Last week I attended my first Ligonier’s national conference in Orlando followed by some R&R with family. I always try to save a book or two for the trip. Something that I’m eager to read. A book outside my regular reads of theology, Christian life, church history, and biblical studies. One that I can tuck away in a suitcase for the next adventure.
Usually this means a book on sports, history, or bibliography (I don’t read much fiction, and when I do I’m usually disappointed.) This time the “must-read” was a Christmas gift from my youngest daughter. She gave me Mariano Rivera’s autobiography The Closer. Let me tell you: this Yankee’s fan has had his eye on this book for quite some time!
Whether you are a Yankee’s fan or not, every follower of Major League Baseball has got to be a fan of the greatest closer in the history of baseball. Rivera’s infamous pitch known as the “cutter” bewildered batters.
VIDEO: From The New York Times Magazine, How Mariano Rivera Dominates Hitters (2:40):
This book was a great read, and not just for the baseball insights. There’s a theme that ran throughout both the book and the successful career of Mariano Rivera: humility. While our culture exalts pride as a virtue—just look at American politics—sadly the world sees humility as a sign of weakness. I beg to differ.
3 EXAMPLES OF HUMILITY
1. The first mark of humility that I found in the book was on the importance of speaking honestly about yourself. No fairy tales. Let your words rightly characterize reality. It’s the difference between telling the plain and simple truth or stretching it for gain.
J.I. Packer once said that “A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” How often do we hear a story that is a half-truth? Beware of self-serving exaggeration. Speak honestly.
This is seen in a simple story from Rivera early on in the book. Here he explains how his cutter pitch was born:
I am playing catch with Ramiro Mendoza, my fellow pitcher and fellow Panamanian, a couple of hours before the game. We are in front of our dugout. Our catch is no different from hundreds of other games of catch I’ve had. As I get loose, I start to throw a bit harder. I am feeling good. I catch Ramiro’s throw and, heating up now, I fire back to him.
My throw seems to surprise him. He has to move his glove at the moment to catch it.
Hey, stop playing around, Ramiro says.
What are you talking about? I’m not playing around.
I’m talking about the ball you just threw. It almost hit me.
I just threw a normal ball, I say.
Well, it didn’t look normal to me.
We keep playing catch. I throw the ball to him again and the same thing happens. It breaks about a foot right when it is on top of him, and again he almost misses it completely. That’s what I’m talking about, he says. Stop doing that… You better go find somebody else to catch you, he says, finally, I don’t want to get hurt.
He’s serious. Our game of catch is over… I head to the bullpen, which is on the field at old Tiger Stadium, and throw to Mike Borzello. My ball—what I think is my regular four-seam fastball—is doing the same thing it did with Ramiro.
Whoa! Where did that come from? Borzi says. He’s sure something is wrong with the baseball—that it has a scuff that’s making it move this way. He throws it aside and gets a new ball. The same thing happens. Borzi holds up his hands… Mel Stottlemyre joins the conversation and closely observes me throwing. We look at my grip, my arm angle, everything. We cannot get me to throw this pitch straight… Whoever heard of a pitcher trying to get less movement on the ball? The whole thing is crazy.
And this is how my cut fastball, or cutter, is born. It is as if it is dropped straight out of the heavens. (88-89)
Can you imagine how we might have been tempted to tell the story? “You know, I spent hours perfecting this pitch… I designed it… and I am the only one who…” (Sounds like a presidential debate, yes?) We have an “I” problem on this planet. “I, I, I.”
Instead, Rivera kept to the script. He spoke honestly about himself and what occurred. His words did not blur the lines between truth and fiction; and neither should ours. Have we been letting the truth slide? Our words impact our character and credibility. “Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment” (Prov 12:19).
2. A second mark of humility from this book is to share your own struggles with others. Be sure to look for and lean on those individuals God has placed in your life. They are there to help you heal; and to help you to grow.
Confronted with a season-ending (and possibly career-ending) torn MCL, Rivera decides to be transparent with those close to him, his team:
I am looking at major reconstructive knee surgery and a long and grinding rehab. Now who knows what my future is going to be?… I stand in front of the whole team. I am fighting tears and not winning the fight. I share my diagnosis with them, and my orthopedic horror story: shredded knee. Major surgery. Goodbye, 2012.
…Derek comes over and gives me a hug. So does Andy. Lots of other guys do, too. That is why I love being a team. Your share your triumphs and your troubles. You share everything. You are all in it together. You will do anything for the guys on your team. (236)
What I appreciated about this little nugget is that Rivera’s a five-time World Series champion. He is seen at this point in his career as “the king of closers.” The man looks invincible inside and out. If you watched any of the late inning battles and batters he had to face in his career you’d understand why. And yet he choose to be transparent with those close to him in a time of need.
Are there people in your life that are true friends? A true friend knows the real you. Find them. Aim at being transparent with them about your strengths and weaknesses, highs and lows, personal victories and fears. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17).
3. A third mark of humility revealed within these pages is to have a sincere spirit of helping. It is the difference between building up a person with our words, or tearing them down. Humility is an attitude that wins the day, every day.
Often in the book, Rivera writes on the daily challenges of working with different personalities. It would be easy to label a number of these guys, or to talk behind the backs of players where poor choices and performance-enhancing drugs are a part of the scene. Yet, from what I read, he consistently choose to speak the truth in love.
In one instance, Rivera is directly impacted by the poor performance of a fellow teammate and must confront him about it:
Joe calls for me with one out and men on first and second, the score tied in the ninth. I either get two outs or we lose. The hitter is the leadoff man, Chone Figgins. On my first pitch, I get him to hit a six- or eight-hopper to second. Robby is shading a step or two toward second, but the ball is hit slowly enough that I know he has time to get there. Robby takes a couple of steps toward the ball. And then he stops.
No dive, no attempt to block it.
Nothing. He just stops.
The ball trickles into the outfield… Nobody can understand why Robby doesn’t dive or smother the ball somehow to save the game. I definitely don’t understand… I do not talk to Robby after the game. Reporters are all around. Emotions are running high. That’s the worst time to have this conversation… We fly to Minnesota that night, and the next day, I seek out Robby in the clubhouse in the Metrodome. Robby and I have had these discussions before. We are standing near his locker.
What happened to that ball Figgins hit yesterday? I say… Robby’s head is down, and it’s obvious he feels bad about what happened.
He knows he doesn’t have a bigger fan than me on the club. I am not trying to drop a safe on him. I am trying to help him, the way an older brother helps a younger brother… to his credit, Robby never makes excuses or tells me to back off when I approach him. Not one time. I think he trusts that I come to him in the spirit of helping. (240-241)
Of course, there’s much more to this story (and other examples). Which is why there is a book. Each and every instance gives evidence to a sincere spirit of helping. I’m reminded of Prov 31:26, “She opens her mouth in wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.”
Rivera demonstrates on and off the mound that one of the defining marks of a godly man should be that of humility. To speak honestly about yourself, to share your own struggles with others, and to have a sincere spirit of helping.
THE GREATEST EXAMPLE
The greatest Person who ever lived—Jesus Christ, exemplified this humility as the Son of God took on human flesh and bore the weight of our sin to the point of death (see Phil 2:8). Because of the Savior’s perfect humility and sacrifice we can look to the cross and confess our sin of pride—receiving His forgiveness and strength.
It should be every true believer’s desire to follow the Savior who said, “learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29), for He is our greatest example.