Photo by Steph Langan
APSE President Michael A. Anastasi's introductory remarks at the annual Red Smith Award induction luncheon in Chicago on June 22, 2012 were based on this text:
It is intimidating to speak before, let alone introduce, someone who is not only known as one of the country’s great writers, but great speakers as well. You know going in — pretty much like, say, the Cubs this season — odds are you’ll be outclassed today.
So I’ll try simply to speak from the heart.
I talk to a friend of mine from high school every once in a while and he is an accomplished professor of bio-chemistry at the University of California, famous in his field. We don’t talk much about sports because there is nothing to talk about — he knows almost nothing, cares less.
I mentioned, though, I was coming to Chicago and that, among things, I would be introducing Frank Deford into the Red Smith Hall of Fame.
Now my friend has no clue who Red Smith was, but he certainly knows Frank Deford. And what my friend knows about sports he’s learned from Mr. Deford.
“Frank Deford?” he said. “Why I listen to him every week on NPR.”
Yes, NPR, the official radio home of university professors, and Mr.
Deford has had a weekly appearance for years.
“Wow,” my friend said, “I’m impressed. I thought you were just a sports guy.”
Frank Deford has written novels, movies, plays, fiction and non-fiction, scripts of all kinds, books of all genres. He’s even appeared in TV commercials … yet, he calls himself a sportswriter. … He’s a sports guy, too.
Mr. Deford brought an elegance into sportswriting, a different kind of attitude. He showed us that in sports we find life.
Everything that matters in life.
He elevated sportswriting, showed us it was an honorable thing to do for an entire lifetime, showed us that because it was real life, it should be treated seriously and with respect.
We saw that, plainly, in Mr. Deford’s famous memoir, Alex: The Life of a Child, in which he chronicled the life of his little daughter following a terminal illness.
“A man didn’t write that book,” Dave Kindred, our friend and a Red Smith winner 20 years ago told me. “God did.”
One measure of greatness is longevity. Frank Deford has been bringing it, as we like to say today, for six decades now. Another is influence. There isn’t a person sitting in this room who has not been impacted by the work of Mr. Deford.
I had become a sports editor of a small daily not long before The National Sports Daily made its debut. Long before the Web chronicled every micro-move of every journalist and every publication in America, The National, with Mr. Deford as its editor and evangelizer in chief, received unprecedented buzz.
As well it should have. A who’s who of sports journalism talent joined the operation. For an outsider, it was like getting to watch an all-star team play not just a single night, but for an entire season together. Later I was told that’s the way it felt to work there, too.
Now, I had studied international relations, not journalism, certainly not sports journalism. I had thought I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, but I somehow was drawn to sports. With no experience or training or mentor, I turned to The National. It would show me how it’s done. They were the best of the best.
The National was a window to the larger world of sports journalism. I bought it, studied it, devoured it — every day.
The journalists who worked there became my superstars and as I’ve progressed through the business I’ve been honored whenever I’ve met one of them, even now.
I must admit I’ve been a bit star-struck. Even when I met Lee Gordon, who I was pleased to see mentioned in Frank’s most recent book.
Lee, the most legendary agate editor of all-time and someone most of you know, was first introduced to me at an APSE event years ago, simply and in an almost hushed tone as legends are, as “The Agate-tolla.” Journalists all around me referred to him that way. I think it was two or three years before I learned his real name.
Really, and I’m not the first to make this observation, what The National was a national sports web site before there was the web.
That shows the vision Frank Deford had, and has.
Mr. Deford has written he likes the term “old-timer,” and notes that only in sports are the greatest at their craft honored so.
I am honored, therefore, to present to you this old-timer, who stands before us as one of the greatest in our craft, whose contributions to sports journalism stand as a testament to sustained excellence, who continues to set the standard to which all of us in this room aspire.
I present to you Frank Deford, member of the APSE Red Smith Hall of Fame