Archive for September, 2015

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The Closer By Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey

September 4, 2015

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Maybe following up Andre Agassi’s Open with Mariano Rivera’s The Closer wasn’t the greatest idea because the drop off in the quality of the writing was immediately noticeable. Whereas Open was incredibly descriptive, intense, and gripping, The Closer is quite bland in comparison. It probably doesn’t help matters that Mariano Rivera’s story pretty much starts with the Yankees contacting the Panama native about signing a contract with them. As baseball fans know, Rivera quickly arrived with the Yankees and I’m very well versed in how things went from there having read Joe Torre’s The Yankee Years and Ian O’Connor’s Derek Jeter biography The Captain, so this is literally my third time reliving the Yankees’ glory years. I suppose I can only blame myself for that, but needless to say, it made The Closer relatively uninteresting for me.

Although most of the book was redundant to me, there were some things that stood out. For one, Mariano Rivera is a pretty good study of what separates naturally gifted athletes from the all-time greats: unwavering confidence and a short memory. If you are to believe Rivera’s account of things – and I do – his state of mind was pretty much always get in the game and get these guys out. He didn’t let the batter he was facing or the gravity of the situation affect his mental state – he just went out there and did his job. And when he failed, sometimes traumatically, he would completely forget about it by next time he took the mound. It’s an approach that makes a lot of sense, but is hard to execute, and it’s easy to see how he had the long and extremely successful career he did.

A big reason Rivera was able to maintain his superb confidence level was through his faith in God. By his account, there were multiple events throughout his life that could only be explained by divine interference, such as when his fastball suddenly increased by 5 mph early in his Yankees career or when it started cutting naturally, becoming the devastating out pitch Rivera was famous for. Now, I’d never be one to go out my way to knock someone’s faith, but as an agnostic myself, I really have no interest in it and I can’t stand being preached to and, honestly, there’s a good amount of that going on in The Closer. It’s one thing to share your life story and the role religion played in it; it’s quite another to tell people why they should have Jesus Christ in their lives. No thank you.

There was an interesting passage in the book where Rivera shared his thoughts on Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. While he had plenty of good things to say about the two superstars, he was also pretty honest about their weaknesses. Concerning A-Rod, he describes Rodriguez as his own worst enemy and how he doesn’t understand why he always needs to be the center of attention. His description of Cano couldn’t echo my own feelings about my Mariners’ second baseman more accurately. He says Cano has the ability to be one of the all-time greats, but shows a frustrating lack of interest in putting in the effort and hustling. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again from Cano – the dude just doesn’t look like he cares. It’s refreshing to hear a highly regarded former teammate express the same sentiment.

While I lived through the Yankees’ long string of dominance and have read about it on multiple occasions, The Closer does offer one piece of possibly critical information that I did not know beforehand. We all know the Boston Red Sox defeated the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS after trailing 3 games to 0, the most epic comeback in sports history, before going on to win the 2004 World Series and ending one of the longest championship droughts in baseball. What most people don’t know is something that happened outside of baseball before the turning point in Game 4. There was a tragic accident in Rivera’s family during the 2004 season, when his nephew and brother-in-law were both electrocuted and drowned in a swimming pool. As Rivera was warming up in the Fenway bullpen before he came in to close out Game 4, he overheard a fan in the stands taunting him by referencing the tragic death of his family. While Mo claims that this did not affect him before he went out to the mound that night, eventually coughing up a lead that led to a Red Sox win that opened the door for them to take the series, I’m not so sure. Even a mental game champion would have a hard time not letting that kind of low blow (the lowest of low blows) enrage him. If Mariano was incensed by this fan’s comments, maybe it actually did contribute to the Red Sox comeback. Who knows.

All in all, The Closer was an okay sports biography that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s probably a must read for die hard Yanks fans or big Mariano Rivera supporters, but I enjoyed The Yankee Years and The Captain much, much more – and Jim Abbott’s Imperfect for that matter. Interestingly, I’ve long considered myself to be a staunch Yankees hater, but I have now read four separate books that spent a significant amount of time detailing the Yankees dynasty of the mid-to-late 90s. At the end of the day, I have a lot of respect for the core group of players that were there for pretty much all of the championships: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada. Those guys were all class act players that came up through the Yankee system and played their whole careers with the organization. The Closer might not be the greatest sports bio I’ve read, but Mariano Rivera is almost certainly the best closer in the history of baseball.

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