MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Mo should be first unanimous Hall of Fame inductee

Mo should be first unanimous Hall of Fame inductee

Mo should be first unanimous Hall of Fame inductee

HOUSTON -- Tom Seaver couldn't do it. Neither could Nolan Ryan nor Cal Ripken. Ty Cobb came up short, too.

Mariano Rivera?

Why not?

If baseball is ever going to have a unanimous Hall of Fame selection, Rivera ought to be it. This is his last challenge in baseball, the appropriate final touch to a 19-year career defined by greatness.

In 77 years of Hall of Fame balloting, no player has been named on every ballot. Seaver came the closest, getting the votes of 425 of 430 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America who cast ballots (98.84 percent) in 1992.

Ryan made it onto 491 of 497 ballots (98.79 percent) in 1999, and Ripken, Cobb and George Brett all got better than 98 percent of the vote.

But no one has ever been unanimous.

Could Rivera be the first? Could someone come up with a reason for not voting for him?

Actually, the same question could have been asked of Seaver, Ryan et al. Someone can always find a justification for doing something dumb. Maybe Rivera's other goal could be beating Seaver's 98.84 voting percentage.

At a time when players have been stained by performance-enhancing drugs -- either by the acknowledgment that they used them or the suspicion by voters that they did -- Rivera pitched 19 seasons without the hint of any such scandal.

In terms of production on the field and good citizenship off it, no player has ever been closer to perfect than Rivera. If there's a reason against voting for him, it would have to be someone's bias against relievers getting into the Hall, or some other knucklehead logic.

Let's review.

First, there are the 652 regular-season saves, the most in history. Rivera was about winning, too. In 19 seasons, his Yankees missed the playoffs just twice. He was a member of five World Series championship teams and got the final out in four of them.

Rivera was at his best when the stakes were highest. In 96 postseason appearances, he compiled a 0.70 ERA and had 42 saves. He pitched 141 postseason innings, which is the equivalent of two full seasons as a closer.

Most of those appearances came in pressure situations for a franchise defined by its championships. That is, almost every single postseason appearance meant something. And 141 innings, he allowed 11 earned runs.

The Yankees rode him hard in the postseason. As former Yankees manager Joe Torre said the other day, "When he took the ball, you felt the game was over."

"You became a spectator," said Torre's successor, Joe Girardi.

Rivera was so efficient with his pitches that he could pitch more games than some other closers. He went more than an inning for 31 of his 42 postseason saves. He pitched two innings for 13 of them.

And there was the masterful three-inning shutdown of the Red Sox in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. The Yankees and Red Sox were tied at 5-5 when Torre handed Rivera the ball in the ninth inning.

That was that.

He'd pitched two innings in Game 3 of that series and two more in Game 5 two days earlier. Yet with one day of rest, he took the ball and didn't give it back. The Yankees won it in the bottom of the 11th inning, and the Rivera legacy grew a bit more magical.

There have always been things about relievers that are harder to measure than other positions. For instance, every player, coach and manager will tell you that the toughest defeats to take happen after blowing a ninth-inning lead. Those are the ones likely to have a hangover impact.

That psychological impact cuts both ways. When teams played the Yankees, they saw the game as being eight innings long. If they didn't get the lead in the first eight, they had no chance in the ninth.

In the postseason, the Yankees' opponents had to do it by the seventh inning because they knew Torre or Girardi would be unafraid to call on Rivera for two innings.

There was something else about Rivera that was impossible to measure. His impact on the clubhouse, on the team, was dramatic.

Torre said that when a player joined the clubhouse, Rivera would approach the newcomer and welcome him to the club. If a player seemed uncomfortable being part of the great Yankees, Rivera attempted to find the words to calm him down.

Rivera would say that every player was in that clubhouse for the same reason, and that all anyone -- George Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, Torre or any of those millions of New Yorkers -- cared about was winning.

Few players in the great history of the Yankees have contributed more to that than Rivera, with his 652 saves. He's one of the Yankees who every other will always be measured against.

He was honored one final time on Sunday afternoon, with Torre and Roger Clemens showing up to let him know how much they respected and cared for him.

Next up: Cooperstown.

He'll be on the Hall of Fame ballot after the 2018 season, and almost certainly he'll be inducted the following summer. We don't get that many chances to celebrate perfection. This should be one.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.