Mo: Most dominant athlete ever?

Reuters/Shawn Bell

Mariano Rivera has reigned atop his sport for a long time.Has Mariano Rivera dominated his role in baseball as much as any player in major American sports?

A case can be made that Rivera has been the most dominant pitcher in MLB history, as dominant a player at his position as such legends Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Jerry Rice and Wayne Gretzky were at their positions.

The case for Rivera

Run prevention

Rivera currently has the lowest ERA since the stat was first tracked in both leagues in 1913 (2.21) among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched. The next-best ERA of any player since World War II is 2.52 by Hoyt Wilhelm. Mariano’s WHIP of 1.00 is also the lowest in the live-ball era.

Postseason genius

In the postseason, Rivera was even better, allowing just 11 earned runs in 141 innings, good for a 0.70 ERA which is best all-time among those with at least 50 playoff innings. He faced the best hitters on the best teams in baseball in 96 postseason games -- and held them to this microscopic slash line: .175 BA/.212 OBP/.228 SLG.

Automatic save machine

His 652 saves are the most in baseball history, and no active pitcher is even close. The 38-year-old Joe Nathan is next on the active list and he’s more than 300 saves short of Rivera. From Elias: Rivera has entered a regular-season game with a lead 914 times. The Yankees have gone 868-46 (.950) in those games. In the postseason, he entered 68 games with a lead and the Yankees went 64-4 (.941).

The case for Jerry Rice

Untouchable yardage record

Jerry Rice holds perhaps one of the few seemingly unbreakable records in sports: His 22,895 receiving yards are nearly 7,000 more than No. 2 Terrell Owens. Rice broke 1,000 yards in 11 straight years, from his age-24 season through his age-34 season.

Touchdown machine

He also holds the record for the most touchdowns in NFL history, with 208. Emmitt Smith at No. 2 had 33 fewer. And the active leader in TDs? That’s Tony Gonzalez with half of Rice’s total, at 104.

Did it in the playoffs, too

Rice also holds the NFL playoff record with 22 TDs and has almost 1,000 more playoff receiving yards than anyone in league history. Eight of those playoff touchdowns came in four Super Bowls, of which Rice’s teams won three.

The case for Wayne Gretzky

The Greatest One

His nickname, “The Great One,” might be an understatement. According to the Hockey Hall of Fame, Gretzky is the holder or co-holder of 61 NHL records: 40 for the regular season, 15 for the playoffs and six for All-Star competition. He won the Hart Trophy for MVP a league-record nine times as well.

Some of those records

Think of any major stat in hockey and Gretzky is the career leader. Most goals by 93, most assists by more than 700 and most points overall by almost 1,000. In fact, if Gretzky hadn’t scored a single goal, he would still be the NHL’s all-time points leader with his assists (1,963) alone. He holds nine of the top 11 scoring seasons in league history, including the top four.

Elected immediately

Gretzky was so good, the Hockey Hall of Fame Selection Committee decided to waive the three-year waiting period for him “by reason of outstanding preeminence and skill.” They also stated he’d be the last player to receive such an honor. Even his number 99 was retired league-wide before his final game.

The case for Tiger Woods

Domination of the tour

At age 37 (he'll turn 38 on Dec. 30), Tiger Woods has won 79 career events on the PGA Tour (Phil Mickelson is the next active leader with 42 wins). Woods is three wins behind the all-time record-holder Sam Snead, who won 82 events on the Tour, the last coming when he was 53 years old.


Despite struggling recently, Tiger has won 14 majors. That number is second all-time to Jack Nicklaus' 18 wins, but Tiger holds the record for largest margin of victory in two of the four majors (15 in the 2000 U.S. Open, 12 in the 1997 Masters). The 15-stroke win in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach is the largest margin of victory by any golfer in major history.

Against the best fields

The World Golf Championships (WGC) are events that have exclusive fields consisting only of the top 50 players in the world, recent tournament winners and members of international competition teams. The best of the best. Tiger Woods has won 18 WGC events in his career. Next on the list is Geoff Ogilvy ... with three.

The case for Michael Jordan

Scoring machine

Jordan’s finest talent was always his scoring ability. He led the league in points each of his 11 fully healthy seasons with the Bulls. At 30.1 points per game, he holds the highest scoring average in NBA history.

The rings

NBA players have always been measured by championships, and Jordan was no exception. It took him until his seventh year in the league, but he led the Bulls to three straight titles from 1991 to 1993, and then after coming back from a stint in minor league baseball, he led Chicago to another three-peat from ’96 to ’98.

The awards

He was a five-time league MVP, a league-record six-time Finals MVP (twice as many as any other player), and he did it on defense, too, as a nine-time NBA All-Defensive first-teamer, tied for the most in league history.