The Closer: My Story
It is rare to find so humble a person as Mariano Rivera, who retired after playing his entire professional career with the New York Yankees, publish a memoir. After all, there was nothing especially controversial about the future Hall of Fame relief pitcher who saved a record 652 games in his 19 years with the team (although there were some whispers about performance-enhancing drugs as he aged yet managed to maintain his athletic prowess).
Perhaps that’s why the media had to pick the one section of the book in which he uncharacteristically chastises --- gently --- former teammate Robinson Cano for not, to this point, living up to his potential.
Rivera is big on the subject of potential. A spiritual man, he acknowledges that whatever skills he had were gifts from God, and he expresses his thanks throughout the book. Yet he does so in a manner that is not off-putting to those who roll their eyes whenever a player thanks “my personal Lord and savior.”
"...a modest book by a modest man whom Yankees --- and baseball --- fans should appreciate on numerous levels."
Aided by Wayne Coffey, who co-wrote R.A. Dickey’s incredibly personal and sensitive WHEREVER I WIND UP in 2012, THE CLOSER is an innocuous, straight-ahead look at Rivera’s impoverished childhood in Panama and his improbable rise to stardom. Unlike many Central and South American prospects, Rivera did not have grand designs --- or even the talent, according to him --- to play professional ball. Rather, the notion gradually became a possibility as he progressed from a starting pitcher with relatively ordinary stuff to perhaps the premier “fireman” in the history of the game.
Rivera bridged the generations when closers --- relief pitchers called upon to protect their teams’ leads --- were often expected to throw more than just the final inning. Among his many highlights, Rivera was a 13-time All-Star, winning the MVP award in his final appearance in 2013; a five-time winner of the award for the best relief pitcher in the American League; a World Series MVP; an American League Championship Series MVP; heck, he even won Comeback Player of the Year honors in 2013 at the age of 43 --- a point where most athletes have long since retired --- after an injury in 2012 nearly ended his career.
Rivera does not speak much about such accolades; he would say personal glory meant little to him. His biggest professional joy came in helping the Yankees win five World Series. In fact, he spends most of THE CLOSER discussing the postseasons, both his successes and his failures, the latter of which he handles with amazing equanimity in a chapter titled “Trophy.” There are no histrionics, no finger-pointing. He handles it all with thanks and appreciation.
Aside from his comments on Cano, the harshest words, if you can call them that, are reserved for PED users. Even then, Rivera refuses to judge them and embraces them as flawed people. (The closest he comes to being nasty is when he characterizes Yankees coach Don Zimmer as “rotund.”)
If there’s any shortcoming in the book, it’s that he glosses over most of his time on the field. This is, however, what you would expect from a workman like Rivera, who ranks fourth all-time for pitchers in regular-season games; one is pretty much like the rest. He would rather talk about his relationships with God and his family --- both his wife and children, and his Yankee kinfolk, particularly teammates Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, who, with Rivera, comprised the “Core Four,” spending so many years together and appearing in the postseason in 17 of Rivera’s 19 seasons. The closing chapter, “Exit Sandman,” is quite emotional as he realizes he has come to the end.
All in all, THE CLOSER is a modest book by a modest man whom Yankees --- and baseball --- fans should appreciate on numerous levels.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on May 30, 2014