As a Red Sox fan, I can understand the desire to dislike every single Yankees player. It’s why I got a kick out of Robert Bradford writing a story for WEEI about how Manny Machado going to New York would be good for Boston as it’d give folks someone to hate on the Yankees’ roster. But even this Boston fan knows claiming Mariano Rivera doesn’t belong in Cooperstown is simply ridiculous.
Rivera is arguably the best reliever in Major League history and will likely receive almost unanimous support while making his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. He’s received the vote of everyone who’s already cast their 2019 ballot, but I have to say almost because Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram has created quite a stir in the baseball community by announcing he doesn’t think the Sandman should be enshrined in the Hall.
While trying to justify his position, Ballou makes all sorts of claims that have been largely mocked by other, more well known and respected, baseball writers. First, he claims that “closers are naked emperors” and that the save “is the lowest-hanging fruit on the game’s statistical tree.” In other words, he thinks closers have huge egos but aren’t really anything special and the save is overrated.
In what was probably the most direct attack on Rivera, Ballou claimed the Sandman’s stats were overly inflated because he primarily only pitched one inning and came in with nobody on base. The scribe suggested that if he was really a great pitcher, the Yankees would have brought him in when the bases were loaded and no outs in the seventh inning. Or had him being a starter — a move that Ballou suggested mockingly because he thought batters would “figure out [his] weaknesses.”
As part of his reasoning behind why closers and the save are supposedly overrated, Ballou points to Craig Kimbrel’s performance during last year’s playoffs. I can see where he’s going with this since Kimbrel didn’t have his best stuff in the postseason and still went a perfect six for six in save opportunities, but that doesn’t diminish the role of the closer. Boston’s closer was still able to get out of jams and make sure the Red Sox won.
If you need an example of how a closer who can’t get out of jams is a big negative, just look at the devastating impact Drew Storen’s epic collapse in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS had on Washington’s playoff dreams. Storen’s a solid reliever and was one of my favorite players when he was with the Nationals, but he simply couldn’t fully step it up when the pressure was on. It’s a shame, but illustrates how you need someone who’s clutch and can be counted on in the pressure filled ninth inning — especially in the postseason.
Perhaps trying to gain some support among Boston fans and realizing that simply bashing Kimbrel won’t convince many people, Ballou went on to use some quotes from former Red Sox manager Terry Francona in a desperate attempt to backup his argument. During the 2017 Boston Baseball writers annual dinner, Francona apparently said he thought teams might change how they use relievers if the rules around the save changed. The skipper additionally said he doesn’t “blame guys for wanting to close games” due to “the way salaries are structured.” All that might be true, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that Rivera was one of the best (if not the best) pitchers in baseball.
Ballou tried to use comments made by a few other players, executives, and analysts to further argue that closers are important, but none of them were convincing and they failed to show why Rivera shouldn’t be on his way to Cooperstown. In fact, it simply made him look like a cranky old man who longed for the days when starters pitched a bunch of complete games and players he deemed irrelevant didn’t receive attention.
What makes you really throw up your hands in disgust is that after making such an effort to diminish the impact an extremely classy and talented man had on the game of baseball, Ballou ended his article by saying he wasn’t going to cast his ballot at all because he didn’t want to “deny Rivera a chance to be the first unanimous Hall of Famer.” In other words, he wanted to bash the guy but apparently didn’t have the courage to officially be on record supporting his claims. It’s an utter shame Ballou covers the Red Sox for a newspaper in Massachusetts and therefore might taint Boston fans with his severely misguided sentiments.