Mariano Rivera's career will soon take him to Cooperstown, but it started with a $3,000 signing bonus and an assignment to the Gulf Coast League.
Rivera signed with the Yankees as a free agent out of his native Panama on Feb. 17, 1990, the beginning of his long and illustrious professional baseball career. He was a skinny kid then, a former shortstop who threw his fastball in the mid-80s, but he quickly showed his ability in his first taste of pro ball.
Rivera played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees that season, going 5-1 with a league-leading 0.17 ERA in 22 appearances -- he allowed one earned run in 52 innings. He made one start, and that just so happened to be a seven-inning no-hitter on Aug. 31 against Bradenton, and the outing pushed him past the innings mark he needed to qualify for the league's ERA title.
As the story goes, Rivera received a $500 bonus for that accomplishment -- a paltry sum considering the millions of dollars he's collected since then. But it was one that meant a great deal to him at the time.
Even then, when he was just getting started, Rivera flashed some rare raw talent. He gave up only 17 hits and walked seven batters in that first season. Rivera struck out 58 batters. All of it earned him the GCL's Star of Stars Award, the first of many awards and accolades the most accomplished closer in history would go on to receive.
The story about how the Yankees found Rivera has become part of his legend. Herb Raybourn, scouting in Latin America for the Yanks, watched him as a shortstop but didn't see a big league future there for the youngster. Raybourn came back a year later to find Rivera pitching -- and liked what he saw from the athletic but unpolished right-hander.
Raybourn's scouting report on Rivera reportedly included this summary: "Has potential to become an above-average pitcher." So Raybourn and the Yankees signed Rivera for $3,000, sent him off to the Gulf Coast League and watched him become far more than anyone expected from the skinny 20-year-old kid from Panama.