I don’t know that it’s a topic that been debated often. I think, if you ask a group of sport fans, most will vote for Michael Jordan. But somehow, while mowing last night, it occurred to me that Jordan isn’t the correct answer. Alright, the question is this: when considering dominance, durability and duration; who has had the best career in team sports. Sounds pretty specific, right? But the question came as I was thinking about this one players’ career. It’s been so great, for so long and without no drop in production.
Enough beating around the bush; Mariano Rivera has had the most impressive career in the history of team sports. Yes, I am completely serious. He’s had one bad year, and that was his rookie season when he was primarily a starting pitcher. In the 17 seasons since, he has an era of a miniscule 2.02. He’s completed 10 seasons with an era under 2. That’s not counting this year, where his era is once again under 2. And he’s 43 years old.
In his worst season, he had an era of 3.15. That bloated era can all be traced to a four game stretch in April where he gave up 9 runs in 2 and 2/3 innings. Take that stretch out, and his era for the rest of the season was 2.10. And that’s what makes his career so great. He had one rough stretch, that lasted just four games.
Mo’s post season performance is further evidence of his greatness. In most cases, the public makes assumptions about an athlete’s clutchness, or lack thereof, based on their first few post season appearances. Derek Jeter, for example, has always been known as a “clutch” performer. Due in large part to his first post season appearance, where he hit .361. But his career post season average is .308 while his regular season career average sits at .313. My point is, the sample size is so small when we make these declarations about who is clutch and who isn’t. And when given a larger sample size, most players perform like they usually do.
There are always outliers, and Mariano Rivera is almost always an outlier to every rule. Rivera has appeared in 96 post season games and pitched 141 innings, which is roughly two regular seasons worth. His post season era is a RIDONCULOUS 0.70. Your friends wouldn’t believe you if you said you put up numbers like that in ’87 while playing RBI Baseball.
Rivera holds the record for most career saves, with 623, 22 more than Trevor Hoffman. Hoffman was a dominant closer in the National League for most of Mo’s career. Hoffman had five seasons with an ERA over 3.00.
So why do I say that Rivera has had the most impressive career in the history of sports? It’s the overall consistency. Michael Jordan, was obviously amazing from the first time he stepped on an NBA court. He was also remarkably durable, with only one major injury in his second season. While Rivera had one in 2012. But, for me, the difference is that Jordan stepped away from the game twice. And while he was a great 39 year old in 2003, he wasn’t one of the best in the game. Jordan’s three point percentage fluctuated from sub 20% to 50% and back to the low 20s. Maybe that’s being picky, but Rivera has been amazingly consistent across the board. Since turning 35, Rivera has a 1.88 era and a 92% save rate. There simply hasn’t been a drop off of any kind.
In his role, he has been the best in the game for 18 years.
Peyton Manning was the only other player, aside from Jordan, that I considered.
Some Mo Did You Know facts:
He has more career strikeouts than: Carl Pavano, Orlando Hernandez, Gil Meche, and Joaquin Andujar.
He has more career wins than: Len Barker, Mark Clark, Roger Craig, and Mike Bielecki.
Only four players have hit more than one home run off of him (no one has hit more than two) they are: Evan Longoria, Edgar Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro and Aubrey Huff.
Of the 66 career home runs he has given up, only 11 came when the Yankees had the lead.
Manny Ramirez has the most career at bats against Mo. He hit .234.
Goose Gossage and Rollie Fingers have 651 career saves, combined.