Mariano Rivera recorded his 600th save on Tuesday night, which leaves him one save shy of Trevor Hoffman's all-time record. Besides comporting himself with class, dignity and humility, Rivera's most important feature is his unhittable cut fastball. There's no pitch in baseball like it. He's a one-trick pony but his one trick is better than anybody else's trick, and now he's on the verge of setting an all-time baseball record. And his manager, Joe Girardi, recently wondered why there isn't more hoopla surrounding the event. Why no Derek Jeter-like pomp and circumstance? Well, the answer is pretty easy, and here are a few reasons why parades aren't being thrown for the Great Mariano -- though none of them have anything to do with Rivera himself.
Reason number one is most likely because the save is a fairly ridiculous statistic. A reliever can cough up two runs on four hits and a couple of walks and walk off the mound with a save. Over the decades, baseball is littered with average-talented relievers who, nonetheless, have piled up saves. It's a modern phenomenon, created by sportswriter Jerome Holtzman in 1959 (and became an official MLB stat in 1969), made up of somewhat random criteria that often rewards mediocrity. There's nothing wishy-washy about other all-time stat leaders or achievements: 3,000 hits is 3,000 hits, Tris Speaker's 792 doubles are not in doubt and a home run is a home run (well, actually what today is a ground-rule double was once considered to be a home run, but that's a story for another day). Celebrating the save is almost the equivalent of celebrating the all-time Quality Starts leader. And there's not much romance in that.
Another possible explanation why Rivera's impending moment is flying under the radar is the fact that there's no "Cy Young of Saves," with no magic number attached to it. With all due respect to Trevor Hoffman, he's no Cy Young. There's no old-time legend, who generations of fans have watched, read about and revered, who held the record for decades. No Joe DiMaggio and 56. No Roger Maris and 61. No Babe Ruth and 60/714. No Pete Rose and 4,256. No Hank Aaron and 755.
A final reason is that the save record has been broken many times over the past 30 or 40 years, and, again, the save is still relatively new. In the old, olden days, "relief pitcher" was just a euphemism for "not good enough to start." Sure, there was the odd Hoyt Wilhelm here or Joe Page there, but it wasn't until the 1960s and '70s and the era of the fireman when relievers became stars. And guys like Rollie Fingers, Sparky Lyle and Goose Gossage served as closer, setup man and everything in between all by themselves. It wasn't until well into the 1980s and even '90s that managers became slaves to the save stat, which wholly affected their strategic thinking, with the result being that saves are easier to acquire now and have become devalued. John McGraw, Casey Stengel, Gil Hodges and Earl Weaver probably couldn't imagine saving their best reliever for when his team had a lead in the ninth inning.
When anyone piles up 600 of anything, it's impressive, but we'll never know how Rivera would have done if he had to pitch 120 or 130 innings per year. Or how those extra innings would have affected his postseason greatness. Or if another 500 innings were tacked onto his career totals if he'd still be pitching today. But what we do know is that Mariano Rivera is without a doubt the greatest relief pitcher of the modern era of relief specialization of the last 25 years. He's special and is the best ever at what he does, which will earn him a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and his 602nd save will be tangible evidence of his greatness however we view the statistic of the save.