Major League Baseball will add two big touches of class to its top reliever award, with sources saying it plans to rename the annual honor for the best reliever in each league after brilliant all-time bullpen greats Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman.
Rivera and Hoffman are not only the game's two most prolific collectors of saves but coincidentally both earned all of their combined 1,253 saves -- a record 652 for Rivera and 601 for Hoffman -- exclusively in their respective league. So it's only natural the award bearing the name of the iconic Rivera, whose saves were all earned for the New York Yankees, will go to the top reliever in the American League, with the award named for Hoffman, whose saves came mostly for the Padres but also the Brewers and Marlins, going to the top reliever in the National League.
MLB is expected to make an announcement soon renaming their in-season relief award for Rivera and Hoffman.
The sport has sought for years to properly honor the game's best relievers, and this would seem to be about the most perfect way possible, adding dignity to an award that to this point has been overshadowed, even overlooked. Rivera and Hoffman are not only the two greatest savers in MLB history but two of the classiest gentleman ever to play the game.
There will be an added interesting twist to the award, as a small panel of all-time great relievers, including Rivera and Hoffman themselves, will do the voting for the annual honor. In recent years MLB added the Hank Aaron award to annually honor the top hitter in each league, though voting for that honor isn't as clear-cut.
Baseball gave out The Delivery Man of the Year award to honor top relievers from 2005-13, but the recent retirements of Hoffman and Rivera provided inspiration for two new honors that carry the potential to draw attention anew to an increasingly important role. The Delivery Man award, which failed to gain traction, was elected by league officials. There was also a Rolaids Relief Man award, sponsored by the maker of the antacid tablet, given from 1976 to 2012 that was statistically based.
The postseason awards are often incorporated into contracts of veteran players to provide additional incentive monies.
While the previous top relief awards seemed slightly gimmicky and corporate, the new honor is named for two of the great class acts of the game, the all-time great Rivera, whose retirement last year was cause for a sport-wide, year-long going-away tribute, and the consistently excellent Hoffman, who spent the vast majority of his magnificent career in San Diego.
It's the perfect solution since neither pitcher ever ventured over into the foreign league, with Rivera remaining a Yankee throughout his illustrious 20-year career, and Hoffman wearing only the uniforms of the Marlins, the Padres and the Brewers in his 18-year career. Overall, Rivera was 82-60 with a 2.21 ERA, Hoffman 61-75 with a 2.87 ERA.
Rivera earned icon status as one of the faces of a dynasty while in some ways Hoffman was perhaps a bit underappreciated. Although Rivera ultimately is a reliever without compare, there were interesting similarities between him and Hoffman, including inauspicious beginnings and the hard-to-believe reality that neither was protected in the 1992 MLB Expansion draft, with Hoffman being plucked off the Reds' roster by the Marlins and Rivera going unselected.
Both pitching greats were also briefly infielders early in their ballplaying days, Rivera back in Panama before coming to the Yankees, and Hoffman in his first year in the minors with the Reds' rookie ball team. Ultimately, both became dominant relievers, thanks in large part to one calling-card pitch; Rivera had his unhittable cutter, Hoffman his hard-to-touch changeup.
Rivera completed his retirement tour last year with yet another productive campaign, highlighted by his well-publicized meetings with the employees of opposing teams, followed by gifts given to him by teams he consistently vanquished in his unparalleled career. If Hoffman wasn't Rivera -- no one could be -- his record for regular-season durability and domination is unequaled in the other league.
Rivera had the best ERA plus in MLB history (205), as well as the most games finished (953) and games saved (652). He was also impossibly good in the postseason, posting a lifetime 0.70 ERA and 0.76 WHIP.
Hoffman was quietly superb in smaller markets, with nine seasons of 40 or more saves and five with a WHIP below 1.00. Rivera had a ridiculous 11 seasons with an ERA below 2.
Rivera was a five-time winner of the Rolaids award; Hoffman took home the trophy twice.
There is one more great similarity. Both pitchers were known for quiet class, and for aiding less accomplished teammates and charities. Both earned the respect of everyone around the game, and honored the game with everything they did.
Now fittingly, they will be honored together by having the highest honor that is bestowed for relief work named for them.