A daunting task: Ranking Mariano Rivera among Yankee greats

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NEW YORK — Where does Mariano Rivera rank in Yankee lore?

It’s a daunting task, really.

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One former Yankee admitted as much in the press box Friday night when I asked him where the greatest closer of all-time slots in among the greatest players in franchise history.

“Well, Babe Ruth is No. 1,” he said, stating the obvious. “As for the rest of them, good luck.”

Rivera is set to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday afternoon in Cooperstown — the first unanimous selection in the game’s history.

“I was just happy to pitch in the big leagues and play for the New York Yankees — as many championships as I could do it,” Rivera said after receiving 100 percent of the vote. “After my career, I was thinking: ‘Did I have a good shot to be a Hall of Famer?’ This was just beyond my imagination. This is the pinnacle of every athlete or every player that played the game of baseball. Just to be considered a Hall of Famer is an honor, but being unanimous is just amazing to me.”

Dominating with humility, grace and his his famous cutter, Rivera notched an MLB-record 652 saves while posting a minuscule 0.70 ERA in the postseason. His all-time ERA+ of 205 dwarfs everyone in the sport — with Clayton Kershaw ranking second at 159.

No. 42 is a 13-time All-Star who won five World Series championships — and was named MVP of the Fall Classic in 1999.

“We don’t want to face him any more,” former Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly once said of Rivera. “He’s too good. He belongs in a higher league. He should be banned from baseball.”

Rivera served as a tremendous leader for his teammates during his illustrious 19-year career.

“[He deserves to be] right up there at the top of the list,” Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner said. “Just such a special player and such a special teammate, not just for what he accomplished on the field and in the postseason but just the way he treated everybody.

“His ability to just lock down and focus when he needed to — I’ve never seen anything like it. And the work that he put in behind the scenes, he was always prepared, had a good idea of what he wanted to do against the guys he was facing and just a great example for everyone to follow.”

Where does former closer and Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera rank in Yankee lore? (Getty Images)
Where does former closer and Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera rank in Yankee lore? (Getty Images)

Rivera certainly makes a compelling case as the greatest Yankee pitcher of all-time, with a franchise-best WAR of 56.3, higher than the likes of standout starters Whitey Ford (53.5), Andy Pettitte (51.3) and Ron Guidry (47.8). Sure, he only pitched an inning most of the time. But it was high-leverage dominance, often baffling the best hitters in the game.

As for where Rivera stacks up against the likes of Yankee icons Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, well, it’s all subjective. And it's extremely difficult to compare players of different eras.

Still, I briefly considered Rivera for the No. 2 slot behind Ruth based on the fact that there truly is no comparison. There’s only one Mo. His impact on baseball may not be Ruthian by any means, but he set the bar at his position with one pitch.

“Maybe,” Adam Ottavino, the power reliever who made waves this offseason when he said he felt he would strike out The Great Bambino, responded when I posed the argument to him.

“I mean, there’s a lot of tough choices on that list. It depends on your criteria, I guess. But it’s hard to beat Mo in terms of overall impact on the mound for sure in Yankee history. He has to be the top pitcher, I would think. And I saw something where his contributions to actually impacting championship winning are incredible high, so it could be fair.”

Nevertheless, with all due respect to Yogi Berra, Derek Jeter and Ford, I ultimately decided to put Rivera fifth, behind the four Bronx Bombers you’d find on Mount Rushmore.

1. Ruth 2. Gehrig 3. DiMaggio 4. Mantle 5. Rivera.

That was tough.

Where would you rank Rivera? Let us know in the comments section.

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