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Morning Digest: Is Rivera the Greatest Ever? Mets Need Their Kirk Gibson



By Mike Silva ~ September 18th, 2011. Filed under: Morning Digest.

Death, taxes, and Mariano Rivera collecting another save. That was my feeling after he notched number 601 against the Blue Jays yesterday afternoon. It shouldn’t be that ho-hum, but when a player achieves a certain level of excellence you start to take it for granted. That isn’t the case in the papers today you have analysis of where Rivera’s accomplishment stands. Earlier in the week I boiled down the save record to a testament towards his consistency and longevity; two accomplishments that are often taken for granted by fans and media alike. Ken Davidoff takes a statistical approach in Newsday by pointing out that Rivera has a career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) higher than Hall of Famer starting pitchers such as Sandy Koufax and Catfish Hunter. In other words, he has more career value than one of the greatest starting pitchers of all-time. Joel Sherman takes it one step further in the New York Post by wondering if Rivera is the best player over the last 40 years. In May I wrote how Rivera might be a “modern day Babe Ruth.” That’s because it could be argued that Mariano Rivera has transcended the modern game in a way that only could be said when speaking about Babe Ruth.

Unlike Babe Ruth, Rivera didn’t save the game of baseball. He did, however, define the closer position by creating the ultimate gold standard. Just like we will never see another Babe Ruth I don’t think there will be a closer like Rivera again. The kicker? He isn’t close to being done. He is just as good now as ten years ago. You can’t even say that about Ruth at age 40.

This can be an uncomfortable argument because of the fact you are touting the virtues of a player that pitches only one inning, and need 24 other teammates to put him in the position to be successful. But that is exactly the point. His job is so important the work of an entire roster can go for naught if he fails. Just like we will never see another player larger than the game like Ruth, we probably won’t see a closer that sets a higher standard in the ninth inning than Rivera.

Many overlook the importance of the closer because of that single inning workday. They forget how the psychological impact of a blown save can ruin a season. Back in 2004 the Cubs blew a huge game at Shea Stadium when Victor Diaz hit a two-out three run HR off LaTroy Hawkins that destroyed their playoff hopes. They were leading the Wild Card that day, but never played the same the rest of the season and fell short of the playoffs.  The 2000 World Series was changed because of a blown save by Armando Benitez in Game 1. Statistically it’s only three outs. Mentally it’s 27. Put yourself in the shoes of the team. They work hard and grind out a lead after eight innings. In the playoffs you add the grueling intensity that comes with the high stakes atmosphere. Games last about 3.5 hours. You work hard for over 3 hours to watch your closer blow all that work in 15 minutes. How would you feel after that type of game? Think of it in terms of building something in your house only to knock it over and break it when you were about to complete the final nail. You feel up to starting over the next day? Are you not going to have that in your mind when you get back to that final nail again?

The fact that Rivera has alleviate that pain, for the most part, throughout his 15 years in the Yankees bullpen gives the “greatest ever” argument validity. Look at what happened in the two series he blew important saves: Sandy Alomar‘s HR in ’97 was part of a 5 game ALDS defeat. Bill Mueller’s single in the 2004 ALCS that scored Dave Roberts was the beginning of the collapse.

Many continue to resist the mental aspect of the game. The reality is the talent pool between best and worst is often very thin. In the playoffs, it might be negligible. Having an advantage like Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning continues to be why I believe the Yankees have been able to win 5 titles in 15 years and make 14 playoff appearances. Yeah there is payroll, Jeter, A-Rod, and Torre, but without Rivera, I wonder if the others are viewed in the same light today. That, in my opinion, is impact. That deserves to be discussed in the same breath as the all-time greats. One inning be damned.

***

Some players were “surprised” by Terry Collins blow up after their embarrassing loss on Thursday afternoon. Collins had every right to be angry about their play in that game and the home stand. I don’t think they laid down every game, but they didn’t show any sense of urgency to improve on the fundamental mistakes have plagued them throughout this season.

I still think there are a good deal of guys in that locker room that don’t take losing personally. At this time of the year it’s easy for members of second division clubs to think about their winter, free agency, and their families. When you have 10 potential free agents in the room that could become an overarching theme nightly. Not exactly the mindset that breeds battling to the very end.

The Mets have some great guys in that locker room that want to win. You see max effort from stars such as Jason Bay and David Wright. Jose Reyes may be fragile, but you could tell he loves the game and comes to play. There are, however, many young kids that still are trying to find their way in this league. How do they feel when they see someone like Angel Pagan chase a fly ball as if he is on a leisurely stroll in the park?

Maybe payroll restrictions will force the Mets to bring back iffy clubhouse guys like Pagan in 2012. Maybe they need that voice to remove the dark cloud that has existed around the team since 2006 when Carlos Beltran struck out in Game 7. What they really need is their Kirk Gibson.

