When it comes to discussing two of the most dominant closers of their era, there is no question that the New York Yankees’ Mariano Rivera and the San Diego Padres’ Trevor Hoffman top that list. With both men now retired, and sure-fire selections for the National Baseball Hall of Fame when they become eligible, Major League Baseball has decided to name each of their respective league’s award for the top relief pitcher after Rivera and Hoffman.
In an era of free agency, players often switch teams and leagues multiple times over the course of their careers. Rivera and Hoffman were the exception to the rule, with Rivera spending his entire career in the American League in pinstripes in the Bronx, while Hoffman pitched for the Marlins, Padres and Brewers in the Senior Circuit. Upon his retirement, Hoffman was baseball’s all-time leader in career saves–only to be surpassed by the legendary Rivera, who is the gold standard for relievers.
MLB has looked for the proper way to honor each league’s top relievers for years, using awards such as the Delivery Man of the Year from 2005-13. The award failed to gain much attention, as it wasn’t celebrated or promoted the way other annual awards to top players were. Most baseball fans probably remember the Rolaids Relief Man award, which was strictly statistically based, and given out from 1976 through 2012.
There are some other similarities between the great Rivera and his National League counterpart Hoffman. Both were infielders early in their careers, with Rivera manning the middle infield in his native Panama, while Hoffman started his professional career in the Reds’ organization as an infielder as well. Both men were left unprotected in the 1992 Expansion Draft, with Hoffman being scooped up by the Marlins, while Rivera was ignored. They faced off in October of 1998, as the Yankees capped off a magical season by defeating Hoffman’s Padres in a World Series sweep. It is fitting that the top reliever of each league will win the award named after the standard in which closers are now viewed.