Living On the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season To Remember
John Feinstein’s latest tome considers two veteran major leaguers plying their craft during the 2007 season search of major milestones in the magnifying glass of the media frenzy that is New York. Tom Glavine won his 300th game with the Mets last year, while Mike Mussina, a member of the cross-town Yankees, won his 250th.
Feinstein painstakingly chronicles these athletes as they inch towards their lofty accomplishments. Glavine has since returned to the Atlanta Braves, for whom he won more than 240 of 305 regular season games (as of this writing) and two Cy Young Awards, indicative of the best pitcher in the league.
After brief recaps of their journeys through the school and amateur ranks, minor league apprenticeships, and careers prior to 2007, Feinstein settles in for the long, detailed process for which he has become famous in such books as TALES FROM Q SCHOOL, LET ME TELL YOU A STORY and A SEASON ON THE BRINK, among many others. No detail is too small, no scrap of information unimportant. The breadth of the book --- more than 500 pages --- can seem daunting, but for baseball fans, it’s never boring. Feinstein’s access earned him heretofore unknown insights into each man’s habits and the social structure of a professional sports team, with all the disparate personalities and quirks.
Glavine won his landmark game on August 5th in a nationally televised affair against the Chicago Cubs, with the added emotion of his family on hand to share in the event as he became just the 23rd major league pitcher to do so. On the other end of the celebratory spectrum, Mussina notched win number 250 in his last victory of the season on September 23rd (just over 50 have accomplished that). He didn’t even return to the dugout to watch the final out, having been relieved some innings earlier. “Two hundred isn’t three hundred,” Feinstein quotes him as saying, giving a nod to Glavine. “I understand that.”
On the periphery of the individual milestones are the disparate fortunes of the Mets and Yankees, eternally at odds as they struggle for the hearts and minds of fans from within and without New York’s borders. The Mets, odds-on-favorite to win at least the National League pennant, blew a comfortable lead for the Eastern division with a late-season collapse of historic proportion. That Glavine had one of the worst games of his life when the Mets needed him most dampens the love that the team’s fans will hold for him for years to come.
The Yankees, on the other hand, struggled mightily before rallying to capture the American League wild card slot (they subsequently lost to the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the playoffs).
Despite a few glitches --- major or minor, depending on the reader’s demand for accuracy --- Feinstein’s thoughtful treatise of two thoughtful craftsmen at the tail end of their careers rank high on the list of such books. Acolytes of the teams will relive sorrow and elation, respectively.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on May 1, 2008