Freddie Steinmark tells the story of a legendary University of Texas football player whose courage on the field and in battling cancer still inspires the Longhorn nation.
See the major motion picture My All American (November 2015) inspired by the Freddie Steinmark Story.
Freddie Steinmark started at safety for the undefeated University of Texas Longhorns in 1969. In the thrilling “Game of the Century,” a come-from-behind victory against Arkansas that ensured Texas the national championship, Steinmark played with pain in his left leg. Two days later, X-rays revealed a bone tumor so large that it seemed a miracle Steinmark could walk, let alone play football. Within a week of the Arkansas game, his leg was amputated.
A gritty, undersized player, Steinmark had quickly become a fan favorite at Texas. What he endured during the Longhorns’ memorable 1969 season, and what he encountered afterward, captivated not only Texans but the country at large. Americans watched closely as Steinmark confronted life’s ultimate challenge, and his openness during his battle against savage odds helped reframe the national conversation surrounding cancer and the ongoing race for a cure.
Written with unfettered access to the Steinmark family and archives, Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family, Football is the exploration of a brief but full life, one that began humbly but ended on a grand stage. It is a fitting tribute to a legendary Longhorn whose photograph, emblazoned with the word “Heart,” flashes on the Freddie Steinmark Scoreboard’s Jumbotron prior to each home football game in UT’s Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium at Joe Jamail Field.
- Authors' Note
- Part One: 1929–1967
- Chapter 1: The All-American Boy
- Chapter 2: Rough Riders and Farmers
- Chapter 3: He's My Brother
- Chapter 4: The Most Important Game of Our Lives
- Part Two: 1967–1969
- Chapter 5: The Silent Heart
- Chapter 6: You Have No Friends on the Field
- Chapter 7: Nobody Does It Better
- Chapter 8: Worlds Collide
- Part Three: 1969–1970
- Chapter 9: Running His Own Ship
- Chapter 10: Like Parachuting into Russia
- Chapter 11: The Game of the Century
- Chapter 12: The Game Changer
- Part Four: 1970–1971
- Chapter 13: No Time to Lose
- Chapter 14: The Greatest Day
- Chapter 15: On the Road Again
- Chapter 16: The Rainbow
- Chapter 17: This Endless Life
- Epilogue: September 1, 2012
- Appendix: The Fred Steinmark Award
The All-American Boy
The third time Joe Duncan snapped open the newspaper, Gloria Marchitti stirred from her deep sleep. She lay in her twin bed, in the pink bedroom that she shared with her sister Lena. Her soon-to-be brother-in-law stood alongside the bed, continuing to rustle the newspaper. She glared at him over her right shoulder. It was eight on a summer morning. Teenage Gloria had wanted to sleep in.
“Hey,” Joe said cheerfully, peering over the top of the Rocky Mountain News. A cigarette bounced on his lip. “Look at this, Gloria.” He held the tabloid in front of her face. “See this guy? This is the guy you gotta date when you start North High School.” A handsome young man grinned on the newspaper page. The headline read: “Steinmark Selected All-American Boy.” The subhead added: “North Side Youngster Picked Unanimously.” Gloria rolled over, away from Joe. “I don’t know anything about him.”
“I’m telling you, Gloria, this guy is swell . . . real swell.” Gloria feigned sleep, stared at the wall, and pictured in her mind the handsome boy in the photograph.
Barely a year had passed since the end of World War II. The joy that came from victory in the war and the return of troops from overseas gave everybody a boost. Baseball fans rejoiced that star players such as Ted Williams had returned from active duty, and the game reasserted itself as America’s pastime.
Like Williams, Joe Duncan was a navy man, home from the war. Unlike Williams, Joe was merely a fan. On the morning he woke up his future sister-in-law by reading from the Denver sports page, he was visiting his ﬁancée, Lena Marchitti, at her mother’s home in North Denver. The wedding was four weeks away. Joe sat at the breakfast table, half listening to Lena’s wedding concerns as he sipped coffee and read the sports section. Lena’s oldest brother, Dominick, would give her away. Her three sisters, Marie, Lucille, and Gloria, were the bridesmaids. Two hundred guests had been invited to the wedding at St. Catherine’s, with the reception to follow in her mother’s beautiful yard. And there was the matter of preparing all that food. A big Italian wedding had to include a big Italian feast.
