Friday, May 18, 2012

Book Review: "Over Time, My Life As A Sportswriter" by Frank Deford

If you are a long time reader of Sports Illustrated, you know the work of Frank Deford.  If you watch HBO, you know the work of Frank Deford.  If you are a regular listener to National Public Radio, you know the work of Frank Deford.  Hey, you'll even know Frank Deford if you can remember the old Miller Lite "tastes great, less filling" commercials.  Long one of America's most outstanding sportswriters, Deford has now written a memoir covering his 50 years as a writer covering America's sporting scene, and, as you might expect, it is extremely well written and highly entertaining.  I would highly recommend it.

I'll try not to spoil it for you by telling all the good stuff, but here are some highlights.

  • He talks about how his name is constantly misspelled as either DeFord or De Ford.  OK, he got used to it, but when a friend named a race horse "Frank Deford" in his honor, Frank Deford, the writer, tended to get a little dismayed over the fact that Frank Deford, the horse, when written about in the racing press and in the Daily Racing Form,  never had his  name misspelled.  Ever.  Unfortunately, the horse wasn't near as good a thoroughbred as Deford was a sportswriter, and eventually had to be gelded!
  • If you don't want to buy the book, then go to a bookstore - if you can find one - and, if nothing else, read Chapter 26, "Hobey and Danny and Bill".  It is about three Princeton athletes, Hobey Baker, Danny Sachs, and Bill Bradley, and it is a marvelous story in and of itself.
  • Some great stories about covering the NBA in the early 1960's when it consisted of eight teams and we pretty much a bush league.  These chapters often had me laughing out loud at some of the anecdotes.
  • Equally great stories about the early days of Sports Illustrated that sounded very much like episodes of Mad Men.
  • You'll read great stories about people like Pete Rose, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Ted Williams, Wilt Chamberlin, Bill Russell, Arthur Ashe, and many, many more.
  • He also talks about sports writing and how it has evolved, and continues to evolve over the years, with anecdotes about folks such as Grantland Rice, Red Smith, Dan Jenkins, Dick Young, and, of course, Howard Cosell, who wasn't actually a sports writer,  but has to be included anyway.
And can Deford turn a phrase! Here a couple of my favorites:
  • "I don't believe that any people except elderly athletes are any longer referred to as 'old-timers'.  Everybody else is a senior citizen.  Personally, I would prefer being called an 'old-timer' any day of the week."
  • "The Harlem Globetrotters still thrive out there. It's the one goofy thing television hasn't been able to kill."
  • Deford once worked a story wherein he profiled the four current Commissioners of the major sports.  He ended each interview with a goofy question about what each wore when they slept.  Pete Rozelle, Walter Kennedy, and Clarence Campbell played along with the silliness, but "Bowie Kuhn was beside himself with indignation that I had dared make such a raw personal inquiry.  He refused to answer the question and took me to task for prying. I assumed he must've slept in a stuffed shirt."
He also even refers to SABR, although the book calls the organization "Sabre" (where was the editor?).  Anyway, he refers to Sabre (sic) people as "the statistics nuts", but then concludes that "Sabreites (sic) may be in love with numbers, but they are, foremost, unabashed devotees of the game that, after all, provides them with their inert numbers."

I loved this book and highly recommend it to fans of both sports and terrific writing.

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