The first thing you notice when you are reading “The Closer,” by Mariano Rivera, is that the 270-page book is written in the first person, present tense. This can be quite disconcerting since the author is describing events of the past. He and co-author Wayne Coffey also do not put quote marks around dialogue, and this is confusing.
Growing up in a fishing village
Like Joe DiMaggio, Rivera was the son of a fisherman. Raised in a small fishing village in Panama, Rivera grew up without many luxuries. He had to use an outhouse and did not own a baseball bat, glove or ball during his youth. He and his friends improvised by using things like sticks for bats and folded cardboard for gloves. Rivera faced a lot of teasing in high school over having a “fish” smell, the consequence of the environment he was living in. He got into fights and dropped out of high school. When he was scouted to play baseball in the U.S., he did not speak English and was unaware of American baseball history. For example, he had no idea who Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth were.
Father beat him
Rivera was candid in describing how his large, rugged father would hit, strike and beat him over the least offense. What he described was really child abuse, but in this time and place it was excused as “spare the rod, spoil the child” type of discipline.
Rivera experienced acute pain in his pitching elbow while coming up through the New York Yankees farm chain. In 1992 he had surgery to “clean up” the elbow, and of course all of his hopes of becoming a Major League Baseball pitcher rested on a fully recovery.
His biggest failures
Rivera was the best closer in history but he wasn’t perfect. He described his two biggest failures as a pro baseball player. The first happened in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rivera was nursing a one-run lead in the ninth inning and just needed three more outs to secure the Yankees fourth consecutive WS win. But he made an error in the inning, blew the save and lost the game. That was also the inning where manager Joe Torre brought the infield in and the decision backfired. The second failure was Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox. Rivera blew the save which would have sent the Yankees to the World Series with a sweep over their hated rivals. Instead he let the Red Sox back into the series and they staged the biggest comeback in baseball history, becoming the only team to win a series after trailing 3-0.
Highly religious man
Throughout the book Rivera revealed himself as a highly spiritual man who relied on his faith in God and belief in Jesus as his savior. Accordingly, he often took a “Judge not, that ye not be judged” approach. He did comment briefly on controversial issues, such as performance enhancing drugs and Roger Clemens’ broken bat-throwing incident against Mike Piazza during the Yankees-Mets Subway World Series in 2000. But generally Rivera steered away from hot-button topics or making judgments about people’s character. Fans of tabloid journalism won’t find much to grab onto in this book.
It would be impossible for Rivera to play for a decade alongside a lightning rod like Alex Rodriguez and not say anything about him in the book. Rivera said Rodriguez was someone who could not get out of his own way. “There is no doubt Alex has a knack for drawing attention to himself, and for making his life a whole lot harder than it has to be,” Rivera wrote.
Dustin Pedroia over Robinson Cano
Probably the most controversial thing in the book is Rivera complimenting the second baseman of the detested (from a Yankees standpoint) Red Sox, while also questioning the desire of Robinson Cano, the former Yankees star second sacker. “I don’t think Robby burns to be the best,” Rivera wrote. “You don’t see the red-hot passion in him that you see in most elite players. He is a laid-back guy.” But this is hardly a revelation and it should not cause a controversy. Everyone knows Cano plays the game in a relaxed, nonchalant way while Pedroia treats every game and every out as a do-or-die situation. It is a matter of personality and style. If either one emulated the other they would not be successful. Cano can’t play with the intensity Pedroia shows.
Torn ACL and MCL
While in Kansas City shagging fly balls during batting practice early in the 2012 season, Mariano experienced “the most pain I have ever felt” as he blew out a knee. He had to have surgery to repair a torn ACL and torn MCL and was sidelined for the remainder of the season. Because he was 43 years old, many feared the saves king’s career was over. But after the reconstruction of the knee and a difficult rehabilitation, Rivera returned to go on a grand farewell tour of the Major Leagues in 2013, receiving plaudits and gifts in each ballpark as he made his last appearance.
Mariano Rivera is one of the most important figures in American sports. This book barely touches the surface of most of the pressing issues affecting baseball, on or off the field. But still it is worth reading because Mariano takes us on a tour of his remarkable career.
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“The Closer; My Story,” Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey, Little, Brown and Company, 2014