Lena asked Joe whether he was listening. He nodded without looking up. The Steinmark article had completely captured his attention. He wasn’t the only one—baseball fans all over Denver effused about their own, newly proclaimed all-American boy. The article read:
Fred Steinmark, a 16-year-old broad-shouldered shortstop from North Denver, is Colorado’s All-American baseball boy for 1946. He was unanimously voted the honor last night by a ﬁve-man selection board after two days of tryouts, including a regulation game, at Merchants Park. The judges, all major league scouts, each voted Steinmark ﬁve points for ﬁrst place in balloting for the ﬁve boys they thought were outstanding in the ﬁeld of 57 candidates from Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming. Steinmark’s victory earns him an all-expense trip to Chicago and participation in Esquire’s third annual All-American Boys Game on Aug. 10 at Wrigley Field. He will be a member of the West squad, coached and managed by Ty Cobb, which will meet an all-star aggregation from East of the Mississippi River and which will be tutored by Honus Wagner. The husky, strong-armed lad, who will be a senior at North High next school year, was the most decisive winner in the three years of balloting for the honor.
The article added that Steinmark’s selection had been based on “the individual trials of Friday, in which his hitting, ﬁelding, and throwing drew applause from all onlookers,” as well as on Saturday’s game: “He went 2-for-4 at the plate, and handled ﬁve chances cleanly in the ﬁeld. . . . His shoestring stab of a liner in the ﬁfth inning was the ﬁelding highlight in the eyes of the judges.”
Joe might have been thinking that Fred Steinmark could have any girl at school, but it also crossed his mind that Lena’s very cute, very popular sister Gloria was the perfect girl for an all-American boy. If Joe had any worries that Fred might have a large ego, which would have been unfortunate, they vanished when he read that “Steinmark’s selection was a popular choice with rival players and fans.” When even opponents say they like you, Joe must have ﬁgured, you have to be a pretty good guy.
Fred Steinmark had thick sandy hair, green eyes, and a square jaw that made every girl swoon, and his athletic exploits made every boy want to be his friend. Teachers at North High liked him because in addition to being a straight-A student, he was respectful and polite. The baseball, basketball, and football coaches liked him because he was a stellar athlete gifted with uncommon natural ability and outstanding leadership skills, a rare combination for anyone his age. He made a coach’s job easier because his “ﬁeld sense” and intuition essentially allowed him to function as both a player and a coach on the ﬁeld. With him in the game, a team had a good chance to win. He set the bar high for himself, and pulled the performance of his teammates up to a higher level. Despite accolades from every corner, he remained humble.
Fred’s athletic prowess was genetic and God given, but his humility was grounded in his upbringing. He had more or less been on his own since the age of eleven. One day after baseball practice, he came home to discover that he had been abandoned. His mother, Viola, had ﬂed with Fred’s six-month-old baby sister, Sandra. She was desperate to avoid another confrontation with Fred’s tough German father, Friedrich, a minor league baseball player who frequently came home stumbling and swinging after whiskey-fueled benders. Fred didn’t mind when his father wasn’t around—even preferred it that way. He liked that his father played professional baseball, but he hated the drinking. He prayed his dad would be better to his mother. The absence of his mother was something new. She had moved everything out, and it seemed clear she didn’t intend to return. Yet Fred remained calm—a character trait that others would remark on throughout his life.
The next morning, Fred got up and went to school and then to practice. He did the same thing on the following day. On the third day, his coach brought him back to his own house. Viola, who had moved to the other side of town, had contacted the coach and asked him to look after Fred until she could get on her feet. The coach and his wife gave Fred a cot to sleep on in the converted porch at the back of their house, and he slept there for the next three years. He got a job washing dishes at a nearby restaurant so that he could eat.
Athletics became Fred’s sanctuary and foundry. There he escaped the difficulties of his childhood and, at the same time, forged and hammered himself into a fearless, formidable, punishing competitor. At thirteen, he was playing shortstop, the most skill-intensive position on the baseball diamond, for the Kansas City Life team in American Legion ball. His teammates and the boys he played against were three years older than he was. But Fred had been forced to grow up fast, and his maturity showed in all he did. He was, everyone agreed, a “can’t miss” young man destined for great things.
