Pitching is an unknown art for the majority of us. Its terminology is complicated to understand, and the stress it puts on the human body is untold. The strain a pitcher puts on his shoulder when throwing is the equivalent of you standing up and doing thousands of arm circles in one second.

In “Living on the Black,” John Feinstein delves into the complicated world of pitching. His idea was to escape the cold of New York during spring training for the warmth of Florida and start a season, the 2007 season, with two pitchers. Mike Mussina and Tom Glavine would be his targets.

Author: John Feinstein
Pages: 525
Published: May 2009, Back Bay Books
They couldn’t rely on 97 mph fastballs to get hitters out. Instead, those two relied on control and making effective changes in their mechanics and approach to beat hitters. Feinstein takes readers to the bullpen session in which Mussina works on his balance that cleans up his delivery out of the stretch. He shows us how Glavine moves over on the pitching rubber to start pitching inside to hitters more effectively.

The smallest tweaks can produce the most noticeable results. We see this because Feinstein provides an account of each pitcher’s progress throughout the season. “Living on the Black” isn’t just a story of how two pitchers became good but also of their season.

It’s an excellent sidetrack. Mussina is battling through one of the worst seasons of his career. Injuries and bad pitching have left many wondering if he has stayed a year too long in the major leagues. That doubt has gone all the way to his manager Joe Torre, who replaces Mussina with Ian Kennedy in the Yankees rotation. It’s an inside look at how pitchers are handled.

Glavine, on the other hand, goes through a compelling season. He wins his 300th game, and Feinstein provides a complete account of Glavine’s attempts at that victory. However, the Mets make their epic collapse, the one that saw them fall from seven games up with only 17 games to play. Readers can learn the disappointment, not devastation, that Glavine felt after the final game of the season.

“Living on the Black” shows readers the difference between organizations. Mussina was pitching for the Yankees, while Glavine was with the Mets. There aren’t many differences in the way things are done, but it’s interesting to see the directions of a major league team fluctuate over the course of the season. So many people rode the Mets bandwagon until the wheels absolutely fell off in late September. Many people jumped off the Yankees bandwagon when the Yankees were playing badly early in the season. Both teams had their seasons turned around.

This is an excellent book for fans who wish for an insider’s look at pitching. There are plenty of details about the difficult art that fans would enjoy knowing. Feinstein picked two excellent pitchers to follow and did an excellent job of letting them explain their crafts to us.

AHP Review: 3.5 Balls writes its book reviews with the following rating scale in mind:

Four Balls: An exceptional book that truly earns a walk straight to the local book store to get a copy.
Three Balls: This book stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Two Balls: A book worth reading/owning and is usually above average.
One Ball: This book has something to say but is nothing special.