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Peter Gammons: Best of this era? Try Rivera


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Best of the era? Try Rivera

posted: Friday, March 31, 2006

So, if the George Mitchell commission truly does its due diligence, putting the entire steroids era -- from the late 1980s in Oakland to the Rangers and Phillies of the early '90s to the blotch that is the post-strike era to what owners knew what and when, and whether owners aren't more culpable than players -- in its proper perspective, it might take us long past the Barry Bonds run to Henry Aaron, and whatever that now means.

And if we put what was once sport's most sacred record in the same category as the NHL assist mark, so be it. The fact that Bonds (third), Sammy Sosa (fifth), Mark McGwire (seventh) and Rafael Palmeiro (ninth) are at the top of the career home run leaderboard at worst depreciates the era's home run record.

If Bonds gets to No. 756, the record is his. No asterisk, perhaps little or no glory. In the real world, the record will not be about the romance of the game or fathers playing catch with their sons. It will be about greed, avarice, the hundred-something million Bonds made and the millions upon millions he made for the Giants, which includes his lasting legacy -- the best stadium in sports, which he built. In time, his legacy may stabilize, but at the present he has fanned the hysterical flames of the angry white faction in a sport whose (amateur) infrastructure has essentially closed the doors to African-Americans.

One can forever argue Bonds' place in baseball history. Yes, for nine years (1990-98) he was the best player in the game. Period. In an era when hundreds of hitters and pitchers were juiced, he was the best player.

But the public may never accept that, which raises the question: Who was the dominant figure of this era? Cases can be made for Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux (with Pedro Martinez not far behind), who in the five-man rotation, offensive era will be seventh and 10th all-time in wins -- presuming Maddux wins 12 more games.

Or one can make the argument for the most important Yankee of this glorious decade of four world championships, six pennants and nine first-place finishes, Mariano Rivera. In what is too often a slothful sports world, Rivera is the essence of elegance, like Sandy Koufax. He is always accountable. Modest. And, most of all, the model of reliability in a position that is the most difficult in terms of remaining reliable.

There is no question Rivera is the greatest reliever in the history of the sport, and what makes his 10-year record even greater is that, beginning as a rookie in 1995, he has pitched in 11 consecutive Octobers. Considering the most intense six-out work is always in September and October, to do what he has done is even more remarkable. In 1996, he was arguably the MVP setting up John Wetteland -- 107 2/3 IP, 73 H, 34 BB, 130 K. In the last nine seasons he has 374 saves. His postseason ERA is 0.81. 0.81.

Consider the volatility of the closer role. At this time last year, the White Sox had no idea Bobby Jenks would close out three October series and they have no idea today what he'll do this season. Eric Gagne became a dominant figure overnight, but the Dodgers don't know he'll be that good again.

Other than Rivera, how many closers are considered lockdowns for 2006? Frankie Rodriguez in Anaheim, Huston Street in Oakland, Brian Fuentes in Colorado, Trevor Hoffman in San Diego, Francisco Cordero in Texas, Brad Lidge in Houston, Joe Nathan in Minnesota, Billy Wagner in Queens, Jason Isringhausen in St. Louis and Chad Cordero in Washington.

And, in reality, the only guarantee for that group of 11 is that at least two will break down during the season. Check Wagner's finger.

Ryan Dempster has a great makeup and was dominant for the Cubs last season, but a sure thing? Jenks, Keith Foulke, Everyday Eddie Guardado, Armando Benitez, B.J. Ryan, Tom Gordon, Todd Jones, Derrick Turnbow and Bob Wickman sure things?

Most people in baseball think Arizona's Jose Valverde and Pittsburgh's Mike Gonzalez can be outstanding closers.

The Braves may have a 40-save closer in Oscar Villarreal, but they don't know. Ditto Chris Ray in Baltimore. Kansas City, Cincinnati, Florida and Tampa Bay will be works in progress.

Rivera is the definition of reliability in an unreliable role, the model of stability in a volatile era, the picture of modest distinction in an exhibitionist era and the most important player on the dominant team of the era.

He, not Bonds or any other slugger, deserves serious consideration as the poster boy of this era.

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Even when he's failed, he's been standup about it.

In Arizona it was 2 broken bat singles.

Vs. the Sawx itwas more like a freak occurence than a breakdown.

Only vs. the Indians in 1997 has he been really tagged in a big game.

When he finally does break down or retire, it will be impossible to replace him.And by all accounts as nice man as he is a pitcher. When Pedro Martinez came to the Mets, he had Rivera take him househunting and they're now neighbors during the season.

There was a book by Buster Olney about the 2001 season that really badmouthed him and mocked his deeply-held Christianity. And it's just about the most unfair and wrongheaded thing I've ever seen. This is the guy you knock? When you wonder why so many people don't like or trust the press think about that.

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It's not even like there's a close 2nd. The guy has been the best stopper in MLB using one pitch and a sub 1.00 ERA in the post season. Trying to put anybody else in his class is just silly. IF Barry were not on the juice the top three of this era would be .

1. Barry

2. Mo

3. Brandon Lyon

However, with Barry being all roided up, Mo and Lyon stand as the two best players many of us have ever seen or will ever see.

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