The “black,” in baseball parlance, is the outside edge of home plate, as opposed to the “white,” or the home plate itself. The “black” assumes tremendous significance to both pitchers and batters because, to the hitter, a ball pitched at the black is more difficult to hit than one over the heart of home plate. Obviously the black is a sweet spot for pitchers, but from a practical point of view it is often difficult, if not impossible, to attempt to pitch at the black. It requires a level of precision and control that even major league pitchers do not often have. John Feinstein features two such exceptions - the New York Yankees’ Mike Mussina and the New York Mets’ Tom Glavine - in his insightful book about what it takes to play in the fishbowl New York market.
Feinstein’s book follows both pitchers throughout the 2007 season. Mussina was 39 years old and Glavine 41 in 2007, and both pitchers were at that stage of their careers when they were unable to blow away opposing batters. Instead, they had to rely on guile: in short, they had to pitch at the black and catch hitters off balance. Feinstein’s choice of his subjects is a masterstroke. Both pitchers are erudite (Mussina graduated with a degree in economics from Stanford in three years) and, more importantly, are willing to talk about the travails of the season. Mussina was coming off a relatively poor season, and 2007 saw his struggles continue for the most part. Glavine had come to the Mets from archrivals the Atlanta Braves amidst tremendous expectations, much of it not being fulfilled. Feinstein captures these two pitchers at pivotal points in their careers, and their candor informs the book. The reader is amazed at the amount of physical and mental preparation that pitchers go through before their start, and how much of the game hinges on missed calls by umpires, untimely errors by fielders, and untimely hits by batters.
Feinstein has become a veritable treasure of sports books. In embarking on a baseball book after a number of books on golf, tennis and football, he has chosen to focus on pitchers, those lonely yet heroic gladiators on the mound facing opposing marauders armed with a bat. In Mussina and Glavine, Feinstein lucks out on two players who had moderately successful seasons but who are able to articulate their craft exceedingly well. What ensues is a compelling look at the vicissitudes of these players through an engrossing 2007 season.