The Thoughtful Voice Of Frank Deford

Frank Deford passed away on Sunday. He was 78. If you don’t know who he is, that’s a shame. But, here … let me get you up to speed.

 

Deford was one of the great cerebral sportswriters. His opinions on sports were thoughtful and deep and could be read in Sports Illustrated and in his many books and heard on National Public Radio.

If you ever wanted to be a great sportswriter and great sportsthinker (which isn’t a word, but should be) … if you ever wanted to tear down the ugliness of professional sports to look for the goodness and meaning inside … Deford was one of those rare people you turned to.

One of my first posts on here was five years ago and was about Deford’s NPR piece on performance enhancing drugs in sport.  “If you doubt the bodies, there is no sport,” he said which was poetic and beautiful and in nine words conveyed more about the use of PEDs than other writers could say in 1,000.

One of his last commentaries for NPR was in March about the challenges that come when baseball tries to change the strike zone while umpires are left to have their own opinions about things.

You can find something from Deford to dig in to – on nearly any sport you choose – in Sports Illustrated’s Deford archives.

In his final commentary on NPR earlier this month, Deford said: “Nothing has pleased me so much as when someone — usually a woman — writes me or tells me that she’s appreciated sports more because NPR allowed me to treat sports seriously, as another branch on the tree of culture.”

OK, so maybe that was a little misguided and sexist, implying that women might not generally be thoughtful sports fans, but I’m going to give him a pass on this, considering it a generational misstep. But, I’m including it because … “another branch on the tree of culture” is, again, simply beautiful.

Deford would get a little too serious at times about sports, when I prefer sports, especially baseball, to have a bit of lightness … to be a needed distraction from the world at large. I wondered sometimes if he even found sports fun.

But, that seriousness was often necessary to shine a light on injustice, unfairness, or disharmony. Someone had to do it.

And, he did.

The Mendoza Line of Posts

This is my 200th post.

It is of interest only because people like milestones and milestones come in round numbers.

Two-hundred blog posts is no big thing. I follow people who have twittered 48,000 times. (As Truman Capote once said, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”)

For Mario Mendoza, whose lifetime .215 batting average led to calling a woeful .200 or under average “The Mendoza Line,” .200 was just a lousy break, because statistics will tell you that plenty of guys never cracked .200, but Mendoza was the poor shmoo who got singled out.  (Thanks, George Brett. I’m blaming you for this.)

Mario Mendoza

For me, 200 posts is a nice milestone and with milestones come the responsibility of writing something worthwhile or memorable … or, really, just something.

There are wonderfully talented people with much to say who can post on their blogs with daily, sometimes twice- and thrice-daily regularity. If you are one of them, please know that I find you admirable, role-model worthy, and, to be honest, a little annoying.

Most of what I write never gets posted. It is too weird, fractured, stupid, unfunny, baffling, or confusing (even to me and I wrote it).

Here are a few scraps that I tinkered with over the years that never became post-worthy. Well-intentioned, sure. But, like Mario Mendoza, not quite good enough to get on base:

“Minnesota Twins: You play outside now. Good for you.” (2012. From an abandoned effort to say one nice thing about every major league team.)

“Do you think a guinea pig is jealous of a rabbit’s ears?” (2013)

“Try throwing a basketball 100 miles per hour.” (2014)

“It has been brought to my attention that my blog is frivolous. This came from someone who is of the belief that Supreme Court rulings are important and baseball is not.” (2013)

“Giraffes have the biggest hearts of all land mammals.” (2015)

“I’m so glad that there is something that Bill Ripken does better than Cal.” (2012, Playoffs. Following Cal’s atrocious time in the broadcast booth.)

“While living in Paris, Hemingway would bring mandarins to his writing garret each day. Eating mandarins as you write will not turn you into Hemingway. Trust me.” (2012)

“Craptastic. That should be a word.” (2013)

“I was hopeful that the Montgomery Biscuits’ mascot would be someone dressed as a warm, buttery biscuit. But, this is not a perfect world.  And, baseball, for all its perfection, often disappoints. (2015)

big mo not a biscuit

Big Mo. Not a biscuit.

“Dear Gentlemen: One day you will thank the Bloggess for this advice – never suggest to your wife that the smell coming from the hard-to-reach dead mouse under the fridge will go away ‘in a few days.’ Here’s a tip, use a vacuum cleaner and stick the hose right under there and suck that stinker out. Don’t make your wife do it. She will only be annoyed and write about it in an effort to shame you.” (2013)

“Oh my god, I’m getting soft on A-Rod.” (2015, World Series)

“Dear Tampa Bay Rays, Great idea for 2013: make the roof girders light up when balls hit them and turn the entire stadium into a giant pinball machine. Moving girders become flippers, bumpers throughout the outfield, flashing lights, a whirling disco ball, and a “tilt” that will shake the stadium at random times. I’m just trying to help.” (2012)

“We wandered through exhibits in and around the ‘Downtown Mall,’ Charlottesville’s hipster outdoor space where much of this Photography Festival thing was going on. Photographers were shooting like they were Annie Liebovitz in Tiananmen Square on revolution day. I’m pretty sure I ended up part of  someone’s Street Art Portfolio.” (2015)

“Does that Brewer guy still slide into a pool after home runs? I hope so.” (2012)

“I’m not an expert on baseball, but I feel like I’m not destroying a thoughtful national conversation by weighing in on it from time to time.” (2013)

“I have been cold since I was 12.” (2014)

“I saw that Cincinnati just signed Jair Jurrgens. My take on that … if your team is signing the Orioles’ pitching castoffs, you probably have a bigger problem than you realize.”  (2014)

“I’ll write what she’s writing.” (2015. The headline from a discarded draft in praise of Nora Ephron.)

“I’ve bet on baseball and I don’t belong in the Hall of Fame either.” (2015)

“Jim Palmer wrote to me!” (2015)

palmer tweet

Actually, he typed.