Equal doses of self-deprecating humor and anecdotal history of American sports journalism are the essence of Frank Deford's entertaining new memoir: "Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter," published by Atlantic Monthly Press.
Most renowned for his epic profiles in Sports Illustrated beginning in the early '60s, the Princeton graduate known as "The Kid" also gained notoriety as the editor of the ambitious yet financially doomed publication called The National Sports Daily in 1990. The author of 18 books, Deford even broke new ground for sportswriters as one of the featured stars on the Lite Beer All-Star television commercials with Billy Martin and Marvelous Marv Throneberry.
I caught up with Deford recently via phone from his home in Westport, Conn., to discuss his remarkable career, his perspective on sports journalism and the process of writing "My Life as a Sportswriter."
"The hardest part is writing about yourself," Deford said. "All of your life, you are writing about other people, and you have a pretty good idea. I figure that if something interests me, then it is going to interest somebody else. But when you are the subject, you get very confused. You say, 'Well, I wonder if I do interest other people.'aa"
Deford draws the reader with him as he eloquently describes the sports personalities he interviewed and got to know personally, including Muhammad Ali, Ted Williams, Arthur Ashe, Bob Feller, Pete Rose, Billie Jean King and many others.
"The fun part is that I do bounce around a lot and I cover an awful lot of subjects. I enjoyed reliving the good days and the good people that I met. I did much more of that than I did the bad guys," he said.
Deford is a senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated, a weekly commentator for NPR's "Morning Edition" and a regular correspondent on the HBO Show "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."
"There are far better sportswriters around now than when I first got in the profession," he said. "I think among other things, people accept sportswriting much more generously now. When I first got into it, a lot of people looked down on it, and I talk a little about it in the book. I still don't think we receive sufficient recognition.
"For example, I've got nothing against cartoonists, but I point out that a cartoonist receives a Pulitzer Prize every year. Well, how many cartoonists are there? Everybody who has been a cartoonist should have a Pulitzer Prize by now," he said with a chuckle.
"But sportswriters get one about every 15 years. And there are thousands of us."
Deford also addresses his concern over the future of the profession.
"I made my mark, certainly not so much as any kind of great reporter, but more as a storyteller," he said. "Yes, I did some reporting in the stories, but basically it was the telling of the stories, which I was best at. That's what I think is lost in this rush to be just five seconds ahead of somebody else.
"The thing about sports is that it ... provides better stories than other areas of journalism. So for us not to be telling those stories ... we do so at our own expense. We should be telling more stories about the people in sports, and the issues. I just wish there was more of that."