Frank Deford may have taught me to write. As a kid I read every SI from about 1970-1982 cover to cover, and his were invariably the funniest and most enjoyable pieces (Dan Jenkins was the other highlight). Looking at my style now, it sure resembles Frank's then. If not nearly as fine. And he's still going strong, as this memoir attests.
Like his sports articles it's breezy and conversational, yet also surprisingly literate and intelligent. The man gets to the core of a person or issue mighty quick, and his unerring eye for quality and truth is a thing of much beauty. DeFord (you coulda been a name contender, Frank!) is also a people person, as they say, and his understanding of what makes us tick as humans as well as athletes lends his words real depth of meaning beyond their athletic subjects. Few sportswriters, or really any writers, can do that consistently.
Along with endless funny and touching anecdotes here are a number of tributes to sportswriting/editing greats from years gone by who never got their due from the general reading public. FD is here to fix that, and generously extols the many virtues of quite a few guys I'd never heard of but am glad to know more about now. Likewise his admiration of Rice and other forebears. Not many guys use their autobiographies to talk about how great everyone else is, but then that's another measure of this man.
I also enjoyed his various footnotes about colloquialisms and terms that have fallen out of usage; Frank loves our crazy language and its inane intricacies, and his good-humored, often ironic wordplay is one of the most appealing things about his writing.
This book is in fact just a flat-out pleasure to read, especially if you enjoy sports. But even if you don't, it's worth reading for the quality of the writing, and the quality of the man. In a world where profit and fame have become the only things that seem to matter, not just in sports but in business and all else, guys like Frank Deford make us realize what old school can and should mean. The man has character. He knows what matters in life as well as sports, and to read his words is to learn many fine and useful things about how to live and be as a human being. Plus he's always willing to insert some humor, and he can be mighty funny.
Let's just say it once and for all: Frank DeFord is not just the best American sportswriter, he's one of the best American writers period.
Thanks for sharing, my friend.
You helped me love words as a kid, and that love has served me as well as any I've ever found.
Peace and all good things to you and yours, Mr. Deford.