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Living on the Black

A season in the life of two professional baseball pitchers

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Feinstein Strikes Again in Book about Pitching

  • Sep 4, 2009
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Title: Living on the Black
Author: John Fenstein
Publisher: W. W. Norton (2008)

I should preface this review with a confession: I love baseball and I love John Feinstein's writing.  So I was kind of biased about this book even before I started it.  Luckily, this book did not disappoint at all...it was awesome.  Feinstein is, in my opinion, one of the best sportswriter out there.  He takes on his subjects and really makes you feel like you are in the story - the sign of a great writer.  In this case, I learned a lot about the art of pitching.

Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember by John Feinstein takes you through the 2007 seasons of Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina.  Both pitchers have been pitching in the league for a long time and have gone through a lot.  Both guys are also well known for their thoughtfulness on the mound...and off it...which is one reason Feinstein wanted to use them for the book.  Another reason he wanted to use them was because they were both in New York (Glavine pitches for the Mets...Mussina pitches for the Yankees), which would make things a bit easier.

The book takes you through a pretty detailed biography of both pitchers from their early years (and all of the success and failures) all the way through the 2007 season.  Both players really know the art of pitching, but I thought it was especially interesting to read about how Mussina had to change his pitching style as he grew older.  In his younger days, he could throw 95 mph and rely on that power to get out of a jam.  At the end of his career he was lucky to hit 90 mph.  So his ability to completely adjust his pitching style...and still be effective is pretty amazing.  Glavine was never a hard thrower, but still had to make major adjustments as his career went on.

The most significant adjustment both guys (and all other pitchers) had to make was to the Questec Pitching System.  Questec is a computer operated camera that is set up in almost all MLB stadiums.  The system rates umpires on their ability (or lack thereof) to call balls and strikes.  Before the system was in place, pitchers like Glavine and Mussina, who had to rely on perfect placement rather than power, would get the benefit of the doubt from most umpires.  In fact, Glavine was especially famous for getting strikes when the ball was pitched 2 inches outside!  There was a big hubbub when Questec installed as pitchers got squeezed and scoring went up.  (editors note: I am all for Questec as it makes the game more accurate.  For the same reason, I am also for instant replay.)

Interestingly the 2007 season played out in exactly opposite manners for the two players.  Glavine and the Mets started out on fire and took a huge lead in the NL East.  Meanwhile, Mussina and the Yankees couldn't do anything right.  Of course, by the end of the season, the Yankees came back to win a Wild Card position in the playoffs and the Mets completed their historic collapse losing 12 of their last 17 games to lose the division.  Glavine pitched in the final game and had the worst outing of his career.

The book is a really excellent read...though it is pretty long at 544 pages.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who likes baseball.  If you don't like baseball...first of all, shame on you...secondly, you won't like this book at all.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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Adam F. Wilson ()
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From The Washington Post

The title of John Feinstein's Living on the Black refers to the area on the outer edges of the strike zone where veteran pitchers whose fast ones have slowed to under 90 mph must consistently place the ball. The term also reflects the precarious situation that the New York Yankees' right-hander Mike Mussina and former New York Mets left-hander Tom Glavine were in at the start of the 2007 season.

Mussina and Glavine, then 38 and 41 respectively, were struggling to hold on to their jobs and keep batters off balance with a guile accumulated during a total of 36 years in the majors. Both men made it, but just barely; their personal milestones -- Glavine passed the 300 mark in total victories, and Mussina reached number 250 -- were overshadowed by their teams' dismal finishes.

The Yankees did their usual postseason fold while the Mets, leading their division by seven games with 17 left to play, crashed and burned in one of the greatest collapses in baseball history. Glavine took the season-ending loss, failing to last through the first inning. One of the game's most articulate players, he was philosophical when asked if he was devastated. "To me, devastating is finding out that a neighbor's eight-year-old is going to lose a leg to cancer." Less philosophical Mets fans were, well, devastated.

A columnist for The Washington Post and author of 22 previous books, John Feinstein must have known that as a writer he was living on the black himself by ...

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Books, Nonfiction, Baseball, John Feinstein, Mike Mussina, Tom Glavine


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