My Top 50 On Cardboard
1992 Bowman Mariano Rivera
If I had made this list last year I am not sure if Mariano Rivera would have been this high up on the list, but this past year did a lot to cement his place as a legend across the hobby of baseball cards. If you are going to make a statement that a player has been one of the ten most influential baseball players in the baseball card industry the player needs to possess some popularity across the hobby. Rivera's standing in the hobby started off slow and gradually built in something bigger and bigger every year until his last year which was absolutely crazy. Everyone wanted something Rivera and suddenly there were Rivera collectors everywhere. Prices escalated up and and plenty of short-print high end Rivera cards made their way into collections and are not coming back anytime soon.
The secondary card market on Mariano Rivera has come so far over the course of his career. I bought my first Mariano Rivera autograph sometime during the summer of 2000. I was at One Million Baseball Cards in West St. Louis County checking out a plastic display the owner had installed on the wall next to the cash register. He had put a while bunch of good, but affordable autographs into the display. After loading up on Cardinals cards, picking up a box of something, I went for two autographs out of the new display. I believe I paid $30 for both cards.
The first card was a 2000 Stadium Club Lone Star Signatures of Mets third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo. The other autograph was a 1998 Donruss Signature Mariano Rivera. Both players had great signatures and I thought they could be in line for good seasons. The Mets and Yankees ended up playing each other in the World Series that year, so I was on to something good with the cards. Alfonzo ended up fading away while Rivera would go on to be a fixture on Yankees team for more than the next decade.
Surprisingly Rivera's hobby value actually start off down. Yankees collectors went after Jeter, Clemens, Pettitte, and all sorts of other players over the years. Rivera's cards were fairly popular. He had his base cards and parallels. Every once in awhile he'd get a cool insert, but its not like there were tons and tons of Rivera cards coming out. There are Rivera cards out there, but there are not many and there are even less after the boom around the Rivera market during the past year.
If I had to recommend one card for collectors to pick up of Rivera I would get an autograph of the all-time saves leader. There are several different Rivera autographs out on the secondary market, but I would actually look at Rivera's earlier cards for a great Rivera autograph. He has a nice 1996 Leaf Signature, 1998 Donruss Signature, and a 1999 SP Signature. I like the 1999 SP Signature, but there all really nice cards.
Collectors should expect to pay somewhere between $120 and $150 for a nice Rivera autograph. If you are going to spend that much on a new autograph of a player than I vote on-card. You can also find newer autographs of Rivera in products like Topps Pristine, but they're sticker autographs. Roughly the same prices as the on-card autographs. Rivera has a great autograph, buy the on-card.
On The Field-
Rivera ranks as the second best relief pitcher all-time according to JAWS behind Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley. The Eck spent the first part of career as a starter which helped boast some of his stats and in his WAR. Instead of comparing the pitchers by WAR, Rivera really shines when you switch the comparison to ERA+. Rivera ranks second all-time in ERA+ behind current Braves closer Craig Kimbrel. The closest Hall of Famer to Rivera is Hoyt Wilhelm who's 148 ERA+ is great, but far behind Rivera's mark of 204.
Besides the ERA+ and WAR numbers Rivera has two other positives going for him as one of the great players in the history of the game. First, he's the all-time saves leader. There are many players who have come along and racked up huge numbers of saves pitching one inning. Rivera has plenty of one inning saves, but could also be stretched out to pitch more than three outs. Especially during the playoffs. Rivera's all-time saves mark of 652 is impressive and ranks well ahead of most other players who simply pitched one inning during all of their saves.
Second, Rivera was part of a great team. Most people do not remember, but Rivera was not actually the Yankees closer during their World Series pennant in 1996. However, he was the closer on the 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2009 World Championship teams. He appeared in a few other World Series where the Yankees did not win.
The best part of Rivera being one of the game's greats for more than a decade was the fact that he threw one pitch the entire time. I am not sure how many other players ever pulled that off besides Rivera, but I am impressed.
I love the Rivera autographs and his 1992 Bowman card is cool. However, if I am going to throw in another card into the mix I will go with the 2013 Topps Update card. The card features Rivera running in during this past year's All-Star game. Cool event and great moment for the game.