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Mariano Rivera's historic Hall of Fame election a credit to his ability, class

Baseball's all-time saves leader was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as the first-ever unanimous selection, it was announced on Tuesday.

Mariano Rivera helped the Yankees win five World

Mariano Rivera helped the Yankees win five World Series crowns during his 19-year major-league career. Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

For generations, unanimous election to the Baseball Hall of Fame seemed impossible. 

Nine men felt the mighty Hank Aaron wasn't worthy of their votes in 1982. Babe Ruth, whose star shined brighter in his day than perhaps any other ballplayer in any era, was left off 11 ballots during the first-ever vote in 1936. Three years ago, Ken Griffey Jr. looked poised to finally garner every last vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America; he fell three short.

In the end, it was Mariano Rivera who achieved perfection. That's old hat for the greatest closer in baseball history.

The pursuit of consistent greatness is a white whale in baseball. Yet Mo, baseball's all-time leader in saves, managed to wrangle the metaphorical Moby Dick all the same. Since moving to the bullpen full time in 1996, the year after his rookie campaign, Rivera never produced a bad season. Just about all of his 19 years with the New York Yankees could be best described as anywhere from very good to transcendent.

As much as Rivera controlled opposing batters in the eighth and ninth innings — notably via his vaunted cutter — consensus support among the electorate was out of his hands. As hopeful, at times confident, as Yankees fans have been that Mo would be the man to break the barrier, the decision was left to the same body that produced three "no" votes for Griffey in 2016.

Those three voters remain at large, choosing to keep their ballots private even as the hard-working crew at the Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Tracker managed to aggregate 75.1 percent of the 2018 ballots. Although a few of these ballots were listed anonymously, the trend indicates a vast majority of BBWAA writers are willing to publicly attach themselves to their voting record.

This time, there's no need to hide. Every voter can hold their head high knowing Mo made it to Cooperstown entirely unimpeded. 

It's not just the record 652 saves that make him worthy of such a distinction. It's not the glowing 2.21 ERA, either; nor the all-time best 205 ERA+, the 13 All-Star selections. It goes beyond the five World Series championships, the 1999 World Series MVP and the sterling 0.99 World Series ERA (0.70 overall in the postseason). 

Even as a relief pitcher, a role that in today's bullpen-centric modern game can be dismissed as one for "failed starters," Rivera's prowess on the mound would not be ignored. As much as critics like Bill Ballou of the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Massachusetts — Boston Red Sox country, notably — denigrate the save as a viable statistic, even he had a change of heart and submitted a vote for Mo.

With Rivera, stats are only part of the story. His character and professionalism — the way he represented his sport, his team and himself for more than two decades in the public eye — are revered in baseball circles. When Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling are denied entry to Cooperstown, clearly over perceived deficiencies among the electorate by this measure, the opposite buoys the unassuming Rivera. As sports folks like to say, "he played the game the right way."

It's only fitting Rivera was the last man to regularly wear No. 42, the number retired leaguewide in honor of the pioneering Jackie Robinson in 1997, during Mo's third MLB campaign. Rachel Robinson, the Hall of Famer's widow, said the great Yankees closer had "worn the number with class and dignity."

"I'm sure if Jack had seen you play," she told those in attendance while Rivera was bestowed the ROBIE Humanitarian Award at the Jackie Robinson Foundation Annual Awards Dinner in 2014, "he would have been proud to have had his number worn by you."

As "Enter Sandman" prepares to enter the Hall, Tuesday's announcement is just another reminder that Rivera is the gold standard to whom ballplayers ought to aspire.

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