Mariano Rivera has saved more games than anyone else in major-league baseball history.
Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Mariano Rivera: 10 things to know about baseball’s new Hall of Famer

Mariano Rivera’s election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday was never in doubt. The right-hander was the major leagues’ all-time saves leader with 652 during the regular season and 43 during the playoffs and World Series.

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The only mystery was whether Rivera would become the first player unanimously elected to baseball’s shrine, and that question was solved Tuesday night when he gained 100 percent of the vote.

Call it Mo-nanimous.

Rivera pitched 19 seasons in the major leagues and had an 82-60 record and a 2.21 ERA. He pitched in seven World Series, 16 American League Divisional Series and nine A.L. Championship Series, going 8-1 with an 0.70 ERA.

Here are some things to know about “Mo”:

Highest percentages: Rivera is among an elite class of Hall of Famers in terms of votes received. Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. came the closest to receiving 100 percent of the votes among Hall of Fame voters. Griffey, elected in 1996, received 437 out of 440 votes cast – a 99.32 percentage. Griffey broke the record set in 1992 by pitcher Tom Seaver, who was listed on 425 of 430 ballots – a 98.84 percentage. Rounding out the top five before this year were pitcher Nolan Ryan, with 98.79 percent in 1999 (491 out 497 ballots cast); infielder Cal Ripken Jr., with 98.53 percent in 2007 (537 out 545 ballots); and outfielder Ty Cobb, elected in the inaugural class of 1936, who pulled 98.23 percent of the votes (222 out of 226 cast).

What an investment: The New York Yankees signed Rivera, then 20, as an amateur free agent on Feb. 17, 1990, for $2,000. Born in Panama, Rivera spoke no English and had never been on a plane or away from his home country. In his 2014 book, “The Closer,” Rivera writes that before he signed a professional baseball contract, the longest trip he had ever made was a six-hour drive to the border of Costa Rica. 

Family days: Rivera was born Nov. 29, 1969, in Panama City, Panama. His childhood nickname was Pili, given to him by his sister, Delia, when he was a baby. “Nobody knows why,” Rivera writes in his book. Rivera dropped out of school when he was in the ninth grade at Pedro Pablo Sanchez High School in La Chorrera, Panama. Rivera’s father, Mariano Rivera Sr., was a captain on a commercial fishing boat in Puerto Caimito, on which the younger Mariano worked six days a week, Sports Illustrated reported. Rivera’s father bought him his first glove when he was 12, the magazine reported. He did not start pitching until he was 19. 

Theme song: When Rivera entered a game at Yankee Stadium, the public address announcer would play Metallica’s 1991 song “Enter Sandman” as his theme song. In a video interview Friday with MLB.com, Rivera told his former teammate and manager, Joe Girardi, that he would have never chosen that song from the heavy metal group as his introduction.

“If that was me, I would have never picked that song,” Rivera said. “It would’ve been Christian music. It would have been something that put people to sleep.”

In “The Closer,” Rivera writes that he would have preferred “Onward Christian Soldiers,” but “I don’t think that would’ve flown.” Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” was used for a while, but then Mike Luzzi, a Yankee Stadium operations worker, came up with the Metallica song and began playing it during the 1999 season.

"We needed something cooler, more ominous," Luzzi told MLB.com in 2011. "Our job was to try and get the building rocking. The gist of it worked, beginning to put the other club to sleep.”

By the way, Rivera has never been to a Metallica concert.

Good teacher: Rivera’s first pitching coach in the minor leagues, with the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 1990, was Hoyt WilhelmSports Illustrated reported.

In 1985, Wilhelm was the first relief pitcher elected to the Hall of Fame and was the first official all-time saves leader with 228

Under Wilhelm’s tutelage, Rivera had a 5-1 record and 0.17 ERA for the GCL Yankees, allowing one earned run in 52 innings of work. He struck out 58 batters and walked seven.

Shaky debut: Rivera made his major-league debut on May 23, 1995, starting against the Angels in Anaheim, California, according to Retrosheet. Rivera opened the game by striking out the first two batters he faced, Tony Phillips and Jim Edmonds. It went downhill from there, as Rivera allowed eight hits and earned five runs in 3 1/3 innings before being replaced by Bob Macdonald in the fourth inning. The Angels won the game 10-0.

Out of the bullpen: Rivera made his first career relief appearance on Aug. 1, 1995, at Yankee Stadium, according to Retrosheet. He entered the game in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers, with New York leading 3-2. The first batter he faced was catcher Mike Matheny, who grounded the ball back to Rivera for an easy out. It got more difficult, as Rivera lost the lead and allowed three hits and three runs. However, Rivera earned the victory after the Yankees scored three runs to regain the lead in the seventh inning, winning 7-5.

First save: For a guy who is the all-time saves leader, Rivera did not earn his first save until May 17, 1996, against the Angels, according to Retrosheet. That was because the Yankees had John Wetteland as their closer, and the right-hander had 31 saves in 1995 and 43 in 1996 as the team’s top reliever. Against the Angels, Rivera pitched the ninth inning of the Yankees’ 8-5 victory, allowing one hit and striking out one batter. He got Garret Anderson to ground into a game-ending double play to nail down the save.

The last 42: Rivera was the last major-leaguer to wear No. 42, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball retired the number on April 15, 1997, to honor the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Commissioner Bud Selig ruled that any players wearing the number at the time of the announcement could continue to wear it. Rivera wore the number until he retired after the 2013 season.

That cutter: Rivera’s cut fastball was his bread-and-butter pitch. Batters knew what was coming but could rarely do anything with it.

“He had other pitches, too, but the cutter was his bread and butter,” Jason Giambi told Fox Sports in 2011. “He was throwing saw blades up there, chewing up bats.”

"I don't use the same bat that I've been playing good with because chances are real high" it's going to get broken, Carl Crawford told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "So, I just take an old, cheap bat that I don't really care about (to the plate).”

"Hitters know what's coming and still they can't put a good (swing) on the ball,” Rivera told the Times in 2013. “Thank God for that."

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