Review of Steve Fireovid’s & Mark Winegardner’s The 26th Man
How far would you go to chase a dream? How do you handle it when your dream dies? Those are the big questions behind Steve Fireovid’s The 26th Man (Macmillan, 1990, 221 pp.).
From 1978-1993, Steve Fireovid pursued his dream of pitching in major league baseball. And he made it – but only for a short time.
Fireovid’s co-author, Mark Winegardner comes from the same hometown – Bryan, Ohio. Winegardner wrote the good introduction to The 26th Man in which he recounts seeing Fireovid pitch 3 times – 1) in 1975 when Fireovid was the star of the local high school team, 2) in 1985 when Fireovid was with the Chicago White Sox, and 3) in 1990 when Fireovid was a “non-prospect,” filling out the roster for the minor-league Indianapolis Indians. The three games show the phases of Fireovid’s baseball career.
Another Baseball Diary
The 26th Man is a diary of that 1990 season. Fireovid pitches well in AAA baseball (one level below the major leagues), but is never considered for promotion. Younger players (who often haven’t performed as well as Fireover) are promoted, which Fireovid struggles to accept.
A baseball diary is hardly a unique idea. Jim Bouton’s tell-all Ball Four was a blockbuster bestseller. Sparky Lyle’s The Bronx Zoo dished the dirt on the 1978 New York Yankees. Unfortunately, both books are more interesting than is The 26th Man. Try as he might, Fireovid can’t make his book more than “pretty interesting.”
The 26th Man reminds me more of Pat Jordan’s A False Spring or Larry Colton’s account of his minor-league struggles in Goat Brothers. Fireovid’s is the story of a near miss, dealing with the fact that your dream isn’t going to happen. And he knows the score – knows he’s going nowhere – but can’t resist getting his hopes up from time to time.
Family & Minor-League Life
A recurring issue in the book – one to which any parent can relate – is Fireovid’s guilt over the extended periods of time he must spend away from his family. At the start of the book, Fireovid is married with 2 sons and a third child on the way. He agonizes about whether it is selfish for him to continue playing baseball while wife Patty does all of the work at home.
For hardcore baseball fans, The 26th Man has quite a bit to offer. For instance, Fireovid’s description of what it’s like to go to Spring Training as a non-prospect is depressing. The players sleep three to a room, two players have beds, the third has a cot. Players get their uniforms washed only every 2 days; they have to wear smelly jersey and pants half of the time. Such anecdotes continue throughout the book. But, too often, it’s slow going.
The Final Out
Casual fans will want to skip The 26th Man. There are are so many sports books out there that offer more return for the effort. I give it 6 out of 10.