From Opening Day of the 1997 season, when the greatest of all-time took over as the Yankee closer, no one could mention in the same sentence. It was Mariano Rivera and everyone else.
Current Hall-of-Fame candidate, Trevor Hoffman, was able to tally over 600 saves over 15 seasons as a full-time closer, but was never in held in the dominant regard as Mo was. The post-season was Rivera’s playground. The better the hitters, the more pressurized the situation, the more eyes upon him, the better he became. Forty-two career playoff saves, a 0.70 ERA, and .75 WHIP in 141 career post-season innings, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Over that period, when the conversation turned to second-best, most often, the eyes of baseball would turn to New England region and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. A starting pitcher for most of his minor-league career, Papelbon became in the Sox full-time closer in 2006, using a high 90’s fastball and lot of attitude, to become one of the game’s most dominant relievers. He saved at least 29 games in every season from 2006-2014 for both, the Red Sox, and the Phillies, who signed him to the richest reliever contract in MLB history in the winter of 2011.
He went on to save 106 games in his first three season in Philadelphia, but that was the brightest spot of those Phillies teams where age and injury ravaged the core won them five consecutive division titles from 2007-2011. Papelbon’s competitiveness rubbed many people the wrong way and combined with few victories, the writing was on the wall and he was dealt to Washington in 2015.
By that time he brought 342 career saves and a chance to pitcher for another contender. The Nats never made it passed the first round that year and his fiery attitude took on a life of his own, while his fastball continued to lose life. The following season, he was replaced as Washington’s closer midway through the season, then released altogether.
Papelbon has 368 career save and is currently contemplating his future. He was easily one of the greatest closer of his era and not for Rivera, might be considered the best over a near 10-year period. Those voters with no bias against the one-inning stoppers might see their way passed the bravado and vote for Papelbon when it comes time, but with more and more writers using their ballot as a platform to take a stand against the issues of the day, he won’t see his way to 75% anytime soon.