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OK, it is possible to overhype Mariano Rivera

Sep 15, 2011, 2:00 PM EDT

Mariano Rivera Reuters

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.

  1. presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    Which is worse, the practice Craig mentions at the end of his post, or the “everything was so much better when…” Golden-Age-that-never-was nostalgifying?

    I don’t know what my answer is to this question, but I’ve had enough of all of it. Maybe Kernan would have been better off comparing position players to position players, pitchers to pitchers, and even there, it might be better not to compare starters to relievers. It just becomes kind of ridiculous trying to cross-quantify the relative merits and value of all of these roles.

    • presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:19 PM

      Mickey who? I’ll tell you one thing: Pretzels Getzien never would have gone out drinking the night before a game!

  2. Jeff J. Snider - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:12 PM

    How does Ryan Howard not make the list???

    • phukyouk - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:21 PM

      i did some research into this. it seems, as unfair as it may be, that in order to make the all time list of Yankees you actually had to have been ON the Yankees at some point, not just play against them. I know… I know… they are a bunch of fascists.. but dont thumbs down me… Im just the messenger.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:34 PM

        OK, fine. Chase Utley then.

      • Jeff J. Snider - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:37 PM

        That’s ridiculous! That’s like saying Willie Mays can’t be on the list of best shortstops just because he wasn’t a shortstop! If he HAD been a shortstop, he would have been the best ever, so put him on the list! And if Ryan Howard had played for the Yankees, not only would he be on the list, but they wouldn’t be wasting so much money on Teixeira. So as it stands right now, I’d put Howard at #3. But if he had actually played for them, he’s probably #1 because of the money saved. Babe Ruth never saved them money — he cost $100,000, which is (I just looked it up) equal to $600,000,000,000 in today’s money. Which is what Ryan Howard is worth. FULL CIRCLE!

  3. zakharovsa - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:17 PM

    Kevin Kernan is a known idiot who also tweeted this during the Yanks/Mariners game:

    “Ackley caught lookin’ — We have created a generation of hitters who don’t swing the bat with RISP. Thanks Moneyball GMs”

    There are a few good writers in the NY area, but most are light years behind the times.

  4. yankeesfanlen - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    I would not put Mo in front of Wjitey Ford, either.
    AND (genuflect) LEAVE MICKEY MANTLE ALONE!!!

    • The Baseball Idiot - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:46 PM

      Where’s the love for Yogi?

      • Kevin S. - Sep 15, 2011 at 4:36 PM

        Not in the Pestilence this morning. None of Sherman, Vaccaro and Kernan had him in their top fives. Sherman’s was at least sane and defensible, though.

  5. dailyrev - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:20 PM

    Verducci’s column actually addresses this issue of forced, idle, and frankly stupid rankings:

    What is it about sports that motivate us to turn artistry into bland ordinals? Was Montana better than Unitas? Mays better than Aaron? Sampras better than Federer? Do people sit on barstools and think they can rank poets, composers or Rennaissance painters? The folly of drawing fine line distinctions never occurs to those certain to possess the “right” answer in the measurement of beauty.

    Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/tom_verducci/09/13/mariano.rivera/index.html#ixzz1Y2x9yUov

    • presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:30 PM

      I once broke a bottle on a guy’s head for implying El Greco was better than Fra Angelico.

    • thefalcon123 - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:57 PM

      1. Sports can be won or lost…art can’t (unless it’s an art show or the Oscars…see #2).

      2. Yes, people do say one piece of art is better than another, compare and rank them. Has Verducci never seen High Fidelity?

  6. dailyrev - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    One funny thing about SI’s treatment of this “Mo-ment”: Verducci quotes Plato; Posnanski’s column contains an epigraph from Hemingway. Maybe it’s merely an effort by these writers to mirror the consistency, flow, and classic, near-perfect artistry of their subject: they go back to the classics to find their metaphor.

  7. martywinn - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:38 PM

    I think you have to put Yogi Berra ahead of Mo on this list too.

  8. southofheaven81 - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:44 PM

    I’ve said this before, but…There’s 2 Yankees ever that were better than anyone in baseball at the job they did. Babe Ruth was one. Mariano Rivera was the other. If I’m putting together a Yankee dream team, first I’m making sure Ruth is batting cleanup, then I’m making sure Mo is in the bullpen. Wins above replacement and all that crap is nice, but rather than measuring Mo against other Yankees, measure him against every person who has ever done his job, ever. He’s #1, which makes him an all time top 5 Yankee.

    • nategearhart - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:53 PM

      Yeah but…the whole idea of the list is to measure all the Yankees against each other. If Antonio Alfonseca has no hope of making the list of 5 Greatest Yankees, then there’s no need to compare Mo to him for the purpose of THIS list.

    • lardin - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:01 PM

      Its a nice thought, but wrong. The five greatest Yankees of all time are: Ruth, Gerhig, Dimaggio, Mantle and Berra. The Five greatest Yankees of all time, are five of the greatest players in the history of the sport. All 5 are among the top 3 or 4 at their positions. Numbers three, four and five all have more rings then MO. There is no shame in not being one of the five greatest Yankees of all time. It is a nearly impossible list to crack. Even Saint Derek Jeter does not make the list.

