Mariano Rivera or Derek Jeter? Which of these two current New York Yankee icons is higher on the franchise's list of all-time greats?
For me, the answer is simple. Rivera. No contest.
As great as Jeter is, and as much as he has meant to the Yankees, the last 15 years of Yankee baseball have been about one thing, and one thing only. Get the ball to Rivera with a lead, then wait for John Sterling to start screeching "Yankees win ... Theeeeeeee Yankees win."
Jeter is the Captain. Rivera has been, and still is, the Most Important Yankee.
Of course, to be fair we have to examine this question in much greater detail. Let's do that.
Both players arrived on the Yankee scene in 1995. Jeter played in 15 games, hitting just .250. He would take over as the starting shortstop in 1996. Rivera went 5-3 with a 5.51 ERA in 19 games, 10 of which were starts. In those short stints neither really gave an indication of the greatness they would begin to display in 1996, and the powerful era of Yankee baseball they were about to lead.
Jeter has long been acknowledged as the Captain, the leader, the symbol of all the Yankees did right during the championship years, and a player who has always been at his best when it has meant the most.
Argue about his defense and you can be picky and say he hasn't hit with enough power, but you can't argue about his value to the Yankees and how important he has been to all the winning they have done during his time in pinstripes.
Oh, and he is en route to putting together an offensive resume that will put him among the greatest to ever play once he is finished.
Let's look at his numbers.
- He has 2,624 hits and is headed toward becoming the first Yankee in the glorious history of the franchise to get 3,000 hits as a Yankee. He needs just 97 more to tie Lou Gehrig for the all-time franchise lead. Some have speculated he could reach 4,000 if he is willing to play long enough.
- Fourth in franchise history in doubles, just behind Don Mattingly and just ahead of Babe Ruth.
- Fifth in franchise history with a .316 career batting average.
- Tenth in franchise history in RBI, and is just 158 away from 6th.
- Fourth in franchise history behind Ruth, Gehrig and Mickey Mantle in runs scored.
- Seventh in franchise history in extra-base hits.
- Fifth in franchise history behind Joe DiMaggio in total bases.
- Second in franchise history behind Rickey Henderson in stolen bases. He has 292, and could well get to Henderson's 326.
I was just an 8-year-old kid when Mantle retired, and I have no recollection of ever seeing him play. With apologies to Mattingly, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson and anyone else you can name, that makes Jeter the greatest Yankee position player of my lifetime.
It has been a treat to watch him play, and I am fortunate to have witnessed his greatness.
Just not as fortunate as I have been to witness the greatness of Rivera.
WFAN's Sweeny Murti wrote Monday that Rivera's impact on the Yankees is rivaled only by that of Babe Ruth.
The Yankees don't win four World Series titles in five years if Mariano Rivera is not their closer. If the Yankees don't win four World Series titles in five years they don't draw 3-4 million fans every year for the last decade. If the Yankees don't win four World Series titles in five years and draw 3-4 million fans every year for the last decade they don't erect that shiny new building that in the Bronx.
Almost ninety years ago the Yankees imported Babe Ruth from Boston and the fortunes of the franchise changed forever. They built a spectacular new stadium that came to be known as the House That Ruth Built. Mariano Rivera's arrival was less heralded, but has his status as the greatest closer in history been any less important to this franchise?
At first blush, you might think Murti's is an outlandish statement. Think about it, though, and it is hard to argue with. Everything the Yankees have done since 1996 has been about getting the ball to Rivera -- and the championships, huge surge in attendance and the new Stadium don't happen without him.
Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Berra, Jackson and even Jeter can't match that kind of an impact. As great as Jeter has been I am pretty sure the Yankees could have found another shortstop. Maybe even the guy currently playing third base. But, find another Rivera? Sorry, no chance.
Let's list the numbers.
- The 500 career saves, of course.
- A 2.30 career ERA.
- An ERA+ of 197, easily the best of any pitcher in history. Pedro Martinez is second at 154. The 197 means Rivera's ERA is 97% better than league average for his career.
- The post-season greatness, with 34 saves, an ERA of 0.77 and an 8-1 record.
The numbers, though, don't tell the whole story of Rivera. The fact that after 15 years it is still a stunner when he fails tells part of the story. The respect he gets from everyone who has ever faced him, played with him or dealt with him tells part of the story. The World Series titles, individual milestones and the new Yankee Stadium tell part of the story.
It is, all in all, an amazing story.
In this 'Rivera vs. Jeter' debate I think Rivera is the winner. In a landslide.