Last night, Mariano Rivera earned his 600th save. But as Kevin Kaduk of the Yahoo! Sports baseball blog “Big League Stew” points out, Rivera, his teammates and even the media didn’t make as big a deal out of the milestone as might have been expected. Sure, Rivera did embrace his teammates and shake hands with them after the Yankees’ win over the Seattle Mariners was finished. And to be sure, Rivera’s historic feat was featured prominently among the night’s highlights on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
But compared to the nonstop coverage leading up to, during and even immediately after Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit or Alex Rodriguez’s 600th home run, the general reaction to Rivera’s feat was more similar to that of Jim Thome hitting his 600th career HR while playing for the Minnesota Twins than Jeter’s recent milestone.
As Kaduk also mentions, there are a couple reasons for the subdued reaction. Rivera earned the save not only on the road but in Seattle, literally across the country from New York, with the game wrapping up after midnight in the Eastern Time Zone.
The second reason is that saves are one of the “old-fashioned” statistics that have lost some of their luster in the post-Moneyball era even though they haven’t been around relatively long anyhow. Scorekeepers have kept track of home runs and RBIs for well over a century but saves have only been an official MLB stastistic since 1969.
Also, Trevor Hoffmann became the first pitcher to reach 6oo saves literally one year ago this month and only earned one more save before retiring so Rivera earning save no. 602 will probably be a bigger deal than him earning save no 600.
But what strikes me as the most compelling reason for why Rivera’s quest for 600 saves didn’t inspire its own HBO documentary like Jeter’s quest for 3,000 hits is this: most baseball fans accept that Rivera is one of the best relievers in the game.
What I mean is that Rivera’s legendary. He was a member of all the late 1990’s/early 2000’s Yankees World Series-winning teams, he’s made the All-Star Game. And almost everyone, from the nerdiest stat geek to the crankiest traditional baseball fan and even Red Sox fans can acknowledge that he’s deserved most of the praise.
Jeter, on the other hand, because of his often praised hitting skills and often criticized defensive skills, is far more polarizing. To Yankees fans and traditionalists, he’s everything that’s right about the game. To Red Sox fans, certain stats fans and Yankees haters everywhere, he’s everything that’s overrated about the Bronx Bombers. I’m not saying either side is completely right, that’s just how people seem to view it.