No, I am not suggesting they fire Collins and try to pry Gibson away from his managerial post in Arizona. I am suggesting they import a player that can have the same impact that Gibson had on the Dodgers in 1988.

That group was full of good players that really didn’t feel a sense of urgency about winning. During his first spring training after he signed a contract in LA, Gibson was the butt end of a practical joke where a teammate put pine tar in his hat. He went to manager Tommy Lasorda and said “you find out what son of a bitch did this, because I’m going to tear his head off.” The message was clear, we are here to work and win.

Again, I am not saying they should be charging out of the dugout every night or not having fun. What I am saying is they need someone that can come in here and spit in the face of the failure and negativity. The players need it. Even the fans need to have that kind of energy to get them going. Citi Field, even when the team was playing well during the early part of summer, is a morgue. Anyone who has spent time at a Mets game should not be surprised about the home/road splits.

Who is that player? He doesn’t have to be a star. He just needs to be a solid everyday contributor that will be a solution on the field, and help change the attitude off the field. They need more guys on this roster that don’t care about the failures of the past. You already have seen this change in 2011. There needs to be a conscience effort to fill the roster with more of those types of individuals.

If not, I am afraid that David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Jason Bay, regardless of how they perform, are quite simply not enough. It’s not in their nature or personality to lead in that manner. Their style of leadership is fine, as long as it is complemented by someone in the mold of Kirk Gibson with the Dodgers in 1988.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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8 Responses to Morning Digest: Is Rivera the Greatest Ever? Mets Need Their Kirk Gibson

  1. Patrick

    If the Mets get their “Gibson” will he bring a Hershiser? Often times the difference between .500 ball .565 is a single pitcher.

  2. Chuck Johnson

    The save itself is an important part of the game, however the rule defining the save makes it cheap and almost meaningless.

    In terms of just the save, yes, Rivera is the best ever.

    But to consider him an “all-time great pitcher” is downright embarrassing.

    He’s not.

    I’m a lifetime Yankee fan and am as appreciative of Mo’s contributions as anyone, but I also understand the number of rings in Jeter’s closet wouldn’t be much different if Santa Claus’ summer job was as the Yankees closer.

  3. Frank Russo

    Chuck,

    I totally disagree with you on this one. I’ve studied the histoyy of baseball and feel that Mariano is an All-Tme great for what he has done. I would not compare him to a starting pitcher, but for what he has done as a reliever has been absolutely amazing.

    Also I do believe that he will go down as an immortal Yankee. Maybe not in the same category as Ruth, Gehrig Mantle and Joe D. but still an immortal Yankee.

    I also disagree about your Santa Claus comparison. I think Santa would not have been a great reliever since he was just too fat. Besides, I’ve heard that the man has a baulky right elbow!!

    Seriously though. I remember Derek stating in an interview after the ’09 World Series that he believed that the Yankees do not win all those championships without Mo.

    I also believe that Mo is a lock for the HOF.

  4. Chuck Johnson

    “I also disagree about your Santa Claus comparison. I think Santa would not have been a great reliever since he was just too fat. Besides, I’ve heard that the man has a baulky right elbow!!”

    Obviously, he couldn’t pitch under the name Santa Claus, he’d attract to much attention and would be a distraction to his team.

    So, during baseball season, he would use a different alias every year.

    One year, he was Bob Wickman.

    He used one name for three, four years because no one believed he could do what he was doing.

    Eric Gagne.

    One year, he called himself Joe Borowski.

    I’ve also heard from a reliable source Santa has a lifetime membership to Rosetta Stone, and takes language learning while he’s flying around on Christmas Eve.

    He’s also made ML appearances under the name of Jose Mesa, Jose Valverde, and Kaz Sazaki.

    I’ve also heard he’s ambidextrous, and has pitched under the name of Randy Myers, Brian Fuentes and Eddie Guardado.

    Sorry, Frank, I’ve studied the history of baseball too, and I think you’re nuts.

  5. Stu B

    Santa Claus would more likely have been a lefty starter a la Mickey Lolich or David Wells…

  6. Ralph C

    Maybe the Mets would have won in either ’99 or 2000 had Santa Claus replaced Armando Benitez on the postseason roster. Rivera has had his share of postseason failure but many more triumphs. Other closers such as the aforementioned Benitez and Trevor Hoffman have melted in seemingly every big game they’ve pitched in.

  7. Frank Russo

    CHUCK,

    You Wrote….

    “Sorry, Frank, I’ve studied the history of baseball too, and I think you’re nuts.”

    I hope you mean that in a good way…lol! Actually I admnit I’m nuts. Just being a baseball Grave Hunter proves it. I am trying to get Mike Silva to go on a grave hunt with me. Who knows, maybe everyone wil think he’s nuts too! LOL!

  8. Chuck Johnson

    Yes, Frank, in a good way.

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