Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter

By Frank Deford

(Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, 288)

Who is this author?

Raised in Baltimore and educated at Princeton, Benjamin “Frank” Deford III went straight to Sports Illustrated from college in 1962. He did stints at Vanity Fair and Newsweek, but is best known as a sports journalist in print and on the air.

Deford, who lives in Connecticut, is a paragon among sports scribes. His credits include being named National Sportswriter of the Year not once or twice but six times, being a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, a commentator on NPR’s Morning Edition, a correspondent for HBO’s RealSports with Bryant Gumbel and publishing many sports books, as well as novels and a touching memoir about his daughter, Alex. He is in the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters and has won an Emmy and a Peabody award for his on-air journalism.

A heads-up to fans: Deford will speak and sign books tonight, May 15, at 7 at R.J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison. Information: 203-245-3959.

What is this book about?

It’s about 50 years of sports as observed by one of the game’s – any game’s – best chroniclers. There’s hardly a major sports figure that Deford did not write about, and this book is packed with anecdotes and recollections about the whole roster. Deford also writes with reverence about sportswriters who preceded him, such as Ring Lardner and Grantland Rice. And he tells personal stories, too, about his wife, Carol, his son Christian, his adopted daughter Scarlet and the daughter the Defords lost at age 8 to cystic fibrosis, as told in his touching memoir, “Alex: The Life of a Child.”

Why you’ll like it:

Deford is a graceful writer and life has given him wonderful material. Here he gives an insider’s perspective on the good (and bad) sports superstars, as well as some oddball characters. His book also provides a smart assessment of how sports journalism has changed over the years. While it is a book aimed at sports fans, you do not have to be one to appreciate his writing and in fact, the book can be seen as a crash course in recent sports history. And don’t forget that Deford is a successful novelist, too. He knows how to tell a story.

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says:  “ Sportswriter (Sports Illustrated) and author … Deford tells the story of his rise from the comfortable and modest streets of Baltimore to the top of the sports journalism world. He discovered that he “had some facility for writing” when he was nine, even though he had not “suffered a miserable upbringing,” which helps “if you are to become a writer.” He was hired by Sports Illustrated in 1962, despite the personnel department classifying him as “not very bright…The mixture of homage to sportswriters who came before him, such as Grantland Rice; sometimes wistful vignettes of sports figures like Arthur Ashe; and his own personal reflections on the evolution of sports journalism combine to offer a cultural perspective that transcends a mere job.”

“Some life. Joining Sports Illustrated in 1962, Deford quickly discovered fellow Princetonian Bill Bradley and Canadian Bobby Orr; he eventually won both a Peabody and an Emmy, wrote ten novels, and continues to star on NPR. Here, he revisits his personal and professional lives while interweaving the story of American sportswriting. Interesting stuff from a proven commodity,” says Library Journal.

“His accomplishments are many, but in this wildly entertaining and informative memoir, he refers to himself only as the scrivener. His subjects are what matters, and he gives them their due, as in a poignant chapter on the late Wilt Chamberlain, which offers more insight into that enigmatic basketball icon than any half-dozen books. Fortunately, despite the self-deprecating tone, Deford does portray the highlights of his remarkable career, including his early stint covering the NBA at a time when players flew commercial, played doubleheaders to boost the gate, and hung out with sportswriters because they could expense the bar tab. He was also ahead of the pack in covering women’s sports, especially tennis, and he offers some insight into why women’s team sports have never moved beyond a niche level of popularity in the U.S. A lifetime sportswriter, he’s very aware of the history of his craft, and, along the way, he shares his thoughts on “then-and-now,” including pointed anecdotes on some sportswriting legends from the past,” says Booklist in a starred review.

 “Frank Deford is the best sportswriter I’ve ever read. His profiles at Sports illustrated were magic. I wanted to write like him, and the sad part for me was that I knew he was playing in a higher league. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of sportswriting, Deford is up there, purple ties and all,” says sports columnist Tony Kornheiser.

When is it available?

It’s waiting for you at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.