"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Word to God

There is an exhaustive, though ultimately not especially rewarding profile of Mariano Rivera by James Traub in the New York Times Magazine. Perhaps we’re the wrong audience for this story. Closer to the point, I don’t think Mariano is an interesting subject for a magazine piece. He’s dull, in fact, too guarded to reveal anything about his personal life.  How does a savant articulate his gift? Shrugs his shoulders and says he’s doing the Lord’s work.

Writers are left to wax poetic over Mo’s on-the-field accomplishments, his style, his calm, his greatness, his influence around the clubhouse. A writer can talk to players around the league, add some quotes about just how good Mariano is, but otherwise, what is there to say?

So this story is thorough but it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about Rivera, and some of Traub’s characterizations are off-base: Kevin Youkilis is a described as a “batting genius” while Jonathan Paplebon is called “the closer who has become Rivera’s great rival.” Youkilis is a great hitter, but a genius? And if Rivera and Paplebon have a rivalry that’s news to me (they just happen to play for rival  teams).

It’s worth checking out, and I rarely tire of reading about Mo, but considering the author and the publication, I was disappointed.

However, the Times does have a cool video piece on Mo that is well-worth looking at.

[Photo Credit: National Geographic]

Tags:  james traub  Mariano Rivera

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1 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:18 am

Sounds like Traub is not much of a sports fan.

I agree that Mo isn't an easy person to profile, but I disagree that he is inherently dull. It seems that everyone focuses on his greatness, which really speaks for itself. However, the right person could probably elicit a very interesting profile if Mo really trusted him/her.

2 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:19 am

1) In theory you are right, but I think it's HIGHLY unlikely that a jock in this day and age would EVER trust a WRITER...they've got nothing to gain and everything to lose.

3 RagingTartabull   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:32 am

I tried but couldn't get through it. Traub is a very good writer, but this was written for casual fans. Fact is we know Mo too well for any of this to be particularly interesting. One morning Mo woke up and had a 95 mph fastball...its a great story, but we've heard it 200 different ways over the past 15 years. Same with 2001, or 2003, or anything else really. There isn't much new stuff to say.

I don't think Mo is inherently dull necessarily, but the aspects of his character that are most interesting (his childhood, his religious zealotry) are hard to get a real hold on unless he decides to completely open up to the author.

4 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:34 am

[2] Good point...With Mo, I think added obstacles are language and faith. I think he would be more open to a spanish speaker as well as someone whom he believed respected his faith, which undoubtedly would be an integral part of his story.

5 RagingTartabull   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:39 am

[2] I seem to remember you saying that you had heard a thing or two about Mo's reputation as a little bit of a "Romeo"...now THAT could be interesting.

6 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:41 am

4) Possible, but I just don't think modern jocks with the kind of savy that Mo has, reveal anything about their personal lives. He's not dull, I'm sure, that was probably the wrong term. He's just a dull subject or a limited one. And 3) you are right, we aren't the target audience here.

7 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:42 am

5) Yeah, but who is going to tell that story?

8 RagingTartabull   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:46 am

[7] maybe a Selena Roberts-type. I'm not saying thats a subject that is for public consumption, unless Mo decides he wants to run for President of Panama at which point it's fair game, but I guess its always there if someone wanted to pursue it.

I am in no way advocating that this happen, I'm just saysin'.

9 FreddySez   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:47 am

I'm down with Alex's take on this article -- it's like it was written for somebody's aunt who doesn't follow baseball, sort of like Fox post-season color commentary. It may just be a case of Traub wanting to shout "first!" in what is certain to be a litany of feature-length apotheoses.

As for Mo being boring: We all strive toward the ideal of building your career, and your life, around the simple pursuit of something you love. If any of us were to achieve that as completely as Rivera appears to have done, how quotable would we be? The serenity that frustrates writers is part of what I admire in the man.

Reading this got me thinking about (and looking up) a coupla random things.

1. A quick stop by Retrosheet confirmed what I'd suspected: Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS contained both Mariano Rivera's first post-season appearance and Don Mattingly's last home run. Some day you will, indeed, know synchronicity. Better, and more fortunate, for me to quote Mark Twain instead: Wit ye well, I saw it done.

2. I can't find any record of anyone asking Rivera about one topic -- or of his talking about it: The 1989 U.S. invasion of his country. It took place only months before he signed his first free-agent contract with the Yankees, and he was playing ball in Panama then. Isn't that odd?

10 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:48 am

[5] From whom, when did you hear that? I've never heard such a rumor.

[8] As long as media outlets will pay the likes of Roberts, no topic is off limits.

11 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:52 am

10) He heard it from me and I'm not at liberty to say where I got it from. I'm not saying it's true, it's second-hand info on my part. But I've no reason to doubt the source or to doubt that a ballplayer, any ballplayer, has a rep as a romeo.

12 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:52 am

[6] I don't think Mo's story would be told to a "journalist", but I could see Mo collaborating with someone on his life story at some point down the line.

13 RagingTartabull   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:54 am

I think we can all agree that you don't get much duller than Jeter.

I mean I love the guy, but if someone ever decided to write a 400 page book about how much he loves his parents...

14 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:54 am

[11] Interesting...I can't speak for your source, but I'd have to imagine that something would have come out over all these years. Unfortunately, that's exactly why tabloids exist these days.

Besides, what exactly is a "Romeo"?

15 williamnyy23   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:56 am

[13] I was going to say the same thing. I guess it depends on the kinds of stories that people want to tell. Unfortunately, a good life doesn't always make a great book.

16 Alex Belth   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:58 am

Maybe it's the kind of story that would come out on a guy who was hostile with the press but not with a saint like Mo. After all, if a local tabloid guy breaks a story like that he'd likely ruin his career in that clubhouse.

17 RagingTartabull   ~  Jun 30, 2010 11:58 am

[11, 14] yeah I didn't mean to open up a can of worms or anything. I could care less what the guy does after the 9th inning...I didn't marry him.

18 Shaun P.   ~  Jun 30, 2010 12:11 pm

[1] [2] I'm not sure Mo really cares to ever have someone write that kind of profile, but that's just my two cents.

I do take issue with something Traub wrote: "Fans began to pay attention to saves, which relievers earned by entering a game with a slim lead and preserving the victory,"

No, it wasn't that all of a sudden, fans started to pay attention to saves, it was that Jerome Holtzman didn't invent saves until 1969, and then the great fireman of the 70s were transformed, wrongly, into the save gatherers of the 80s, 90s, and today. Sparky Lyle once led the league with but 23 saves - and the Goose, one of the greatest relievers of all-time, had more than 30 saves in a season but one time (33, in 1980).

I'd say that it was Righetti's record-setting 46 saves in '86 (in NY, of course), followed by what Eckersley did for the A's in the late 80s, and then Bobby Thigpen's then-record 57 saves in 1990, that got fans to really pay attention to saves. The advent of ESPN, SportsCenter, and the 30-second highlight definitely contributed, as well.

19 Diane Firstman   ~  Jun 30, 2010 12:30 pm


Its a poorly-written article for the avid fans who know the details better, but its a decent article for Joe Schmo in his recliner on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

I COULD see Rivera penning a memoir, but I think it would NOT emphasize his baseball life, but more of his family/spiritual life.

20 Shaun P.   ~  Jun 30, 2010 12:36 pm

[19] I guess so, but I expected more, as I think Alex did too.

I wonder who Rivera would use as a co-author?

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