Gloria and her best friend, Liz Berry, could hardly wait for their sophomore year to begin at North High. With three junior high schools feeding into North, the sophomore class would number upward of eight hundred. Gloria expected it to be a continuation, on a larger stage, of the fun she had had at Skinner Junior High, where she had been the popular head girl. She was a petite auburn-haired beauty with mischievous brown eyes, a big smile, an infectious laugh, a sharp wit, and a singing voice that her junior high school music teacher felt conﬁdent could take her places. Boys liked her, she knew, but her life was crowded with a large family, an abundance of friends, and many social and singing commitments. She would talk to boys, but that was as far as she would allow it to go.
A born performer, and often necessarily left alone at home as a little girl, Gloria sang to herself as she played with her dolls. Neighbors looked in on her when the singing stopped, which wasn’t often, and made it a point to tell Gloria’s mother, Frances, how beautifully her child sang.
She grew up in the Bottoms, a predominantly Italian and Mexican housing area along the South Platte River where, today, the Colorado Rockies baseball stadium sits. “My mother worked eighteen-hour days,” Gloria recalls.
She was alone too. My father died when I was four. Mother was a business owner who had to get up at four o’clock in the morning to bake thirty loaves of bread for her store and small restaurant. She prepared all the food, pickled and canned and preserved fruits and meats and vegetables, made cheese, and fed the homeless. She washed, ironed, and starched all the linens. She sewed. She spoke Italian, Spanish, and English, so she was always translating for someone. She was the community nursemaid and midwife, and served on the Denver City Council. Mother had a lot of people to take care of, not just me.
By the time she was fourteen, Gloria’s singing and dancing had earned plaudits and attracted widespread attention. She occasionally sang patriotic songs for troops stationed at Fort Logan, Lowry Air Force Base, and Buckley Air Base in Aurora, east of Denver. Riding the bus across town by herself to Mrs. Friedman’s big house, where she would join the other performers going to the bases, and then riding back home alone at midnight made the job a challenge, but in Gloria’s mind, the joy of performing trumped everything. “Besides,” she says, “I wasn’t ever afraid.” Gloria has an unshakable faith in God, and always felt Jesus would be there if she needed help. She sometimes performed for wealthy women at backyard luncheons or evening socials, and once she took part in a program to entertain prisoners at the city jail. She recalls, “You should have heard the racket all those metal cups made going back and forth across the bars.”
Skinner Junior High’s departing students were asked to evaluate their classes and identify the course that they had learned the most in. Gloria felt she had learned the most in social science, since she had learned more about music in her outside activities than at school. Gloria’s honest evaluation, however, hit a sour note with the music teacher, who shared it with the music teacher at North High.
“Liz and I were so excited for our ﬁrst day at North,” Gloria recalls. “It was so big, and there were so many kids. I was scared to death.” She wasn’t looking for the all-American boy, the one Joe said she should date. “I hadn’t even thought about him.”
When Gloria walked into the music room, she was surprised at how cold the teacher was to her. More confusing still, instead of placing Gloria in the a cappella group with other top vocalists, the teacher ushered her into the choir. Gloria questioned this, saying she was sure she was supposed to be in a cappella. The teacher responded icily that Gloria was where she was supposed to be. Gloria didn’t understand why the music teacher was treating her so poorly, but after resigning herself to being in the choir, she lost interest in performing.
The newness of North High wore off after a few weeks, and Gloria settled into a regular routine of getting to school early with Liz to walk the halls. “It’s what everybody did,” she recalled. “You wanted to see what people were wearing, who was walking together, and things like that.” They also sat outside on the wide cement steps in front of the school—which explains why the boys, including Fred Steinmark, always congregated on the grassy area below the steps, where they would try to steal a glance up at the girls, who all wore skirts.
The ﬁrst time Gloria remembers hearing Fred’s name at North High was at a football game. She was sitting in the bleachers with Liz; neither one of them knew much about the game. It seemed to them that the public-address announcer said Fred Steinmark’s name after every play. When Fred, wearing number 1 in the Vikings’ purple and gold, carried the ball yet again, Gloria blurted, “Why don’t they let someone else have the ball once in a while?”
