It’s a first-time honor in the baseball world. It didn’t fall to Babe Ruth. Not Hank Aaron. Not Cy Young. But New York Yankee Mariano “The Sandman” Rivera became baseball’s first unanimous Hall of Fame selection in January.
Relief pitcher Rivera received all 425 votes to be elected to the prestigious Hall of Fame. Two years ago, Ken Griffey, Jr., received 437 of 440 ballots cast for the same entry.
Rivera said the unanimous vote was “beyond my imagination.”
The Sandman and three other baseball greats—Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, and the late Roy Hallady—will be enshrined at Cooperstown on July 21.
What makes Rivera worthy of the honor? Rivera is baseball’s career saves leader with 652 games. He won five World Series over 19 seasons with the Yankees. He was always at his best in October—the month that makes or breaks Series contenders.
Rivera grew up in Panama. He was the son of a fisherman. He played baseball with homemade equipment on the beach at low tide. Rivera recalls on his philanthropic foundation’s website that he wrapped tape around a bundle of fishing twine to form a ball. He and his friends used tree branches for bats and milk cartons for gloves. He was 12 years old when his father purchased his first leather baseball glove.
In 1990, Rivera signed with New York, but it wasn’t until 1995 when he made his major league debut. A year after that, at age 26, he emerged as one of the game’s best relief pitchers. He played on the Yankees’ “dream team” that included Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, and Jorge Posada.
The Yankees didn’t even wait for Rivera’s final game to retire his number—42. Rivera was the last player in the majors to wear that number. In 1997, No. 42 was retired in honor of Jackie Robinson—another Hall of Famer and the first black major league player. Rivera was already wearing the number at that time. He was “grandfathered” in to continue wearing it until his retirement. From this point forward, Major League Baseball will see no other No. 42.
The significance is not lost on Rivera.
“Wearing No. 42, representing Jackie Robinson,” Rivera says, “to be the last No. 42 elected to the Hall of Fame, and unanimously, is amazing.”
Rivera is personally dedicated to advancing educational opportunities for impoverished youth. He says he will use his retirement years to promote “schooling, sports, and spirituality” through the Mariano Rivera Foundation.