever. That seems like more than a bit of a stretch to me.
Is there any other player that is considered by some the "greatest ever" and by others not worthy of the Hall of Fame? I can't think of one. I think both sides are off base.
Does Rivera belong in the Hall of Fame? Of course. I've never bought this idea of specialists not getting in. If a player is acknowledged as the best or one of the best to ever play his position he should get voted in. Rivera is a star player whose name practically defines his position. He'd get my vote without hesitation (and I am not a Yankees fan).
Greatest pitcher ever? No way. No mater what stats you use, there's no way to equate a starting pitcher with a reliever. Without starters to keep teams in games, closers would have no function. And coming into a game to pitch one inning with a lead is not the same as trying to pitch six or seven innings (or more). No stat can factor in the emotions, the pressure and the wear and tear on arms that each role entails. Starters and relievers should be judged separately.
If I were starting a team, my first choice for the pitching staff wouldn't be a closer. It would starters. I'd be surprised if many, or any, general managers would do that differently.
I've always thought Hall of Famers are easy to spot. Sure there are some who fall in a gray area. And the debate is healthy to reserve the Hall of Fame for the truly elite. How can anyone argue Mariano Rivera should be kept out?