Mariano Rivera pitched his last game ever at Yankee Stadium Thursday night, leaving to a prolonged, tearful standing ovation after longtime teammates Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter came out to the mound and removed him from the game:
Rivera, who will retire at the end of the season, is inarguably the greatest closer in the history of baseball, and one of its best pitchers, period. So it may be surprising that, back in 1995 — the year Rivera made his major league debut — one scout watched Rivera pitch a minor league game and concluded he was, at best, a back-end major league starter.
"Did not see an off-speed pitch," the scout, John Stokoe, wrote. "He needs one for the future."
Rivera never did develop that off-speed pitch. He did, however, develop another, more lethal pitch: The cutter.
Rivera made an entire Hall of Fame career off that single devastating pitch. Since 2007, he has thrown it roughly 90 percent of the time. Against lefties, he's thrown it 99 percent of the time, according to Sports Illustrated's Joe Lemire.
To be fair to Stokoe, Rivera didn't have the cutter in his arsenal back in 1995. Rivera has said it appeared out of nowhere in 1997, calling it "a gift from God." His manager and former teammate, Joe Girardi, however, said Rivera had the beginnings of the pitch back in 1996.
Sans cutter, Stokoe projected Rivera as a third or fourth starter in the majors. And he did, at least, credit Rivera with having a "real good, live arm," concluding he "should be a good [major league] pitcher in the future."
"Definite interest," he added.
Rivera holds the MLB record with 652 saves. His 205 ERA+ (earned run average adjusted for park factors and weighted against league competition, with 100 being average) is by far the highest in baseball history. For comparison, Pedro Martinez's 154 ERA+ ranks second all-time.