    • buddaley - Sep 15, 2011 at 4:42 PM

      Yes, and I would then make Frank Crosetti my 3rd base coach, but that would not qualify him to be an all-time top 5 Yankee. Rivera is the best 1 inning (basically) closer ever, but he is not the best 2+ inning closer ever nor is he among the top 5 or 10 best pitchers ever. If I create my all-time team and put Gossage on it, I don’t need Rivera at all. Rivera was great-the greatest-at what he did, but what he did was less important to the team’s success than what Mantle, Berra, Jeter and for that matter just about any position player or starter did.

  9. thefalcon123 - Sep 15, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    Umm…let’s see,

    Great reliever > 3rd greatest center fielder of all time? (or fourth if you feel I’m slighting Tris Speaker here)
    Great reliever > 2nd greatest catcher of all time (or 1st, you’re call)?

    I love how one doesn’t have to know anything about baseball to get paid to write about it.

    • thefalcon123 - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:00 PM

      And since when is Jeter better than Mantle? Hell, since when is DiMaggio better than Mantle?!?

      • lardin - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:07 PM

        Whether Dimaggio is better then Mantle of Mantle is better then Dimaggio is a very hard argument. Considering the Dimaggio lost time in MLB to serving his country. Mantle hand more power and speed, Dimaggio was the better overall hitter and defender. Mantle played 6 more seasons then Dimaggio. Mantle had a career WAR of 120.2 which averages 6.67 per season. Dimaggios career WAR was 83.6 which averages 6.43. Mantle might be slighty better. But Dimaggio gave up three years in the middle of his career.

    • Matt D. - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:31 PM

      For the record, I’m not really disagreeing with you. Top 5 Yankees all-time is a tough list to crack, and Mo probably doesn’t make it (although I love the guy enough to understand why someone would want him to), but I think it would at least be fair to discuss him in similar terms to the other players you mention. “Greatest reliever of all time” seems a more accurate moniker than just “great reliever.” Doesn’t change your point, of course, but it at least gives Mo his due.

    • southofheaven81 - Sep 15, 2011 at 4:10 PM

      Not “great reliever.” “GreatEST reliever.”

      • normb11 - Sep 15, 2011 at 5:28 PM

        GreatEST reliever ever isn’t as great as the 3rd best CF or the 5th best catcher.
        -
        Would you take the greatest place kicker over the 3rd greatest running back?

  10. deathmonkey41 - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    In the end, it really doesn’t matter because God hates us all.

    • southofheaven81 - Sep 15, 2011 at 4:09 PM

      Hey! That’s my line :-D

  11. sdelmonte - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:10 PM

    And what about Paul O’Neill? Everyone likes Paul O’Neill. I’m a Mets fan, I like him, so he must be one of the greatest Yankees of all time.

    Of all time.

  12. yankeesfanlen - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    What is wrong with you people?

    The square root of pi is 1.772
    The 1965 Ford 390 V-8 put out 357 bhp @ 3600 rpm.
    The First State is Delaware
    The highest grossing movie of all time adjusted for inflation is “Gone With The Wind”
    A bat can consume 10,000 mosquitoes a night
    I like cake
    The GDP of all African nations is less than California’s.
    Blue is the color for baby boys, pink for girls.
    You need to arrive 2 hours before your scheduled flight.

    So, as you can plainly see

    MICKEY MANTLE IS THE GREATEST BASEBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME!

    • jimbo1949 - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:43 PM

      you’ve blinded me with science

      • purnellmeagrejr - Sep 16, 2011 at 8:22 AM

        Perhaps in a universe where there was no Willie Mays.

  13. Kevin S. - Sep 15, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    And you know what was really effed up about Kernan’s column? The fact that he wrote it as if Mo breaking the mythic 600 save barrier is what launched him in front of Mantle. What, Mantle was better as of Tuesday afternoon?

  14. meyerwolf - Sep 16, 2011 at 4:23 AM

    One of the comments over there sums up my thoughts on his article:

    landmark95 (signed in using Yahoo)
    After reading this pile of drivel, I have now placed Kevin Kernan in my Top Five worst writers of all time. My apologies to the author of Mein Kampf, (who now falls to sixth all-time).

    • purnellmeagrejr - Sep 16, 2011 at 8:37 AM

      “After reading this pile of drivel, I have now placed Kevin Kernan in my Top Five worst writers of all time. My apologies to the author of Mein Kampf, (who now falls to sixth all-time).”

      People that post on Hardball Talk are much wittier than people that post about Michelle Bachmann/Obama.

  15. purnellmeagrejr - Sep 16, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    Though it doesn’t apply going back in time to rate Rivera’s value assume a correlation between pay and performance – I did a quick check on salaries and Mariano is 13th in average annual salary. Of course, you have to throw out Zito and A.J. Burnett and Zambrano because there are instances where a player gets a ridiculous contract. That places Mariano neat the bottom of the top ten. I cn already hear Yankee fans yelping at this analysis.

    By the way to place Jeter above Mantle is asinine.

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