OK, I lied. It is possible to overstate the Mariano Rivera love. Here’s Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, filling out his Top Five Yankees of All Time ballot. Note that he’s also filling out his column inches by needlessly including nicknames and descriptors of the most famous baseball players in history as if we didn’t know who they were, but that’s more of a print media criticism than a baseball analysis one.
Anyway, you may be surprised to see who he thinks Mariano Rivera is better than:
You have to start with Babe Ruth; forever he will be No. 1. The Iron Horse Lou Gehrig, who called himself the “luckiest man on the face of the Earth,” is next. No. 3 is Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. Then comes Derek Jeter, Mr. 3,000. Rounding out the Fantastic Five is the incomparable Mariano Rivera …It hurts deeply for a kid who grew up a Mickey Mantle fan to move The Mick out of the top five, but this is the new Yankees reality. Time marches on, and Mantle, for all his greatness, does not make my final-five cut. If he had stayed healthy, it would have been a different story. Go cry to Billy Crystal.
Look, Rivera may be better at his job than most other ballplayers have been better at their jobs, but let’s be clear about something: Mariano Rivera’s job was nowhere near as important to the wins and losses of the Yankees as Mickey Mantle’s was. You don’t need to go into advanced metrics to see this, and if you dispute it you simply don’t know what it takes to win baseball games.
If you’re not interested in the wins and losses and are looking for more of a zeitgeist thing — who meant more; who was greater in that oh-gee-whiz kind of way — well, you still have to go with Mantle. I mean, c’mon! He was the single most important Yankee to the entire Baby Boom’s worth of Yankees fans and has continued to be well past his retirement and death. Rivera has been one of a couple of key guys in the narrative for the past 15 years or so.
This is just an exercise in “that thing that just happened is the best thing that ever happened.” It’s also a reminder that you can overhype even the greatest stuff ever.