Book Review: Closer, Kevin Neary with Leigh A. Tobin (2013)

Ronald Martinez

An oral history of closing and closers, featuring a lot of former and current Brewers. Here, closers ARE things.

Closer: Major League Players Reveal the Inside Pitch on Saving the Game is a history of closers and closing and their changing roles over time; it's not a strict oral history but most of the structure involves a few relevant questions to many, many different pitchers. Because so many players are featured, each section is short--3 to 5 pages per most players.

It's pretty astounding to realize just how many of these prominent closers have been part of the Brewers at one point in their careers. This book has sections on Rollie Fingers, Doug Jones, Jesse Orosco, Dan Plesac, Francisco Cordero, Eric Gagne, Trevor Hoffman, Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford. That's also probably illustrative both as to the shelf life of a closer as well as the mobility of the typical reliever after reaching free agency. Trevor Hoffman, even in his leaving San Diego, was a special case.

It's interesting that nearly every player asked about the hardest aspects of closing pinpointed the mental aspects. A lot of what they say is that closing is "special" but quite a bit of answers explain why the relief role in general is so tough.

Most of the recent players have their 2011 seasons covered and have far less about their 2012 seasons. Jim Johnson has his 2012 in here, but he may have been covered in a hurry after his breakout onto the national scene in 2012. (Johnson's been quietly closing things in Baltimore for years, however.)

I found this book refreshing for its lack of author-induced nostalgia. I've just read a rash of 20th century baseball history books that romanticize the era depicted especially in contrast to the post-free agency game. Neary lets the players do the talking and the judging. The older players profiled are not uniform in their assessment of the modern game and changes in pitchers' roles. Some are this nostalgic type, but others like Tom House and (surprisingly after listening to some of his broadcasts) Al Hrabosky are understanding of the changes to the game.

This was an interesting yet quick read, recommended to anyone who has an interest in any of the pitchers featured or the general history of closing. I'd have loved this even more if I was still using the bus to commute to work; the sections are just the right size to read in 15- to 20-minute chunks.

(A review copy was provided by the publisher.)

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