Simply put, Mariano Rivera’s tell-all book The Closer co-written with Wayne Coffey, is a great trip down memory lane for any Yankees’ fan. I read nearly the whole book poolside in Las Vegas. That’s right, Yankees’ fans, I was surrounded by all that a Las Vegas pool has to offer and I could not put this book down. I don’t believe you can get more of a ringing endorsement than that!
Rivera’s story chronicles the rise of a poor young fisherman who eventually became The Sandman. It is less about baseball, although he discusses it in wonderful nostalgic detail, but more about the relationships he made along the way, most importantly with God and his wife Clara. As talented as the young Mariano was on the open seas with his father’s fishing team, he was always better than everyone else at one thing… throwing a baseball.
Mariano was an outfielder by trade, until one day, in a Panama league playoff game nonetheless, his manager was short on arms and called Mo in from right field to pitch. Although confused, he took the mound. “I come on in the second inning and go the rest of the way. I do not allow a run. I am doing nothing cute. I have no curveball and sure don’t have any dipsy-do windup. I get the ball and throw it, probably no more than 85 miles per hour, but I am getting ahead of everybody else, hitting corners, pitching quickly. We wind up winning the game” (page 31). Two weeks later, his catcher and center fielder arrange a try out for Rivera with MLB scouts. The rest is history.
It is a chilling recollection of one of our most beloved Yankee legends and his evolution from a flame throwing starter with two pitches to the greatest reliever of all-time. His youthful naivety shines through when he recollects his climb through the minors.
He remembers meeting his friend Derek Jeter and seeing him flounder as a fielder, committing 56 errors his first year. “Don’t even think about moving him,” Rivera thought after the Yanks discussed moving Jeter to center field. “He’s getting better every day. He wants to be great. You can see it in how hard he works, how passionately he plays… The only thing you need to do with Derek Jeter is leave him alone” (p.62). I guess he was right!
It wasn’t all happiness and friendships. He watched his own uncle die at sea when a storm struck their fishing boat. He discusses the downfall of Brien Taylor and how so much was lost by a young man who had endless potential. He talks about his bout as a young man with Tommy John surgery. And he recalls his first time being sent back to the minors after he failed as a starter with the Yankees. It was June 11th, 1995 and he and Jeter were both sent down that day. It wouldn’t happen again.
It is also the story of faith, and his relationship with God. Mo was able to overcome every high and every low because of his faith and belief. It made him stronger. Even his darkest days, like his knee injury and the death of his two cousins in his pool, were just road bumps as Mo always knew his faith and his master plan had a reason for things that happened. It was why he was able to rebound from Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, which stuck with him for a long time.
As much as Rivera claims that he has no relationship stronger than that of his faith in God, his love for his wife Clara is beyond admiration. She has been his backbone since his youth, his best friend, his rock, and the person that reminds him “tomorrow will be a better day.” Today, they run the Refuge of Hope and Clara is the senior pastor. He gushes over her constantly throughout the book, and it is heartfelt and true.
Mo doesn’t hide his feelings. He tells of how the Yankees changed after that 2001 World Series. He expresses his original disdain for the New Yankee Stadium. And he isn’t afraid to tell you how he feels about Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez.
Rivera liked them both very much, he just was a different man than they. He always told A-Rod that less was better for him. When it came to Cano, Mo admits, “Robby is one of the greatest players I’ve ever played with” (p. 238) but also doesn’t shy away on times that he let him down by not hustling. Rivera was not afraid to hold back on his feelings in this book and his honesty is beautiful… even when he opined that he would take Dustin Pedroia as his second baseman if he were starting a team.
The book climaxes with his last season. His description of his two old friends, Jeter and Pettitte, coming to the mound is in such graphic detail and honesty that any longtime Yankees’ fan will get spine tingling chills. You suddenly are taken to a place when Mo’s entire life flashes through your mind: his friendships with Jorge, Bernie, Jeter, Pettitte, and Mr. T (Joe Torre), his never-ending accomplishments, and every one of his biggest outs.
That is when you realize that every moment of the new Yankee Dynasty of the 1990s hinged on every pitch Rivera made. You realize that the Core Four and Bernie, Paulie, and Tino weren’t just amazing players in the right place at the right time with each other, but a family destined to be together. And you realize that we should all be thankful that we all got to witness not just the greatest closer of all-time, but a wonderful human being.