While most of the books I get come from the University of Nebraska Press, not all of them do. Press Box Publicity usually is good to set me up with two or three different books at the beginning of baseball season as well, and they are the conduit by which I got my copy of Closer: Major League Players Reveal The Inside Pitch On Saving The Game.
The authors of this book, Kevin Neary and Leigh Tobin, also wrote a book called Major League Dads. I reviewed that one last year and found a lot of similarities between it and Closer, at least in writing styles. More on that in a bit.
The premise of Closer is to talk to the guys that have held the job, both in the more formative days when the term wasn’t bandied about, through the transitional stage of multi-inning (but specialized) closers, to the current-day version of the role. The authors profiled 62 different closers with careers ranging from 1953 (Elroy Face) and the late ’60 to a number of guys that are still locking down saves today.
Most of these players were interviewed by the authors and, indeed, a large portion of each chapter (which may only be 2-3 pages long, depending on the subject) comes in their own words. The rest deals with the statistics of their career and how they worked their way into the closer role.
It’s not surprising that you’ll see a few themes run through a lot of these interviews. The old timers tend to point out that “back in their day” they went more than just one inning like these new guys do. Also, closers have to have a short memory, which probably is something you were already aware of when you picked up the book, but it’s not surprising that these guys are going to reiterate that when they are asked about their jobs.
For Cardinal fans, it’s interesting to see people like Al Hrabosky, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter and Jason Motte all featured in the book. (Bonus points to Smith, who when asked about his Hall of Fame cap if it comes had this quote: “Even though my heart goes out to St. Louis, my plaque would probably be with the Cubs.” Reading through it, he loved his time under the Arch a lot.)
That’s not to say this is a perfect book. Like Major League Dads, it’s not necessarily designed for the hard-core fan, nor is it an in-depth look at any of these players. For instance, Brad Lidge did the foreword, though he was not covered individually in the book, and (not surprisingly) he didn’t discuss the Albert Pujols home run. Nothing about Francisco Rodriguez‘s issues with the Mets were mentioned. Save for the occasional bit of language that is going to come out of major league mouths, this would be easily a book that you could maybe give a sixth-grader to get a feel for these guys. It’s not an expose or a detailed historical record, it’s a casual look at some guys that got saves.
I don’t say that to denigrate it in the least. It’s an enjoyable read and a great reference for some of those just learning about the evolution of the closer role. I’d quibble some with the placement of a few of these guys–John Rocker was in the transitional section when he seems easily one of the modern ones, same with Mitch Williams–and I was surprised to see someone with as little experience as Addison Reed get a section, but on the whole this is a nice book with a few facts you weren’t aware of in there.
If nothing else, you see how many of these guys, even the modern ones, came up as a starter. Does anyone remember Mariano Rivera getting starts? I sure didn’t! So few guys, even in this time period, were being groomed to be a closer even in the minors.
So if you have an interest in how this closer role came to be or want to know a bit more about some of the forefathers of the position, check out Closer. It might be a good entryway into some deeper research or discussions!