Rivera honored with Medal of Freedom at White House

US President Donald Trump presents the Medal of Freedom to former New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera (AFP Photo/MANDEL NGAN)

Washington (AFP) - New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera added another honour to his resume on Monday, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump at a White House ceremony.

Rivera, who in January became the first player ever to be unanimously voted into baseball's Hall of Fame, is the latest of several sports figures to be awarded the United States' highest civilian honour by President Trump.

Trump, who has had a series of public feuds with professional athletes since his election in 2016, had previously handed the award to golf star Tiger Woods and NBA great Jerry West.

On Monday Trump paid tribute to Rivera's extraordinary career record as he awarded the 49-year-old Panamanian his medal.

Rivera won five World Series with the Yankees during his 19-season career and is widely regarded as the greatest relief pitcher in baseball history.

"Mariano Rivera has made contributions to American sports, culture and society," Trump said. "He is the most dominant relief pitcher in the history of baseball.

"More than that, he has lived the American dream and shines as an example of American greatness for all to see."

Trump meanwhile was wowed by Rivera's Major League Baseball record 652 career saves and stunning 0.70 earned-run average in playoff games, describing the stats as "astounding."

"0.70, that's less than one run, in the post season when you play the best teams," Trump said. "These are the hot teams. These are the teams that are just eating up everybody. And you had less than one run. It's amazing."

Rivera, who has regularly spoken out in support of Trump in the past, described the award as an "honour and privilege."

"All I did was try to be the best and do the best for America," he said.

Trump has had an uneasy relationship with the sports world since taking office, with several championship-winning teams including the NBA's Golden State Warriors and the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles opting to skip the tradition of attending White House receptions following their victories.

Most recently, Trump crossed swords with the World Cup-winning US women's soccer team, clashing publicly with star Megan Rapinoe during the tournament.

Although Trump has not formally extended an invitation to the team yet, Rapinoe said after the squad's victory she would boycott any reception.

"I would not go and every teammate that I've talked to explicitly about it would not go," Rapinoe told CNN in July.