Baseball Books Reviewed: The Closer

The Closer, Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey, published by Little, Brown and Company, New York

Everything about this book exudes calm and class. In the mail order retail business sellers work very hard on the customers’ “box opening experience”. Little, Brown has certainly made a statement with this book. Beneath the dust jacket you discover a dark blue, ribbed cover with a facsimile of Rivera’s autograph slanted in the lower right corner. Inside the front cover the first few (and last few) pages are a dark blue with white pinstripes and River’s “42”, in white, elegantly positioned.

Inside, the words and pacing reveal an uncommon man. Sincere and humble and controlled.

A man who grew up poor in Panama with a loving but physically demanding father. A real commercial fisherman. Unlike Joe DiMaggio, Rivera worked on a fishing ship captained by his father – a 90 foot long, 120 ton vessel – which was taken into the ocean weekly on 6-day trips. It was on this ship he watched his favorite uncle sustain a fatal injury. It was also this vessel which capsized during a vicious storm which forced the crew into a small lifeboat and into a near-death experience.

Given such a start, it was impossible for him to get overly concerned about throwing a baseball in any situation.

Rivera considers himself a mechanic, which was his chosen career had baseball not appeared. He considers situations to be problems that can be solved. He methodically and analytically went about his pitching business without emotion. Like a pitching engineer.

This comes through in the stories he chooses to tell about his life in baseball. Virtually all of the game stories revolve around the post-season. Almost no discussion of various records he set or famous people he struck out or his personal season statistics. Instead he spends much of the book analyzing the Yankee’s, and his, performances. Taking each piece apart, examining it, and coming to a conclusion around what he could have done better or different.

The book also has a theme of Rivera’s belief in God. He attributes his successes to Him. Armed with his boyhood experiences and religion, it is not surprising that he is humble, calm , strong and focused. The perfect relief pitcher – especially in the crucible that is New York. What I found pleasing is that, unlike many recent autobiographies of baseball players, Rivera does not throw his beliefs at the reader, attempting conversions. They are expressed matter-of-factly, firmly, and within the flow of the story.

Frankly, the only issue I have with the book is that it is all written in the present tense. This periodically becomes distracting when talking about past events, but it is a minor complaint.

There are many stories, but very few which are at all critical of people. The recent comments about Robinson Cano played out in the media are taken out of context. Rivera’s point is that Cano may be the most talented player he ever saw. He just needs to be more consistent.

It has been many, many years since I finished a biography wanting to meet the subject. Based upon this book, I would love to spend some time talking with Mariano Rivera about any topic. I would hope, in his presence, to momentarily obtain calm and control to my chaotic life.