Posts Tagged ‘derek jeter’

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The Closer By Mariano Rivera with Wayne Coffey

September 4, 2015

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Maybe following up Andre Agassi’s Open with Mariano Rivera’s The Closer wasn’t the greatest idea because the drop off in the quality of the writing was immediately noticeable. Whereas Open was incredibly descriptive, intense, and gripping, The Closer is quite bland in comparison. It probably doesn’t help matters that Mariano Rivera’s story pretty much starts with the Yankees contacting the Panama native about signing a contract with them. As baseball fans know, Rivera quickly arrived with the Yankees and I’m very well versed in how things went from there having read Joe Torre’s The Yankee Years and Ian O’Connor’s Derek Jeter biography The Captain, so this is literally my third time reliving the Yankees’ glory years. I suppose I can only blame myself for that, but needless to say, it made The Closer relatively uninteresting for me.

Although most of the book was redundant to me, there were some things that stood out. For one, Mariano Rivera is a pretty good study of what separates naturally gifted athletes from the all-time greats: unwavering confidence and a short memory. If you are to believe Rivera’s account of things – and I do – his state of mind was pretty much always get in the game and get these guys out. He didn’t let the batter he was facing or the gravity of the situation affect his mental state – he just went out there and did his job. And when he failed, sometimes traumatically, he would completely forget about it by next time he took the mound. It’s an approach that makes a lot of sense, but is hard to execute, and it’s easy to see how he had the long and extremely successful career he did.

A big reason Rivera was able to maintain his superb confidence level was through his faith in God. By his account, there were multiple events throughout his life that could only be explained by divine interference, such as when his fastball suddenly increased by 5 mph early in his Yankees career or when it started cutting naturally, becoming the devastating out pitch Rivera was famous for. Now, I’d never be one to go out my way to knock someone’s faith, but as an agnostic myself, I really have no interest in it and I can’t stand being preached to and, honestly, there’s a good amount of that going on in The Closer. It’s one thing to share your life story and the role religion played in it; it’s quite another to tell people why they should have Jesus Christ in their lives. No thank you.

There was an interesting passage in the book where Rivera shared his thoughts on Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. While he had plenty of good things to say about the two superstars, he was also pretty honest about their weaknesses. Concerning A-Rod, he describes Rodriguez as his own worst enemy and how he doesn’t understand why he always needs to be the center of attention. His description of Cano couldn’t echo my own feelings about my Mariners’ second baseman more accurately. He says Cano has the ability to be one of the all-time greats, but shows a frustrating lack of interest in putting in the effort and hustling. It’s something I’ve seen time and time again from Cano – the dude just doesn’t look like he cares. It’s refreshing to hear a highly regarded former teammate express the same sentiment.

While I lived through the Yankees’ long string of dominance and have read about it on multiple occasions, The Closer does offer one piece of possibly critical information that I did not know beforehand. We all know the Boston Red Sox defeated the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS after trailing 3 games to 0, the most epic comeback in sports history, before going on to win the 2004 World Series and ending one of the longest championship droughts in baseball. What most people don’t know is something that happened outside of baseball before the turning point in Game 4. There was a tragic accident in Rivera’s family during the 2004 season, when his nephew and brother-in-law were both electrocuted and drowned in a swimming pool. As Rivera was warming up in the Fenway bullpen before he came in to close out Game 4, he overheard a fan in the stands taunting him by referencing the tragic death of his family. While Mo claims that this did not affect him before he went out to the mound that night, eventually coughing up a lead that led to a Red Sox win that opened the door for them to take the series, I’m not so sure. Even a mental game champion would have a hard time not letting that kind of low blow (the lowest of low blows) enrage him. If Mariano was incensed by this fan’s comments, maybe it actually did contribute to the Red Sox comeback. Who knows.

All in all, The Closer was an okay sports biography that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It’s probably a must read for die hard Yanks fans or big Mariano Rivera supporters, but I enjoyed The Yankee Years and The Captain much, much more – and Jim Abbott’s Imperfect for that matter. Interestingly, I’ve long considered myself to be a staunch Yankees hater, but I have now read four separate books that spent a significant amount of time detailing the Yankees dynasty of the mid-to-late 90s. At the end of the day, I have a lot of respect for the core group of players that were there for pretty much all of the championships: Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada. Those guys were all class act players that came up through the Yankee system and played their whole careers with the organization. The Closer might not be the greatest sports bio I’ve read, but Mariano Rivera is almost certainly the best closer in the history of baseball.

