One pitch. One team. A 1.000 WHIP, even.
Simplicity propelled Mariano Rivera to greatness. Now, however, as he prepares for his official baseball immortalization, the Yankees legend finds himself juggling about a million thoughts.
“It’s too much,” a relaxed-looking Rivera said recently in a conversation with The Post at his Westchester home. “It’s too much to comprehend. It’s too much to try to analyze.”
On Jan. 22, Rivera and his family sat in this house and received a phone call from Baseball Writers Association of American secretary-treasurer Jack O’Connell, who delivered life-changing news: Not only did the writers elect Rivera to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first chance, a slam dunk from the day the closer threw his last cut fastball in 2013, but they made him the first candidate to receive 100 percent support on their ballot — 425 votes from 425 voters — establishing a high-water mark that can be matched yet not surpassed.
“You have 425 people. Four hundred twenty-five voters,” Rivera said. “Forty-two [his uniform number] plus five championships. [And] I ended up with 42 saves in the playoffs.”
An appreciation of such serendipity — not to mention such fun with numbers! — belies the straightforward, no-nonsense (if friendly) guy who dominated his way to what now ranks as his second-most famous record, his 652 regular-season saves. Such musings reflect a man who, first in retirement and then by attaining this highest distinction, has fully digested the enormity of his remarkable journey, which will reach its next step with Sunday’s Hall induction.
For baseball’s most decorated Hall electee possesses one of its most remarkable true underdog stories. Forget about him defying the odds by getting to Cooperstown via perfection. It represents a small miracle that the Yankees and Rivera discovered each other in the first place.
In a tiny Panamanian fishing village called Puerto Caimito, where his home had no telephone and featured an outhouse in the back, Rivera dropped out of ninth grade and worked on his father’s boat, helping to land and haul the catches.
“I was fishing because I wanted to save some money to build a garage, or a shop, so I could fix cars,” Rivera said. “And that would be my trade. That would be my business. That’s what I was thinking.”
Baseball served as a hobby and nothing more, a pleasant distraction from the grueling work on the boat. Until one day in 1989 when his team, Panama Oeste, needed a pitcher. As Rivera documented in his autobiography “The Closer,” written with Wayne Coffey, he fared well enough in his pitching debut that two of his teammates recommended him to Chico Heron, an area coach who scouted part-time for the Yankees.
“I was 20 years old [when he signed]. Twenty years old,” Rivera said. “I think the highest I threw was 87 [mph]. The highest. Average 85. Twenty years old. One hundred sixty-nine [pounds] soaking wet. And they signed me.
“There’s no way in heaven that a scout sees someone today, at this time, throwing 87 the highest, average at 85, 20 years old, 169 pounds, and you would sign him. I’d say, ‘No, my son, you need to go and learn a trade because if you want to be a mechanic, that’s what you’re going to do.’ Because in baseball, you’d have no shot. That’s what someone will tell you today.”
The Yankees gave Rivera a $2,000 signing bonus to commit to them in 1990. Consider that Ken Griffey Jr., who posted the previous best-ever percentage on the writers’ ballot (99.32 percent) before Rivera scored 100 percent, turned professional in 1987, as the first-overall pick of the amateur draft for a signing bonus of $160,000 with the Mariners.
“All of a sudden, I’m throwing 90, 92, 94,” Rivera said. “I got surgery [to clean out his right elbow in 1992], came back from that, 96, 98.”
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