Posts Tagged ‘joe torre’

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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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The Yankee Years by Joe Torre & Tom Verducci

March 1, 2009

Started: February 15th, 2009
Finished: March 1st, 2009

First off, let me state the fact that I’ve never reviewed a book in my life, but considering that I’m a writing major and have some professional writing experience under my belt, I don’t feel that I’m unqualified to express an educated opinion.

The Yankee Years first caught my attention because it was making headlines on ESPN due to stirring up some dirt in the Yankees organization. I don’t even remember what the headline was, but it probably had something to do with Alex Rodriguez, since that guy attracts controversy like he gets a bonus for it in his contract. I wasn’t particularly intrigued by the fact that Joe Torre had written a book about his time with the Yankees, but when I saw that Tom Verducci, a reputed baseball writer for Sports Illustrated, was the co-author I figured it was worth my time.

Make no mistake, this book is Verducci’s baby. Despite first billing and an authoring credit, Torre’s involvement is limited to extensive interviewing and vocal contributions, but has nothing to do with the writing as far as I was able to tell. Though this book wouldn’t have been possible without Torre’s involvement, I think his name on it is mostly a sales strategy. Verducci puts together a well-structured and chronological book with sharp prose that keeps the reader interested. Some of the writing does get repetitive at times and some of the quotes used don’t contribute much, but overall, I found the book to be a quick and interesting read.

I consider myself to be somewhat of a baseball fanatic, but The Yankee Years made me realize that I completely lose touch with the game come playoff time. I’m sure this is due to the fact that baseball, despite being a great sport, is kind of boring to watch and also because I don’t have a vested interest when the Mariners miss the playoffs or get knocked out. This has caused me to miss out on some incredible games. Think what you want to about the Yankees, but over the past 15 years or so, they’ve been involved in some of the best postseason series and games of all-time. If there weren’t box scores and footage to prove the results, you’d think that some of these accounts were fictitiously written for the movies. From Aaron Boone’s game-winning homerun in extra innings, to Curt Schilling’s bloody sock, to the Yankees coming back from a sub-.500 record as late as July to make the playoffs in 2007, there definitely was a story to be told here.

The thing that surprised me the most about the book is how it made me feel about the Yankees. Without a doubt, in my lifetime, the Yankees are my most hated team in any sport. I’ve always felt like they’ve been able to buy their way into the playoffs due to a ridiculous revenue stream and payroll flexibility, and with 12 straight postseason appearances, six league championships and four World Series Rings, that might be hard to argue. However, after reading this book, I feel like I may have been a bit ignorant. The most amazing thing happened as I was reading the first half of this book: I found myself liking the Yankees for the first time in my life. No, not the Yankees as we know them now, but the team that won four World Series titles in five years from 1996-2000. It’s easy to learn to hate a team that constantly wins, but I think a lot of my hatred was misguided. I’ve always despised the Yankees because of their huge payroll and ability to buy their roster rather than develop it, but those teams that won the championships were built of gritty, hard-nosed and reasonably priced veterans that had a will to win (Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, David Cone) and young, upcoming future superstars produced from the Yankees own farm system (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte). When Joe Torre was hired before the 1996 season, the Yankees had a modest (in comparison to now) payroll and their attendance was merely average compared to the rest of the league. It was due to this run of championships and success that the Yankees have become the colossal revenue-building monster that it is now. It wasn’t until the 2000s (after the Yankees last championship) that they seemingly started signing every big free agent that went on the market. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the Yankees, but I think you have to respect what they accomplished in the late 90s. Those championships were earned, not bought, and they put together an incredible run that deserves all the accolades it receives.

With that said, the last half of the book made me hate the Yankees even more than I did before. Not only has revenue sharing and an increased ability by other teams to exploit inefficiencies cut into the Yankees advantage, but the Yankees front office hasn’t been able to make intelligent decisions (especially regarding starting pitching) and has wasted a staggering amount of money on the free agent market. The list of failures is vast: Carl Pavano, Javier Vasquez, Jaret Wright, Jeff Weaver and Randy Johnson are just the beginning. On top of that, it took the Yankees 11 years (from Andy Pettitte in 1996 to Joba Chamberlain in 2007) to develop a quality starting pitcher out of their own minor league system. The book describes all these misguided decisions in detail and explores how the Yankees bought a team of superstars that lacked the will to win that the late 90s Yankees possessed. Also, these superstars didn’t mesh as a team and there were often clashes of personality in the dugout and on the field.

After reading this book, I realized that the Yankee championships were legitimate and hard-earned, Joe Torre is a remarkable manager (he got them to 12 straight postseasons, including six years when the team was clearly in decline despite an increasing payroll), and that my current hatred of the team is valid. Alex Rodriguez is still a piece of shit and may arguably be the most unlikable player in all of sports. This book didn’t help his image any; his own manager thought of him as a self-centered, whiny, attention-whore.

Without a doubt, this is an absolute must read for any fan of baseball.