What Gloria didn’t know was that Fred had spotted her on the cement steps before school one morning and had been keeping his eye on her for weeks. Her ﬁrst clue came one evening when she and Liz were sitting in the Marchittis’ music room. Liz liked to come over and play on the piano—she couldn’t really play, but liked to try. The piano was in a large corner room at the front of the house. Two of the walls had four windows each. The oldest of the Marchitti children, Dominick, ﬁfteen years older than Gloria, was an accomplished pianist and performer in demand all over the city. He practiced day and night. On warm evenings, he would open all the windows while he practiced, and the neighbors would come out of their homes, sit on their front steps, and listen to him.
As Liz plunked away, the neighbors knew it wasn’t “Dom” playing that night. Fred Steinmark and his buddy Bob Jump drove back and forth in front of the Marchitti house. “There’s a black car that keeps driving past,” Gloria recalls Liz saying. So they sat quietly and watched for it. When it came around the block again, the driver pulled to the curb and shut off the engine. With the windows of the music room open, and the windows of the car rolled down, they could hear the conversation inside the car: “Well, if you want to meet her, go ring the damn doorbell.” With that, the engine started and the car drove away.
The next night, the car returned. Fred sat idling with his hands on the steering wheel, looking at the impressive, Mediterraneanstyle home. The walls were reddish-brown brick with large arched windows. It had a red tile roof. Columns supported the roof over the front porch. An elegant wrought-iron fence enclosed trees and shrubs in the immaculately landscaped yard.
In the Highlands area of North Denver, the Marchitti home was the newest house on the block. At the corner of Grove and Clyde Place, it was only a few miles up the hill from the Bottoms, where Gloria had lived as a child. It may as well have been a world away. The Bottoms was adjacent to Union Station. Gloria remembers lying in her mother’s bed at night and listening to the constant comings and goings of trains. She remembers the perils of rain, too. If a thunderstorm descended over the Rockies and stayed for a few days, the river would rise rapidly and inundate everything in its path, including Union Station and the Bottoms. Gloria knew what it was like to be awakened during the night with waist-deep water in her house.
The doorbell rang, but Gloria wasn’t expecting anyone. “I opened the door,” she recalls, “and who’s standing there? Freddie Steinmark.” He was wearing his letter sweater and had a big smile on his face. There was no introduction. “He knew who I was, and I knew who he was. Everyone knew who he was.” He asked whether she wanted to go get a Coke. She said, “Yeah, I’ ll get a Coke with you.” He walked her to his car and opened her door. She liked that he was a gentleman.
Her mind was racing during the short drive to The Scotchman, a motor restaurant popular with teens. She was a sophomore; he was a senior. Every girl at North, maybe every teenage girl in the city, wanted to be with him. He really was the all-American boy. As they sat in his car sipping their Cokes and talking, she was conscious of the scrutinizing. The girls didn’t look happy. When he took her home and walked her to her front door, he thanked her for coming out and didn’t try to kiss her.
Gloria’s expectation for a fun-ﬁlled sophomore year ran aground after she was seen with Fred at The Scotchman. She heard the whispers when students were in the hallways moving to their next classes. “What does he see in her?” And, “She’s a sophomore!” There were icy glares and cold shoulders, many from girls she thought were friends. Even teachers fond of Fred seemed annoyed with her.
They got together again on a chilly night in late October when they both were invited to a Halloween party. Even though it had snowed earlier in the week, the snow was mostly gone, so the party’s hostess went ahead with a planned scavenger hunt. The idea was for teams consisting of a boy and girl to take off running and bring back in one hour as many of the items on the scavenger list as possible. To make up the teams, each boy pulled a girl’s name from a hat. Fred drew Gloria’s name. The giddiness of being picked by Fred sent Gloria charging into the hunt the instant she heard the hostess yell, “Go!”
She shot across the street with Fred in pursuit, but just as she reached the curb on the other side, she heard Fred fall. He was wearing loafers and had slipped on a patch of ice. She turned to see him sprawled on his back in the middle of the street. He didn’t pop back up the way he did on the football ﬁeld. She walked back and stood over him, looking down at his face. “Are you okay?” she asked. He nodded sheepishly. “I slipped.” She nodded in agreement. “I can see that. I thought you were supposed to be some kind of great athlete or something.”