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Franchise Four – New York Yankees

May 6, 2015

I have to say the New York Yankees were probably the team I was looking forward to the least – it’s simply an impossible task to narrow down the list of great players to a mere four. Babe Ruth makes one of the choices really easy – and so does Lou Gehrig – but it gets extremely difficult after that. Was Derek Jeter a better player than Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio? Was Yogi Berra better than any of them? Can we possibly exclude the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera?

Babe Ruth

The Argument: This is an easy one. We’re talking about the most dominant hitter in the history of the game. Before Babe Ruth came along with his 714 career homeruns, if you could hit double digit homers you were a monster. His presence completely changed the game – no one has ever stood so far above their peers than Babe Ruth did. The Babe is the Yankees all-time leader in runs scored, homeruns, walks, batting average, slugging, and on-base percentage. His 1.164 career OPS is the highest mark in history. The Great Bambino is also arguably responsible for making the Yankees the marquee franchise they have become today, helping them to their first of 28 World Series titles back in 1923. The Yanks went on to win four World Series with Ruth and perhaps his presence in New York helped attract many of the franchise’s future stars. For all his game-changing accomplishments, Ruth was part of the first ever Hall Of Fame class.

Lou Gehrig

The Argument: Gehrig ranks in the top 3 of virtually every offensive category in Yankees history. The Iron Horse was the first legendary Yankee to spend his entire career with the club, finishing with a .340 batting average, 493 homeruns, 1995 RBI, and a 1.080 OPS. Gehrig played his entire career at his peak and basically never took a day off before the disease that would eventually be named after him slowed him down one year before retiring at age 36. Another Hall Of Famer, Gehrig won two MVP awards and six World Series with the Yanks.

Joe DiMaggio

The Argument: DiMaggio is another Hall Of Fame Yankee lifer, albeit over a smaller career size than most legendary players at just 13 seasons. To be fair, like Ted Williams, DiMaggio missed three full seasons in the middle of his prime due to military service. The Yankee Clipper’s career numbers are impressive: 2214 hits, 1390 runs, 361 homers, 1537 RBI – numbers that all rank within the top 6 on the Yankees all-time lists – but it’s his 162-game averages that astound: .325/.398/.579, 130 runs, 207 hits, 34 homeruns, 143 RBI; his average season would easily win the MVP most seasons these days. DiMaggio did win the AL MVP in 1939, 1941, and 1947 and the 56-game hitting streak he put together in 1941 may never be matched (actually, this is a record that probably will be). Joltin’ Joe’s Yankees reached the World Series 10 times in his 13 year career and walked away with 9 titles during that time. He was also an All-Star every year of his career.

Derek Jeter

The Argument: Mickey Mantle had enough talent to be the best baseball player of all-time. Unfortunately, he likely tore his ACL during the World Series of his rookie year and never had his knee surgically repaired, playing the rest of his career with an injury that would sideline most players indefinitely. Alas, The Mick did suffer that injury – and battled alcoholism – and was never able to play to his full potential, and since this is a list of what players did accomplish, Derek Jeter becomes the somewhat difficult choice. Jeter may not have the gaudy power numbers of Mantle or the ten World Series rings of Yogi Berra, but no player better represents the face of the Yankees franchise than Derek Jeter. For starters, no one played more games (2747) or had more hits (3465), doubles (544), or stolen bases (358) for the most storied franchise in baseball. Jeter batted a remarkable .310 for his career and, considering he played 20 seasons, posted a very respectable .817 OPS. The 1996 Rookie Of The Year was a 14-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glover, and finished in the top 3 of the AL MVP voting three times. After being a perennial World Series winner from the 1920s to the early 1960s, the Yanks managed just two titles from 1963 to 1995 before winning four times in Jeter’s first five seasons (he would add a fifth in 2009). Perhaps the most important reason Jeter is so revered and why he belongs on this list before some Yankees that were arguably better players, is the amount of class he displayed both on and off the field. Few players carried themselves with more grounded charisma than Derek Jeter.