With baseball cancelled for the foreseeable future, we will all have to get our Yankees fix from sources other than actual games. Fortunately, that task has never been easier. With podcasts, social media, and YouTube, there’s more Yankees media available to us today than ever before.
Sometimes, however, nothing beats reading (or listening to) a really good book. While there are dozens and dozens of great books on the Yankees, the one that I’d like to recommend to you today is Mariano Rivera’s autobiography, The Closer. In my experience, player autobiographies tend to be particularly interesting reads, and Mo’s book is no exception. The Closer gives us an unfiltered, in-depth picture of the greatest relief pitcher in the history of baseball.
Rivera opens The Closer by discussing what his life was like as a poor kid in Panama. Mo spent his early years living in a dilapidated two-room house with his parents and three siblings. He tells us that he spent his days playing baseball on the beach with a cardboard glove and a ball made of rocks, fishing nets, and tape. Baseball was a way to have fun with friends, but Mo never thought that the game would radically change his life.
In fact, Mariano knew very little about professional baseball when he was a child. Early in The Closer, Mo admits that he had never heard of Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron as a youngster. His world did not stretch past the boundaries of his hometown, Puerto Caimito. Life was simple, life was local, and Major League Baseball was the furthest thing from his teenage mind.
After dropping out of high school, Mariano began working with his father on the family fishing boat. Rivera’s plan was to pay his way through mechanics school so that he could avoid the dangers of a life spent at sea. But before he could become a mechanic, the Yankees came calling.
Rivera tells us that he played lots of baseball as a boy, but that he rarely toed the rubber and pitched. At twenty years old, not much had changed. When he wasn’t working for school money, Mo was playing a solid centerfield for his village’s travel baseball team. He didn’t know that his position on the diamond, as well as his future, were about to change.
On a whim, says Rivera, his coach called him into a game to relieve a struggling starter. While Mo didn’t throw particularly hard, he had success because of his ability to locate the baseball. As a child, Mo could always throw a rock exactly where he wanted, and now he was doing the same thing on the mound. His team won the game, and his teammates were impressed.
Rivera recalls that, just two weeks after his pitching debut, a couple of friends from the team arranged for him to attend a tryout being held by the Yankees. Mariano, who could barely afford his bus ticket to the stadium, turned the heads of Yankee scouts. On February 17, 1990, at his parents’ little house in Puerto Caimito, Mo signed a $2,000 contract. He was officially a Yankee.
The bulk of The Closer is dedicated to recounting Rivera’s career in pinstripes. Mo takes his readers through all of his biggest playoff moments, retelling incredible stories in vivid detail. His coverage of the 1995 ALDS against Seattle and the World Series in 1996 are especially excellent. While some seasons are naturally more interesting or exciting than others, he makes sure to cover each Yankees campaign from 1995 to 2013.
Unsurprisingly, Mo is able to shed light on his fellow Yankees in an engaging manner. He dedicates many pages to his teammates, always finding a way to praise what each player brought to the Yanks. Mo clearly admires Jeter’s work ethic, Posada’s passion, and the intensity of Paul O’Neill. Rivera heaps deserved praise upon Bernie Williams as well. The love that Mariano has for his teammates is evident on every page. Anybody who wants to learn more about the athletes at the heart of these Yankee teams will love reading The Closer.
Dealing with Defeat
Before returning to glory in 2009, Mariano and the Yankees suffered some bitter defeats during the 2000s. Rivera candidly discusses his blown save at the end of the 2001 World Series and his inability to shut the door on Boston in 2004. While these failures were deeply disappointing, Mo is open about the solace that he found in his faith and family during his darkest days.
Mariano enjoyed so much success that we barely remember the times he came up short. Rivera makes it clear that he remembers every defeat, and that he used his own failures as motivation for the future. Mo’s story is one of determination and perseverance. There were times when his opponents beat him on the field, but Mariano never let a loss break his spirit. His humility, his drive, and his obsession with keeping things simple ensured that he would always rise from the ashes.
The Closer is outstanding. It is arguably the best Yankee autobiography ever written, and it is a book that I definitely plan on rereading in the future. It is the ultimate book for Rivera fans, and it is also an excellent source for information on almost every Yankees season from 1995 to 2013. If you’d like to relive your favorite moments from the Core Four era during the current baseball hiatus, this book is the perfect place to start. Anybody interested in the audiobook will be excited to know that The Closer is expertly narrated by none other than Michael Kay. If you’re missing baseball like I am, then I’d highly recommend that you give The Closer a look this spring.
The Closer is available in print, digital, and audible formats.