Before Monday, there were only two baseball records that I had marked down as being truly unbreakable.
The first was Cy Young's 511 career wins. The second was Johnny Vander Meer's consecutive no-hitters in 1938. Even if Major League Baseball is comprised of ultra-powerful cyborgs in the future, those records are not falling.
On Monday, a third unbreakable record was set. In an otherwise unspectacular 6-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera recorded his 602nd career save. That figure gives him sole possession of baseball's all-time saves record, which was previously held by longtime San Diego Padres great Trevor Hoffman.
If you wanted to, you could entertain the notion that Rivera's record will be broken at some point down the line. After all, there will never be a shortage of good closers and, at some point, there will surely be someone who makes a run at Rivera's mark.
But nobody is going to break it. There are a couple of reasons why.
Longevity and Consistency
Rivera has been in the big leagues for 17 seasons and he's been the Yankees' full-time closer for 15 seasons. He has appeared in at least 45 games every season since 1996, and he's currently ninth on the all-time appearances list with 1,038.
This kind of reliability is rare for any pitcher—and it's even rarer for relievers.
For a variety of reasons, relievers just don't tend to last, and the ones who do generally don't last nearly as long as Rivera has. He's often been called a freak of nature, and it's hard to argue the point.
Of course, Rivera would not have lasted this long had he been lousy at his job, and that brings us to the next reason his record will never fall.
Another point that has often been made about Rivera is that he has been so dominant for so long using, primarily, just one pitch: his vicious cutter.
But you really have to look at the numbers to understand just how dominant Rivera has been.
On the all-time lists, Rivera's career ERA of 2.22 is good for 13th, his career hits per nine innings pitched of 6.95 is good for sixth and his career WHIP of 0.99 is good for second.
This is not among relievers. This is among all pitchers. To say that he is one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball history is not an understatement.
Clearly, the fact that Rivera's average season consists of 39 saves is not an accident. It is, however, a byproduct of Rivera's partnership with the Yankees.
As great as Rivera is, there's no way he gets to 602 career saves without a little help from the Yankees; he doesn't get saves unless the Yankees give him games to save.
And the Yankees have certainly done that.
Since Rivera's first full season in 1996, the Yankees have won a grand total of 1,460 games; Rivera has saved 41 percent of them.
If the Yankees win, say, 1,260 games during Rivera's career, he would thus be sitting on 516 saves at the moment—85 saves off Hoffman's pace.
Crude mathematics, perhaps, but you get the idea. Rivera's personal success has very much been aided by his team's success. The Yankees can thank him for being so good, and he can thank the Yankees for being so good.
So, in order to beat Rivera's saves mark, a pitcher will have to close for well over a decade, be dominant and play for a consistent winner. Just like Rivera, he's going to have to be good and blessed. To actually beat Rivera, he's going to have to be better and more blessed than him.
I admit, it could happen. But I think the odds are very, very slim. I think all you have to do is look at the all-times saves list and take note of how there are no active closers who count as legitimate threats to Rivera's record. The closest active pitcher is Francisco Cordero, with 323 saves, and he's 36 years old.
Oh, by the way, Rivera's not done yet.
His contract doesn't expire until after next season and I think we all know he's not about to walk away ahead of time. By the end of 2012, he could very well have over 650 saves.
Wherever Rivera ends up, it will be a figure that we're going to have to get used to, folks. It's not going anywhere.