Book review: ‘Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember’
Vail CO, Colorado
It’s a young man’s game.
As yesterday’s icons become today’s outcasts in mere weeks or months, the above statement is a harsh reminder to professional athletes attempting perhaps the most daunting feat in sports: aging gracefully.
Longtime sports journalist John Feinstein chronicles the notion in his latest book “Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Team, One Season to Remember.”
Feinstein spent the 2007 season with Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, two veteran hurlers playing under the scrutiny of respective rabid fan bases (Glavine with the New York Mets, Mussina across town with the New York Yankees), as well as the oft-irrational sports media.
Feinstein presents a unique portrait of two once-celebrated pitchers as they approach the realization that, with diminished skills, the game is passing them by at a startling pace. Glavine and Mussina (both still active, though Glavine is now with the Atlanta Braves) are both eking out personal goals coupled with team success in a city sports machine that demands it.
Both pitchers rely on guile over gusto, using precision placement instead of the sexy fastball typically preferred by fans and pundits alike. Despite the lack of a ‘plus arm,’ Glavine and Mussina’s cerebral approach has helped the duo combine for 40 seasons, 554 victories, more than 5,200 strikeouts, two Cy Young awards (both Glavine’s), and a World Series victory (also Glavine’s).
Among the most dominating and decorated pitchers on the 1990s, both Glavine, 42, and Mussina, 39, awake to the 21st century minus some velocity and command that comes and goes. Both manage to cash in with big contracts despite entering the twilight of their careers, yet the results aren’t too favorable.
Feinstein presents Glavine as the pitcher with far more at stake. Edging close to 300 career victories, a sanctimonious achievement that virtually guarantees enshrinement in the hall of fame, Glavine is well aware that his best stuff is mediocre these days.
The fact that he’s playing on borrowed time for a team with World Series expectations and a stable of young studs waiting in the minor leagues is quite apparent to Glavine, and his level honesty and professionalism is admirable.
Mussina, also on borrowed time, morphs into a whipping boy for Yankee fans and media alike. Plodding through the final seasons of an eight-figure contract, Mussina watches his formerly devastating curve balls and changeups sail over fences, a chorus of boos and serenade of cat calls growing ever louder.
Mussina is eventually demoted to the bullpen, becoming the only $11 million long reliever in baseball history. Equally as eloquent as Glavine, Mussina seems to have far more trouble admitting the end is near and adapting to his now pedestrian repertoire.
Although both subjects are not remotely as interesting as Feinstein’s previous studies, which include books on inflammable college basketball coach Bob Knight and charismatic golfer Payne Stewart, the pitchers make for candid reading on a difficult (for them) subject.
The level of detail and dugout access is what baseball fans have to come expect in a memoir, all-encompassing and replete with detail. Seemingly each baseball narrative these days trumps the one before. Feinstein ups the bar in this respect.
He may have been better served to juxtapose one of the aging former aces with an up-and-comer for a fresher perspective. Both New York franchises have plenty of options, and a potential study of old versus new perhaps would better put into perspective the career trajectory of a Major League pitcher.
Ultimately, we get portraits of two men who are guilty of the sin of pride, with both pitchers aware that their careers will inspire another sin in their younger counterparts: envy.
Stephen Bedford is the general manager of The Bookworm of Edwards. Send comments about this book review to email@example.com.
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