Although Gloria had fun with Fred during the few times they were together, she was enduring plenty of shunning for being with him. Fred was a celebrity, not just at North High, but also in Denver. When Fred took Gloria to The Scotchman, kids, even those from the other schools, wanted to shake his hand and say hello. He was always polite, and made it a point to introduce Gloria, but she could feel their rejection. Fred belonged to them, not her.
She had given up trying to regain favor with the music teacher, and she wasn’t having much luck with other teachers either. One afternoon in study hall, sitting at the back of the room and whispering back and forth with her funny friend Tony, she had to stiﬂe a giggle. The teacher called out her name and told her to pack up and leave. Tony could stay. While walking to her locker, she spotted Fred standing at his open locker. Feeling chagrined about being thrown out of study hall, she hoped she could get past himunseen. When she was almost in the clear, he called to her. “Can’t you talk?”
She stopped and looked at him. “Yeah, I can talk. What do you want to talk about?”
He huffed and said, “Come here and I’ll tell you.”
Standing before him at his locker, Gloria thought he seemed bigger than ever. She sensed he was up to something, and he was. “You want to wear my letter sweater?” he asked.
This was serious business. If she wore that sweater, it meant they were going together. She looked it over. Fred’s D (for “Denver”) had more things pinned to it than any letter at any school in the city. “It’s kinda big, isn’t it? It would ﬁt me like a dress.” He laughed, took it off, and helped her into it. The shoulders were at her elbows. The bottom touched her knees. The sleeves had to be rolled up ﬁve times so that she could use her hands. He called it a perfect ﬁt. It was official now: Fred Steinmark and Gloria Marchitti were going together.
She went to her next class, music, and immediately was accosted by an angry girl, seething about the sweater: “Where’d you get that sweater? Who gave it to you?”
Gloria smirked and said ﬂippantly, “The guy it belongs to gave it to me.” She pushed past her attacker and realized in that moment that being the girlfriend of the most popular boy in school meant she would be the most unpopular girl in school. She weighed this new reality and concluded that being Fred’s girl, and having Liz for a best friend, maybe her only friend, was good enough. Fred was right: what other people thought just didn’t matter.
Gloria’s mother liked Fred. He was two years older, yes, but Gloria was mature for her age. In Frances’s mind, two years was nothing. She herself had been a ﬁfteen-year-old bride in an arranged marriage to Joseph Marchitti, age thirty-seven. A successful businessman, he courted her properly, in the Italian tradition. Joseph and Frances had seven children. After the ﬁrst six—Dominick, Nick, Marie, Lucille, John, and Lena—Frances teased Joseph that he was too old to produce any more. He bet her that he could, and promised to build her a big, beautiful, Mediterranean-style house on his property up the hill, in the Highlands, if she had another child. Gloria was their seventh child. The house she lived in now was the payoff for the bet that had brought her into the world sixteen years earlier.
Fred was backed against the wrought iron railing in a corner of the porch, away from the front door. Gloria was thinking it was time to say good night and go inside. They had been to The Scotchman for a Coke and had talked about how a consequence of being his girlfriend was that she had lost friends and created enemies. He told her again that it didn’t matter what other people thought, then opened his arms wide and said, “Come here.”
“Boy, he was a good kisser,” she recalls. “And that ﬁrst kiss was awesome. It was the ﬁrst kiss that ever made me feel that tingle from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. I knew as he was kissing me that something was going to happen with him. I had never been kissed like that, and I knew I wasn’t going to get over that feeling. I didn’t know what was happening yet, but I knew something was.”
By spring of 1947, Fred and Gloria were almost inseparable, but it was baseball season, and he was the focus of much attention. Sports reporters, professional scouts, and college coaches were regularly in the bleachers to watch Fred play. She had learned to live with the constant presence of people wanting to talk to him, but she was taken aback one night when Fred called to say he had agreed to take out the daughter of the East High football coach, Pat Panek. Coach Panek was very fond of Fred, and knew Fred was going places, and when he dropped a hint about having a daughter worthy of the all-American boy’s attention, Fred didn’t want to disappoint him. Gloria thought about it. “Just go ahead and go,” she said. “Get it out of your system.” Fred promised he would call as soon as the date was over. She recalls that the date lasted about an hour, and then “he was back at my house, ringing the doorbell.”
