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Living on the Black

John Feinstein details the physical and cerebral challenges of two top-flight pitchers.

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John Feinstein uses a simple but effective method to take fans inside the world of big-time professional sports. He makes friends with an athlete or two, earns their trust, and then bores in for a year-long look at their lives.

Beginning with his smashing debut in 1986, Feinstein established himself as the brand name in sports books. That debut, “A Season on the Brink,” detailed the exploits of Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight and the misery he inflicted on his players, campus administrators, reporters, and many others in pursuit of wins and high graduation rates. It was the sports equivalent of “All the King’s Men,” a relentless meditation on whether the ends justified the means.

Once the Knight book made Feinstein an A-list author, he encountered the perks and pitfalls inherent in the rarefied air of bestsellerdom. Much like novelists John Grisham and Stephen King, you can count on at least one Feinstein offering every year. And, just like Grisham and King, his prolific output and strong sales have often led to uneven efforts and an all-too-frequent dearth of significant editing.

With Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember, Feinstein writes the way one of his subjects, veteran baseball finesse artist Tom Glavine, pitches: with decided skill, but a skill that often takes time to find its mark and often involves working out of self-inflicted trouble. Here, however, Feinstein benefits from an astute pairing of pitchers to follow during the 2007 baseball season: Mike Mussina of the Yankees and Glavine, the erstwhile Met.

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