Award names will add to legacies of Mo, Hoffman
Top reliever in each league will receive trophy honoring legendary closers
NEW YORK -- So the best part of this whole deal is that years from now, fans will be rooting for their local guy to get the award named for Mariano Rivera, or maybe the one named for Trevor Hoffman, and they'll take the time to sit down and do a little research.
Perhaps that's how these guys will live forever to those of us who love this game. If you were lucky enough to see them pitch, you already know. You know why it's absolutely appropriate that Commissioner Bud Selig announced on Wednesday that the top reliever in each league annually will be handed an award named for Rivera and Hoffman.
It's not even that these guys are the gold standards for closing out victories. That's where it started. How many times did we see Rivera at his unshakable best on baseball's biggest stage?
For 19 seasons, Rivera seemed to be in our homes every October, taking the ball, taking the responsibility, wanting the game on his shoulders. The Yankees rode him hard, handing him the ball 96 times in the postseason. He delivered with a 0.70 ERA. He got 42 postseason saves, 14 of them in which he went two innings.
But Rivera was always more than simply just throwing that 95 mph cutter, that single pitch that buckled knees, shattered bats and delivered championships. He was instrumental in helping the Yankees win five World Series championships and again become the franchise every other is measured against.
Rivera was way more than that, too. He did things with such dignity and such poise that it was impossible not to admire him. He simply reflected the kind of class and values we'd like every professional athlete to have.
Inside the Yankees' clubhouse, Rivera became like a brother to Derek Jeter and the others. They leaned on one another, trusted one another and delivered again and again for one another.
Rivera always saw his mission in life as being more than about baseball, and when kids look up facts about his career and life, that part of his story will be appreciated as well.
He believed that God had given him certain talents and a stage on which to use those talents. In return, he wanted the world to know that success included certain responsibilities -- to play the game right, to treat others with respect, to give back to the world, and to help those who can't help themselves.
Rivera spent 19 seasons in the big leagues and will be a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer. Yet his post-baseball life is sure to be interesting, too, because he seems committed to doing his part to make the world better, whether that means feeding a child or building a school.
Hoffman, for whom the National League award will be named, was like Rivera in some important ways. For one thing, he, too, turned adversity into an incredible career by harnessing a unique pitch and riding it for an 18-year career that will also take him through the doors of Cooperstown.
Hoffman succeeded with an average fastball, but a fastball he was able to locate. He really succeeded, though, because he threw a changeup with the exact same arm action as his fastball, and the same ability to locate it.
Hitters of his era will tell you that even if he announced that he was going to throw them a changeup -- and they mostly knew it was coming -- they could not adjust. Hoffman's arm action was so good, his pitch so perfect, that it had the power to screw up a hitter's timing for three days.
"I don't know if I can explain it to you," Craig Biggio once said, "but you just can't adjust. You tell yourself how it's coming, and still you tend to jump at it. It's just unlike anything else we see."
Like Rivera, Hoffman had a warrior mentality. He wanted the game on his shoulder in the ninth inning. When he walked through the bullpen gates, there was a feeling that the game was in the books.
Some have argued -- persuasively -- that closers are overrated, that a team should use its best reliever in the first high-leverage situation, whether that be in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.
That philosophy discounts the human element. First, players prefer to know their roles. Second, the ninth inning is important. When leads are given away in the final inning, it results in a defeat that shakes a team's confidence and can linger for days.
Hoffman, like Rivera, was revered for his work off the field, too -- for caring about others and understanding he was a role model in every way we can define that word. Making sure that his name will live forever is one of the ultimate honors a player can have.
Virtually every player, coach, manager or opponent who competed against or got to know Rivera or Hoffman will tell you that Selig has done a good thing, that he has honored two men worthy of being honored.
They contributed to this game in so many ways, it would be a challenge to count them all. But they walked away with the admiration of almost everyone who knew them, and in the end, that's all you need to know about them.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.