She got another surprise one morning before school when her brother John, who was living at the house, read to her a small item in the Rocky Mountain News sports section. It said that during his senior year, Fred had signed a professional baseball contract to play for the Cleveland Indians, and that as soon as school was out he planned to report to their farm team in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Fred hadn’t mentioned the contract to her.
“Lots of people were happy for him, because that was his dream. He wanted to play pro ball. His teachers wanted him to go to college ﬁrst, and he easily could have, because he had scholarship offers from just about everybody—athletic and academic.” Fred didn’t share much with Gloria about his family. She knew he lived with his mother and sister in an apartment above a barbershop, and guessed that one of the reasons he wanted to play professional baseball was to get money to help his mother. Gloria wished that he would go to college and get a degree ﬁrst, but she understood and supported his decision.
Their relationship did not end with the last day of school and Fred’s departure for the minors. Gloria’s emotions were mixed: she was sad that he was leaving, yet happy that he was pursuing his dream. Yes, she told him, she still wanted to go steady even though he wouldn’t be there. He promised that he would call and write as often as he could. At Union Station he boarded his train, sat by a window, and waved to her as the train pulled away. “It really was what they say about parting,” she recalls. “Sweet sorrow.”
Baseball at the professional level is not and never has been the paradise that young boys might imagine. Minorleague ball, in particular, has always been a rough existence. It is dog-eat-dog and endless sunbaked days. It is long bus rides and little sleep and less money. It is aches and pains, many you have to tend to yourself. And if you ever falter, unable to play for even one day, there are legions of players lined up right behind you— if the next guy gets his chance, your career can be gone with the wind like so much dandelion ﬂuff. Minor league baseball is a meat grinder: young players go in, and a few come out the other end as major leaguers.
The odds of making it are astronomical even if a player is talented enough to get a contract. In reality, entire minor-league teams exist so that one genuine prospect has a place to play. Of Fred’s ninety-seven teammates, on four minor-league teams, only four men ever made an appearance in the majors.
Fred left Denver as the all-American boy, the star athlete, the can’t-miss kid, the one boy everybody knew would make it. It was only a matter of time. What he encountered upon his arrival in faraway Wisconsin, home of the Cleveland-affiliated Class D farm team the Green Bay Blue Jays, was very different from what he imagined it would be. There was no glitz or glamour. The playing surfaces were not as good as the ﬁeld at North High School. There were uncouth players and jeering fans—if there were fans at all. Brawls were not uncommon. There were nights of going to bed hungry. The players on Fred’s team were around his age, eighteen to twenty-ﬁve, though most were rookies, and each one was determined to succeed against the wishes of the others.
In Fred’s rookie year, 1947, Class D alone had twenty leagues, comprising 178 teams. The Green Bay Blue Jays were one of them. Class C, the next step up, had ﬁfteen leagues and 108 teams. Class B, nine leagues and 68 teams. Class A, three leagues and 22 teams. Double-A, two leagues and 16 teams. And the uppermost stratum of minor-league baseball, Triple-A, had three leagues and 24 teams. As a conservative estimate, there were twenty-ﬁve players on each of these 416 professional teams at any given time, or 10,400 young men, all vying to get to the big leagues in the frantic postwar revival of America’s pastime.
Fred loved playing baseball, but he was far from home and he missed Gloria. He underperformed in his ﬁrst year, but looked forward to spending time with Gloria in the off-season, conﬁdent that his second season would be better.
His second year, which began with the Class C Burlington Indians, in Iowa, would end with him on the roster of the Class B Meridian Peps, in Mississippi, but his play wasn’t appreciably better. The long-distance relationship with Gloria affected his ability to perform, and he knew he had to do something about it. In May he made a quick trip to Denver.
It was Color Day at North High, and school spirit soared. A picnic was planned for later in the day. Gloria, whose popularity had improved with Fred gone, intended to go to the picnic accompanied by a boy whose letter sweater she had just started wearing. During the morning, she was summoned to the principal’s office to take an urgent telephone call from her mother. What Gloria heard shocked her. Her mother said, “Gloria, guess who’s in town? Fred.” Gloria knew Fred would come to the school, so she hastily returned the letter sweater and backed out of the picnic. It was, she recalls, “one of the worst days of my life.” She told Fred about the picnic and invited him to take her to it, which he did, reluctantly, but he didn’t want to go to the Color Day dance.
