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No Athlete, Not Even Jordan, Was Better At His Job Than Mariano Rivera

Rivera has had a near-perfect career.

By Rob Parker May 23, 2013, 08:49 AM EST

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Mariano Rivera is the best.

Not just the best closer. Not even the best baseball player.

Rivera is the best athlete at doing his job; better than any player of our generation, including Michael Jordan.

Yep.

Don’t flinch or cry blasphemy.

Jordan was great. Rivera is the greatest. There’s a big difference between the two.

And this isn’t about bashing Jordan, who was an unparalleled winner in his star-studded career. Hard to argue against six-for-six in championships and winning all six Finals MVPs, as Jordan did.

Still, what Rivera did throughout his long career with the New York Yankees is unprecedented. It’s never been done before.

Better yet, sports fans will probably never see such a performance again.

This isn’t just about saves, getting three outs.

No one has ever dominated a sport from start to finish the way Rivera has. He’s been the Yankees’ closer since 1997, saving an MLB record 625 games. He’s a 12-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion.

No player has ever gotten selected into the Baseball Hall of Fame unanimously by the writers. Honestly, Rivera has that chance five years after his retirement following this season. 

No one has ever had a perfect career, but this is as close as you can get.

Even in his final chapter, Rivera, 43, is going out the way he came in – dominating. Coming into Wednesday night, Rivera was a perfect 17-for-17 in save opportunities. It’s one of the reasons the Yankees, picked to finish last in the American League East by many experts, are instead in first place with the third-best record in all of baseball.

It’s an incredible story, especially when you consider Mo missed most of 2012 with a torn ACL in his right knee.

At the time, Rivera vowed not to go out like that and that he would return for a final season. No one could have expected it to be his second-best start to a season in his career.

Players couldn’t hit Rivera at age 25 in 1995, and still can’t 19 seasons later.

Even Jordan wasn’t Jordan his final two seasons in the NBA. Remember, Jordan’s Washington Wizards didn’t even make the playoffs those two forgetful seasons.

So many have started careers that looked to be Hall of Fame-making only to fizzle out eight, nine years in.

Rivera has been the model of consistency in a position where guys come and go with regularity because it’s hard to succeed in such a pressure-packed situation night after night. Yet, that’s Rivera’s M.O. The man holds so many records that it’s almost hard to count.

Still, the two most impressive ones are that he has the lowest career ERA (2.20) and lowest career WHIP (1.00) in the history of the game in the live-ball era.

Rivera – basically a one-pitch pitcher, with the cutter – has saved at least 25 games in 15 consecutive seasons and posted an ERA of under 2.00 in 11 seasons; both, records.

More importantly, when it’s time to perform on the biggest stage in the postseason, no one has been better than Rivera.

The right-hander has 42 saves and a stingy 0.70 ERA; both are playoff records.

Baseball’s closer is the toughest job in sports – not kicker, not goalie. There were so many nights Jordan had an easy go of it, running over all the also-rans in the NBA.

Rivera basically faced a pressure situation every time he entered the game.

Even Jordan had to evolve. First from a player to a shooter, not just a dunker. As a defender, not just a scorer. Secondly, Jordan had to become a closer, a champion; it wasn’t from Day 1.

For Rivera, it was immediate, starting with his breakout set-up-man season that helped the Yankees win the 1996 World Series.  

And for all those crying foul during the Steroid Era, Rivera not only played in the peak of it, but dominated those players who some claim had an advantage taking PEDs.

One last thing: Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, couldn’t make it to the majors when he gave baseball a shot.

MJ learned the hardest thing to do in sports is hitting a baseball.

What we’ve learned this last generation in sports is that the hardest man to ever go up against with the game on the line is Rivera.

No athlete has ever performed on his or her gig better or longer. Ever.

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Rob Parker is a Detroit-based columnist for The Shadow League. You can read his column every Thursday or when news breaks. You can hear him weeknights on The Fan, 1130AM WDFN and follow him at www.parkerandtheman.com and on twitter @robparkerlocal4.

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