Facing Mariano Rivera -- book review

By Jason Wojciechowski on April 5, 2014 at 12:17 AM

Sports Publishing was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of David Fischer's new book, Facing Mariano Rivera, which came out on March 4th. It's a slim volume and a quick read, and it would make a nice addition to the library of certain baseball fans -- Yankees followers, Rivera partisans, people who like owning a copy of every baseball book they can get a hand on.

Unfortunately, I cannot recommend the book terribly highly for the more general fan or for the analyst. It is a collection of quotes from players who have batted or pitched against Rivera along with quotes from a few other people (managers, e.g.). So far, neat idea. The problem is in the execution, which shows no real effort at putting together a cohesive book. The quotes are arranged so that outfielders who batted against Rivera are kept in a distinct section from infielders, and within those sections, the hitters are sorted alphabetically. Why? I have no idea. There are any number of arrangements that make sense -- players could be ordered by hand by the editor based on themes or to create a narrative arc or chronological order would make a lot of sense so you could see how batters who faced Rivera in 1998 might differ from those facing him 10 years later. What does not make sense is separating outfielders from infielders (do they hit differently?) and ordering them by name.

The book also evidences little concern for avoiding repetition and, frankly, boredom. It seems that the extent of the insights into Rivera from most hitters amounts to "he throws over pitch real real good" or "he's an even better person than a pitcher." There are only so many times you can read those ideas before you lose interest, and I passed that point as a reader at best a third of the way through the book. There are tidbits here and there about players moving up in the box to try to get to the cutter before it broke (which I think doesn't really work, as a matter of physics) or using different bats, either because they don't want their precious lucky bats to get splintered or because they change their approach slightly against Rivera. And then there are essentially counternarratives that if you go about changing your approach this radically against him, you're letting him get in your head.

Fischer does include some players who had famous hits against Rivera, or random nobodies who happened to hit him well, which is nice, but these players, you will be unsurprised to learn, have no magic answers to how to solve the problem of hitting that cutter. They just happened to do it here and there. Many admit that their hits were bloopers that fell in.

tl;dr: Collector's item for the misty Mariano fan: sure; useful book for the rest of us: less so.