There's the famous story of a Boston sportswriter sitting in the lobby of a hotel as Larry Bird walks by. There were a lot of people flocking to the hotel, planning to attend a Bruce Springsteen concert. Turned out that Bird wasn't familiar with Springsteen's work, so the writer explained it to him this way:
"He's the you of rock 'n' roll."
That got us to wonder, with the Stanley Cup playoffs starting and the baseball season underway, whether New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is familiar with New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur.
It turns out that they met once, while doing an appearance for Canali Suits. Brodeur was impressed.
"Everybody knows what he has done during his career," Brodeur recently told ESPN The Magazine's E.J. Hradek. "He's Mr. Automatic. He has been very impressive throughout the years -- all the championships. I've always admired the way he's handled himself, the way he has carried himself."
Rivera has a vague idea of who Brodeur is, but doesn't necessarily know the full story.
"He is well-known and well-respected," Rivera recently told ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand. "I hear a lot of good things about the guy. But personally, I don't know much because I don't follow hockey at all. I don't know much about him."
Rivera has a legit excuse for the lack of familiarity. Brodeur is at his best in the spring, when Rivera's work is just beginning. And if you live in Panama, as Rivera does, there aren't many outlets with which to follow the NHL.
When Rivera is at his best, in October, Brodeur's work is just beginning. But the NHL has a few more off days, and Brodeur has the opportunity to follow baseball plenty, spending much of his time in the New York area.
So, with apologies to the Boston sportswriter, who has frequently made the Bird-Rivera comparison, we think we've got a better one.
If we were going to fully explain Martin Brodeur to Mariano Rivera, we'd start simply by saying: "He's the you of the NHL."
Consider the ways in which they've traveled parallel paths:
Both suffered a potentially psychologically crushing defeat early in their careers.
For Rivera, that was in 1997, his first full season as Yankees closer, when he blew a save in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Indians, allowing a game-tying, eighth-inning home run to Sandy Alomar with the Yankees closing in on a series-clinching win.
For Brodeur, that was as a rookie in Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, in which the Rangers beat the Devils on Stephane Matteau's double-overtime goal.
Both rebounded from that defeat immediately.
Rivera and the Yankees won the World Series the next season, and then two more in a row after that. In 1998 and 1999, Rivera pitched 25 2/3 postseason innings and did not allow a run.
Brodeur and the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 1994-95, a postseason in which Brodeur went 16-4 with a 1.67 goals-against average.
The clinching game that NHL postseason came on June 24, about two weeks before a turning point in Rivera's career. After a rough four-appearance stint in the majors early in the season (with a 10.20 ERA), Rivera was sent back to the minor leagues. He was recalled to make a July 4 start against the White Sox.
That day he allowed no runs and two hits, with 11 strikeouts in eight innings. John Kruk was one of those strikeout victims, and likes to tell the story this way: "The scouting report we got that day, it was on a different guy named Rivera."
Both evolved into becoming the best in the business at their sport's ultimate pressure position.
Being the last line of defense en route to victory isn't something that's easy to master.
Rivera has five Rolaids Relief awards and five World Series rings. Brodeur is still trying to catch up to that tally. He has four Vezina Trophies for being the NHL's best goalie and has his name inscribed on the Stanley Cup three times.
Rivera's ERA is 2.25. Brodeur's goals-against average is 2.21. Rivera's adjusted ERA+ (accounting for era played in, and primary ballpark) is the best in major league history, with no active player being close. Brodeur's adjusted goals-against average (accounting for era) is the best among active goalies, with none other being that close.
Rivera's save percentage is 89.5. Brodeur's save percentage (albeit measured differently) is 91.4.
Rivera reached the 500-save mark in 2009. Brodeur reached the 600-win mark in 2010.
Rivera is the all-time leader in postseason saves with 39. Brodeur is tied for the all-time lead in postseason shutouts with 23.
Both are as good now as they were in their prime.
Rivera turned 40 last November. His save total and ERA at age 39 were a near-match for his save total and ERA at age 29.
Brodeur turns 38 in May. His goals-against average and save percentage at 38 nearly mirror his numbers at age 28.
Whenever ESPN airs a segment analyzing Rivera, the baseball analysts marvel at his being so good for so long.
Whenever ESPN airs a segment analyzing Brodeur, the hockey analysts marvel at his being so good for so long.
So what does Brodeur have to do to get Rivera to know him a little bit better?
We have an idea. If Brodeur can carry the Devils to another Stanley Cup title, perhaps he should throw out the first pitch at a Yankees home game. It will give them a chance to catch up with each other -- though statistically they're already pretty much there.
Mark Simon is a researcher for Baseball Tonight.