“I think he has the single best pitch ever in the game.” –Jim Thome, 600 HR Club
Can you argue? With a cut fastball as his primary, secondary, and tertiary pitch (he’s thrown a 2-seam about 15% of the time for his career, and even less lately), Rivera has saved 600+ regular season games, 42 playoff games, won 5 rings, earned 12 All-Star appearances, and finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting four times.
How could Mo’s cutter not be the best pitch in the history of the game? Yes, the historians might throw out names like Koufax and his curveball, Bob Feller’s (alleged) 104 mph fastball, Nolan Ryan’s no-hit heater, and those are reasonable suggestions. Those pitches made each of those guys dominant starters, logging far more innings than Mo, and there’s definitely a valid argument there. (Note: For reference, Sandy Koufax threw 323 innings at age 30, his last season, and pitched to a 27-9 record and 1.73 ERA. Oh, and his arm was falling off.) However, all of those guys had complimentary pitches, whereas Mo has had one. Everybody in the ballpark knows what’s coming, and nobody has ever been able to hit it… OK, there was that one time. But who else has accomplished so much with one pitch? To look at it another way, lets look at all of the pitchers since 2007 (when Pitch F/X started tracking this) to throw a single pitch more than 80% of the time, just to see the caliber of pitcher that might surface:
- Bartolo Colon (Fastball, 84.7%)
- Matt Thornton (FB, 84.2%)
- Octavio Dotel (FB, 82.3%)
- Aaron Cook (FB, 80.3%)
- Tim Wakefield (Knuckleball, 84%)
Not to say they all haven’t had decent careers, but do we have any first balloters on that list? Aside from Colon, any real All-Star caliber guys? If those pitches are the competition, Mo’s cutter is the undisputed winner.
Nike PPro Gold Mo 42
Mariano’s consistency has carried over to his equipment as well. He’s worn the same Nike PPro Gold “Mo 42” as far back as 2005, with only minor aesthetic modifications. One element we’ve seen is his number (the last number 42 the MLB will ever see) on the wrist strap:
Pro Gold’s are very rare online, and your best bet is scouring eBay to score one. Back in the late 90s, Rivera showed us all the first glove he had ever used—gives you some perspective:
Rivera also wore a custom Rawlings “R42” early on in his career (not a lot of good shots of that one), as well as the Zett you see below, from 1998:
Mariano has also worn the same cleats since the beginning of his career, the Nike Cooperstown. In the feature you can see Mariano’s special edition Cooperstowns, commemorating his record-breaking 602nd save (courtesy of SoleCollector.com). Both his glove and cleats have always referenced the bible verse “Phil: 4:13” from the book of the Philippians, “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Here’s Mo in ’98, showing off his World Championship hops:
And a close-up of his 2008 version:
Though there is nothing like it available to us, the overall simplicity of the shoe makes it an icon in my eyes, and a perfect representation of Rivera’s legacy. Simplicity, humility, excellence.