Many athletes know what it is like to be amongst the greatest in their respective sport. In every era, every generation, good, great, and remarkable players come through, do their best, and if they are lucky, participate in a moment which resonates throughout history. However, few athletes reach the pinnacle in their sport where their name is synonymous with dominance and greatness, comprehended in every household worldwide, and significant in any generation. Yes, few athletes reach that level. A lot are good. Many are great. Some are Hall of Famers. But, only a few are immortalized.
During the current 2009 baseball season, we are on the brink of seeing two athletes who have dominated for years, solidify their status as timeless. In a sport such as baseball where numbers and milestones measure the importance of the individual, these two athletes are on the brink of crossing milestones that will not punch their ticket for baseball's Hall of Fame, but immortalize them for years and generations to come.
For years Randy Johnson and his tall, wiry frame has made the life of hitters in both the American League and National League miserable. The big 6'10'' lefty, whipping a high 90's fastball and a wicked slider, frustrated opposing hitters (especially lefties) and anchored every staff he's ever been on. Johnson's flair for dominance began in Seattle in moments such as leading a young Mariners team into the ALCS in 1995, or becoming the hired assassin for the Houston Astros, and leading them into the playoffs in 1998. Let's not forget Johnson's performance in 2001, slamming the door on the Yankee Dynasty and earning a co-World Series MVP honor.
What has ultimately made the Big Unit's career one to marvel, is the length of dominance and the factors that accompany it. Johnson has been pitching for twenty-plus years, and at the age of 45, is still a respectable starter. A feat that seems almost Nolan Ryan-esque. Johnson has done all of this in what has presumably been regarded as the steroid era. Assuming he's clean of any substance, Johnson's career in this era will go down as second to only that of Greg Maddux - which in it's own right is a honor.
After a career of five Cy Young awards, a perfect game, a no-hitter, 10 All-Star selections, and second on the all-time list for strikeouts (4,843); Johnson's career will be enshrined forever as he approaches (currently at 299 wins), and reaches the pinnacle of 300 wins.
Mariano Rivera. The name itself resounds images of dominance, class, integrity, and championship pedigree. Rivera, the ultimate closer, and the best one that has ever lived is already amongst the names that will live on for ever. As the guitar strikes for Metallica's "Enter Sandman", fans, players, coaches, and even the hot dog vendors are aware that the game is over. He has been that dominant. He has been that automatic.
In a career where Rivera has won four World Series, 6 AL Pennants, and has succeeded on the biggest and brightest stage imaginable (0.77 ERA in the Postseason -MLB Record), it's hard to imagine that he has done it all with one dominant pitch - that devastating cutter. With pin-point control and a fluid (and consistent) delivery, Rivera as made the ninth inning look like a joke for years. Sometimes its difficult to fathom. The world knows what's coming, yet, there is nothing you can do about it. If that's not dominance, I'm not sure what could be.
Despite his on the field accomplishments, Rivera has also been an embodiment of class. He's never displayed the heavy gyrations of celebratory gluttony after a game, or has been in the spotlight for any means of negativity. Instead, Rivera has mentored many teammates and peers throughout Major League Baseball on his cutter and mechanics, as well as coaching rookies in class A, and serving as an ambassador for Panamanian baseball. All in an effort to give back to the game.
Rivera is a gem that comes around every century. With many MLB records, and a spot in Cooperstown, it's easy rooting for a guy like Rivera to reach (currently at 493) the milestone of 500 saves. And although he may never reach Trevor Hoffman's moving target for the all-time saves leader, Mariano Rivera will forever be remembered as the greatest closer of all-time, and a name immortalized for the rest of time.