The book: “Bullpen Diaries: Mariano Rivera, Bronx Dreams, Pinstripe Legends, and the Future of the New York Yankees”
The author: Charley Rosen
The vital stats: Harper Collins, 384 pages, $25.99
The pitch: By chance, we happened to look at the blurb on the inside bookflap:
“Baseball is the only game where the defense has the ball.
“So begins an inside look at baseball’s most scrutinized group of players — relief pitchers — and life in the most intriguing bullpen of all, that of the New York Yankees.”
Really? You’re going to take us from that obvious Point A, to somewhere on Point X that says you’ve got it figured out how relief pitching in the big leagues works?
Read on, and amazingly, that pretty much sums up all the worthy insight as you’ll get from Phil Jackson’s former CBA sidekick/pal who insists that, even though his whole life has been spent in and chronicling basketball, baseball was his first love. Enough so that he says he had a pitching tryout with these Yankees when he got out of college. And that apparently qualifies to kill a few trees and get this book out there.
The execution of this effort is as scattered as the subtitle implies. There’s some history of relief pitching that Rosen digs up and throws out there. Then there’s tedious documentation of the Yankees’ 2010 season, only from the bullpen’s peformance, where Rosen is in charge of doling out letter grades for each performance. At last, in the third section, Rosen rambles on about his memories, his hopes, his dreams. Because, it matters to him.
Maybe part of the problem is that the ’10 Yankees’ pen isn’t anything remarkably intriguing. There’s future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera — who, by the way, made his major league debut in 1995 “against the Angels in California” (Rosen’s words, because apparently that’s as precise as he can get in geography) as a starting pitcher, giving up five runs and eight hits in just 3 1/3 innings. But after that, maybe we’re slightly interested in how Joba Chamberlain gets jerked around. Or Chan Ho Park. But otherwise … spare us.
More likely, the bigger drawback is that Rosen seems to have created this an excuse to follow his boyhood team and chronicle something that seems to be of some interest to someone. Then use his name to push it forward.
Take this chunk of paragraphs from page 63, when Rosen, at an empty Yankee Stadium, is allowed to visit the Yankees’ bullpen area for some apparent research:
“I’ve been on this planet for three score years and a few, but my inner child of Yankee worship emerged. Here I stood in what was at least the outer sanctum sanctorum. A blessed pilgrim. An eager supplicant.
“What could I do to show my devotion?
“Only one act seemed to be appropriate: climb one of the mounds, toe the pitching rubber, and throw a phantom 100-mph fastball that would noiselessly whack into the ghostly glove of the catcher who received my painfully tossed pitches during my tryout at Yankee Stadium so long ago.
“I glanced around. Nobody was on the field. Nobody in the stands. I was alone in paradise. I could do the deed and then rake away any signs of my transgression.
“Yes! I’d do it! It would be perfect justice! My symbolic atonement for nearly killing scout Johnny Johnston with a ball I threw over the catcher’s head and into the stands! A different stadium, but Yankee Stadium nonetheless.
“I stepped toward the blessed mound — the same one trod by Mariano Riviera. Yes! Some personal-cum-cosmic circle would be close! Yes!
“But, no. I just couldn’t convince myself to tread on sacred soil.
“As, but just being there was enough to life my spirits and warm my soul. It is a blessed state to be a Yankee fan in the springtime. We all always feel the season ahead will be a good one, and we can even hope for greateness.”
Sorry we had to take you through all that. But it made us laugh.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Please, don’t confuse this with one of our favorite books and a New York Times bestseller from last year, “The Bullpen Gospels,” by Dirk Hayhurst — who, after his release by Toronto following a season where he sat out with an arm injury, is with Tampa Bay’s Triple-A Durham Bulls these days as a 29-year-old starting pitcher.
This, if anything, is the bizarro Bullpen Gospels. From someone who’s never been there, and never will be. And we don’t really care either way.
By the way: More Rosen personalized library material is also out in the form of an autobiography just released called “Crazy Basketball: A Life In and Out of Bounds” (linked here).
Naw, we’ve had enough.