What Fred wanted was to get married. She was seventeen. He was nineteen. Gloria thought she should ﬁnish school before getting married. Fred was persuasive. His aunt and uncle met them at the courthouse in Golden, Colorado, and stood up for them. The marriage was recorded, but wouldn’t be blessed in a church until March of the following year, after Fred had taken classes required by the Catholic Church.
Fred did not play baseball for the next two years. On the way to apply for an off-season job at the coal company, in a new car belonging to Gloria’s brother Johnny, Fred was hit head-on by a coal truck. Sportswriters who wrote about the accident said the injuries to Fred’s knee and throwing arm were serious enough to end his dream of playing major-league baseball.
The new couple lived in Gloria’s bedroom in Frances’s house when their ﬁrst child was born, on January 27, 1949. They named him Freddie Joe. As soon as Freddie Joe was strong enough to sit in a corner without falling over, Fred put a catcher’s mask on his son and rolled balls to him, explaining to Gloria that this way, Freddie Joe would never be afraid of the ball. Sports had been good to Fred. He was sure they would be good to Freddie Joe too.
Fred worked hard to rehab his injured arm. With the arrival of the 1951 baseball season, he pronounced himself ready to play again. But two years out of action is an eternity in professional sports, and he had a hard time getting anyone interested enough to give him a tryout. Oklahoma’s Enid Buffaloes were an unaffiliated team in the Western Association, and when they agreed to give Fred a uniform, he couldn’t have been happier, or more determined to make it to the big leagues.
When Gloria gave birth to their second child, Gloria Gene, on June 7, 1951, Fred was batting .361, an average much more in line with what had been expected of him before the accident. He had heard rumors that he might be “moving up,” and he called Gloria to give her the good news. But Gloria didn’t share his enthusiasm. In fact, she had lost interest in his baseball career altogether. She was living in her mother’s basement with two babies to take care of, and she felt strongly that Freddie Joe needed his father. Fred knew all too well what it was like for a boy to grow up without his father, so he made the decision in that moment to let go of his dream. The all-American boy headed home to begin his new life as the all-American dad.
“The authors . . . capture Freddie's cheerful essence, vividly recreate key games and posit his life against the canvas of history. . .Yousse and Cryan . . . have written a deeply informed and proper tribute to the little Texas Longhorn with Heart.”
The Austin American-Statesman
“A universal journey of hope and heart, Freddie’s story transcends the game.”
Colt McCoy, NFL Quarterback
“Freddie Steinmark was an inspiration not just to the players on his team, but to anybody who knew his story. An incredible person, one of the most courageous people ever to put on a football uniform.”
Joe Theismann, Super Bowl Champion
“When we measure the life of Freddie Steinmark with the unyielding definition of a calendar, his time was short. But his story is nonetheless timeless. When we measure by the passion and purpose displayed on the pages of this book, the story of Freddie Steinmark will never go away.”
Jeffrey Marx, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the New York Times bestseller Season of Life
“So few athletes have a lasting legacy, and even fewer leave the world a better place than they found it. Now, in the hands of born storytellers, Bower Yousse and Thomas Cryan, the legend of Freddie Steinmark will continue to do his good work.”
Susan Fornoff, author of “Lady in the Locker Room”
“On and off the field, Freddie always lit it up.”
Fred Akers, Broadcaster, Head Football Coach, University of Texas (1977–1986), and Defensive Backs Coach, University of Texas (1966–1974)
“The 1969 Champion Texas Longhorns were a special team for many reasons, but the biggest one was the remarkable, unforgettable relationship between Coach Royal and his All-American, Safety Freddie Steinmark.”
Aaron Eckhart, actor, “Coach Royal” in the movie My All American
“Bower Yousse and Thomas Cryan tell Freddie Steinmark’s story so well—faith, family, football, and the incredible impact of courage.”
Griff Wirth, alumnus and current principal of Wheat Ridge High School (Freddie Steinmark’s school)
Freddie Steinmark: Book Trailer