THE 26TH MAN

ONE MINOR LEAGUER'S PURSUIT OF A DREAM

A diary of the 1990 minor-league season, written by Fireovid, the minor's winningest pitcher in the 1980's, and edited by Winegardner (Prophet of the Sandlots, 1989; Elvis Presley Boulevard, 1987). Despite a good record, Fireovid has enjoyed only a few brief stints in the majors. As 1990 rolls around, the situation looks worse than ever: He is now 33, ``a fossil in my present environment.'' Much of the diary thus consists of laments over his lot as a minor-league pro rather than major-league prospect. But, in Fireovid's case at least, 13 years in pro ball bring with them impressive maturity and insight. His complaints are gentle, his envy muted by an appreciation of how lucky he is to be playing ball at all. This man loves his sport, and most of the pleasure here comes from his notes on the ups and downs of baseball life on and off the diamond—why no pitcher wants to be on the mound the day his teammates receive their new bat shipment (``they swing their toys at any pitch that comes within an area code of the strike zone'') or what it's like to hump around America on a minor-league budget (travel by bus, hotels without air conditioning, etc.). The season crawls along almost unnoticed; it's the sidebars—offers to coach in the Montreal organization or to play ball in Italy, efforts to keep an aging body fit—that sparkle. At season's end, Fireovid winds up with the second-best ERA in the league (2.63) and a losing record (10-12). What does 1991 portend? Another six months playing a young man's game—and some accolades for that rarity, a baseball book unblemished by egomania.

Pub Date: July 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-02-538381-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1991

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Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national...

THE UNDEFEATED

THE OKLAHOMA SOONERS AND THE GREATEST WINNING STREAK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL HISTORY

A rousing look at the colorful coach and players who achieved an amazing 47-game winning streak for the Oklahoma Sooners.

In order to have present-day readers understand the true significance of the Sooners, Texas journalist Dent (The Junction Boys, 1999) gives helpful background information about the state where “Big Oil was a dream. But football was a religion.” Oklahomans, still suffering from effects of the Great Depression, also had to contend with the popular perception (perpetuated by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath) of destitution and dispossession. In an attempt to fight the stereotypic Okie image, the University of Oklahoma decided to answer with a winning football team. And win they did. With coach Bud Wilkinson at the helm, from the second game of the 1948 season to the eighth game of the 1957 season, the Sooners compiled a staggering 94–4–2 record. They had winning streaks of 31 games and the fabled 47, which ended painfully at the hands of archrival Notre Dame. Dent avoids the potentially dry, statistical tone and instead provides atmosphere with snappy dialogue and by fleshing out the team, foibles and all. Wilkinson (dubbed “The Great White Father”) believed in a strong team of 22 “lean, fast, hard-boned country boys,” including a good group of second stringers. Besides their play on the field, the team, including the coach, played hard off of it, with women and drinking figuring prominently. Some players stand out, particularly quarterback Jimmy Harris, 1952 Heisman Trophy winner Billy Vessels, Gomer Jones, and the first black player, Prentice Gautt, whose personal struggles to be accepted by his teammates and his treatment under the Jim Crow laws provide some of the more poignant moments here. An epilogue reveals how many of the key people of those teams led, and still lead, productive, successful lives.

Like eavesdropping on the team bus, sports enthusiasts will enjoy reliving a time when college football was top national news. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26656-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2001

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A must-read for Packer and Lombardi fans, and will interest most NFL fans as well.

THAT FIRST SEASON

HOW VINCE LOMBARDI TOOK THE WORST TEAM IN THE NFL AND SET IT ON THE PATH TO GLORY

The exciting chronicle of Vince Lombardi’s pivotal first season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Former Baltimore Sun sports columnist Eisenberg (The Great Match Race: When North Met South in America’s First Sports Spectacle, 2006, etc.) looks back at 1959, a year that witnessed one of the more momentous turnarounds in NFL history. In his first season as a head coach, Lombardi took the one of the worst football teams ever and led it to its first winning season in more than a decade. Having sunk to 1-10-1 under Scooter McLean the year before, the 1959 Packers were expected to win no more than three or four games, but Lombardi righted the ship, steering them to a 7-5 record that year and initiating their run to six championships during his nine-year tenure as head coach. How the stout, brash Brooklyn native was able to transform a directionless assemblage of players into a gridiron behemoth is as much the subject of Eisenberg’s exhaustively researched account as his thrilling description of each game. Relying on period articles and interviews with key players from the Lombardi dynasty, the author convincingly shows that the coach’s fierce work ethic, militaristic-style training camps, perfectionist tendencies, belief in fitness and ability to instill confidence in his players were as central to the team’s metamorphosis as his brilliance as a game-play strategist. Though his “sarcastic, critical” coaching style didn’t always endear him to the players, when they saw the results of his simple, run-centered offense and powerful zone defense, he soon won their trust.

A must-read for Packer and Lombardi fans, and will interest most NFL fans as well.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-618-90499-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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