Book Review: Closer


The role of a closer may be the most mysterious position in baseball. In order to succeed, it almost seems as if a player has to be a little off of his rocker. It is the only position in sports where the player is guaranteed to only be on the field during pressure packed situations. In Closer: Major League Players Reveal the Inside Pitch on Saving the Game, authors Kevin Neary and Leigh Tobin attempt to explain the position and what it takes to excel in the role at the back end of a team’s bullpen.

The book is appropriately started with a forward by Brad Lidge. Lidge is a microcosm of what a closer can go through in their career. While most players could have a bad game on any given day, and it doesn’t factor into their career success as long as they bounce back, closers are maligned forever if they have a bad inning in the wrong situation. Lidge quickly went from being perhaps the most successful closer in the league to someone who his manager didn’t even feel he could trust in non-save situations. This transformation all happened in the duration of roughly one season.

Lidge’s story, while perhaps extreme, is not unique and this fact is evident when the stories of the following players are extolled through the pages:

  • Rick Aguilera
  • John Axford
  • Elroy Face
  • Ronald “Rollie” Fingers
  • Eric Gagne
  • Richard “Goose” Gossage
  • Trevor Hoffman
  • Ryan Madson
  • Jason Motte
  • Jesse Orosco
  • Jonathan Papelbon
  • Ron Perranoski
  • Dennis Eckersley
  • Mariano Rivera
  • Francisco Rodriguez
  • Jeff Russell
  • Lee Smith
  • John Smoltz
  • Bruce Sutter
  • Bobby Thigpen

These players span many teams and many generations. Changes are if you have followed baseball even somewhat closely over the years, you have seen many of these players’ names in the headlines for one reason or another.

Some of these players excelled in other roles as well while others only found success as a pitcher when they switched to the role of closer. Closers, more than any other pitcher on a team, tend to become associated with one signature pitcher. The reason that the names above are so prevalent is that many of them were able to master a single pitch, such the forkball or splitter, which made them absolutely unhittable for a short period of time.

While the book certainly focuses on what makes these players successful, it also spends a considerable amount of time on some of the well-known failures of those in the closer role. Here are some of the main topics that are discussed within the pages:

  • The seemingly unanimous revelations of two of the more revered closers in the game’s history.
  • How some pitchers are able to start a second career by deciding to move to become a closer.
  • An in depth look at John Rocker’s tumultuous career, including a description of his interview with Sports Illustrated that seemed to start the downfall of his career.
  • How baseball has moved away from the three-inning save being common place to an era where if a closer is asked to pitch for more than three outs, the manager gets questioned if he may be overusing the player.
  • How Mitch Williams reacted when Joe Carter hit his game winning homerun off of Williams during the 1993 World Series.
  • Whether an era where smaller pitching staffs existed, which meant for less specialized positions, actually meant a better team was fielded overall.
  • A look at the extremely tragic story of Donnie Moore.

The book did a good job compiling stories from various different closers over time and putting them in one place. While there were certainly moments of great suspense, there were also many stories that mirrored one another and thus created a slow read at times. The book is divided up into chapters by each player and the interest level of the reader tends to follow how interesting a story each individual had to share.

The book will be available to the public in March 2013. It is 288 pages and is being published by Running Press. It will be available for $15.

Overall Rating: 2.25/5

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