Mariano Rivera was one of the defining greats of his generation, and not just by doing his job better than almost anyone ever. Besides that, no player has ever been a better ambassador for his sport.
So as we look a year ahead to the 2019 Hall of Fame ballot, we begin with one of the all-time Yankees greats leading a class of first-timers that includes late Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton and Yanks lefty Andy Pettitte.
There's hope for all of them at a time when voters have swung decisively to a record-setting Big Hall approach. The Baseball Writers' Association of America has voted 16 players into the Hall of Fame in the past five years after inducting just nine in the previous eight.
In 74 Hall of Fame elections, 16 players is a record for any five-year period after Wednesday's announcement that Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman crossed the 75 percent threshold (317) on 422 ballots.
• Chipper, Vlad, Thome, Hoffman elected to Hall
That's a good thing, because there's all kinds of unfinished business, beginning with Edgar Martinez, who will be making his 10th and final appearance on the BBWAA ballot next year. He made a nice gain this time, from appearing on 58.6 percent of ballots to 70.4 percent. Still, Martinez finished 20 votes short of induction, but he is nicely positioned for 2019.
That's also true of Mike Mussina, the former Orioles and Yankees right-hander who was named on 63.5 percent of ballots, an increase from 51.8 on the 2017 ballot.
Three other players -- Roger Clemens (57.3 percent), Barry Bonds (56.4) and Curt Schilling (51.2) -- were named on more than 50 percent of the ballots, but all would need a huge lift to get to 75 percent next time. All of them have four more chances to reach 75 percent.
• Complete 2018 Hall of Fame election results
Now back to Rivera. For him, the debate will not be about his getting into the Hall of Fame, but how close he comes to being a unanimous selection. In the 74 previous elections, the four players who've gotten the highest percentage of votes are:
• Ken Griffey Jr. (99.32 percent in 2016)
• Tom Seaver (98.84 percent in 1992)
• Nolan Ryan (98.79 percent in 1999)
• Cal Ripken Jr. (98.53 percent in 2007)
Rivera's credentials are about as impressive as any player ever. He got the final out of the World Series four times and had a nearly incomprehensible .759 WHIP in 96 postseason appearances.
Oh, and Rivera was also a 13-time All-Star and baseball's all-time saves leader (652). In 1,115 regular-season games, he allowed an average of exactly one baserunner per inning.
There's an easy case to be made for Halladay, whose death at 40 in November following a plane crash stunned the sport and devastated his family and friends.
In 16 seasons, Halladay won two Cy Young Awards and was an eight-time All-Star. His no-hitter against the Reds in the 2010 National League Division Series was one of the most dominant postseason performances of all time, and he also threw a perfect game against the Marlins during the regular season that year. Halladay's Hall of Fame credentials were forged during an 11-season stretch (2001-11) when he was 175-78 with a 1.113 WHIP and a 2.98 ERA in 319 starts.
Helton played 17 seasons, all with the Rockies, and was a five-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove Award winner. His .414 OBP is the 26th-highest of all time; his .953 OPS is 19th.
Helton's case almost certainly will be hurt -- as former teammate Larry Walker's has been -- by playing at hitter-friendly Coors Field. However, while Walker played only 30 percent of his games there, Helton was a career Rockie. In 1,141 games at home, his numbers were overwhelmingly Hall of Fame worthy: .345 batting average, .441 OBP, 1.048 OPS. In 1,106 games away from Coors Field, Helton hit .287 with a .386 OBP and an .855 OPS.
Among other 2019 first-timers who will be part of the conversation: infielder Michael Young, shortstop Miguel Tejada, first baseman/outfielder Lance Berkman and pitcher Roy Oswalt.
That they are even in the mix speaks volumes about their careers and how they accomplished things most players only dream of doing. Only a few of them will be bestowed the sport's ultimate honor, but that's the point.
When Joe Torre came up short in his quest to make the Hall of Fame as a player, he said bluntly: "It's the Hall of Fame. It's supposed to be a tough thing to get into."
Besides, Torre had another path, and in 2014, he was inducted for a 29-year managerial career that included leading the Yankees to four championships.
"To say you are humbled at an honor like this," he said, "that doesn't even begin to describe what it means."