Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Twilight of the Gods: How the great Frank Deford changed my life

Recently, NPR aired an interview with Frank Deford, following the announcement that he would no longer supply sports commentaries to the network. I was driving around Syracuse - literally circling the blocks until it ended, having to hear every word. And I should have known something was up. Damn... I should have known. 

There's only one reason why a writer ever stops writing.  

Over the weekend, Deford passed away.

Last night, as the avalanche of testimonials began, it hit me that without Frank Deford, this blog probably would not be here.

In 1990, Mustang (aka Tom Peyer) and I were living in Syracuse, (nothing changes, eh?) pitching humor pieces to magazines, trying to scrape up extra beer money. We had scored several times with National Lampoon but needed to expand our markets. We tried The National, Deford's new daily sports tabloid. We sent a piece called "Who Should Buy the Yankees?" ripping the horrible administration of George Steinbrenner and imagining how various luminaries would change the franchise. Deford bought it, paid us $200 - back then, you could buy a Mercedes with that kind of money - and we switched from Genny Cream to Heineken.

Through the miracle of printed paper, here it is.


The jokes are dated. (I barely remember Silverado Savings and Loan.) Here's the part on Trump.

Deford asked for more. Terrified of waiting too long, we sent him a weird side project we had been noodling around for months, without much hope. It was called "The Poetry of Phil Rizzuto." We took Rizzuto's on air meanderings and, with use of the carriage return key, turned it into poetry form. 

Deford wrote back and said he loved the poems, but the feeling among his editors was that the project was too "New Yorky" for a national audience. He suggested we try a New York publication, such as the Village Voice.

We took his advice. The Voice bought it, ran with it, and a few years later, O Holy Cow: The Selected Verse of Phil Rizzuto was in bookstores. Later, I plagiarized myself and did the same exact thing with Donald Rumsfeld and Donald Trump. (Nothing like stealing from yourself.) I learned that if you wait long enough, all ideas come back, and they hail your creativity.  

Anyway, I shall always owe Frank Deford for his suggestion. It changed my life. And after that NPR interview, I should have known. Damn. I blew it. I should have written him a letter, thanking him. 

I don't know if the hereafter has wifi. If so, I hope he clicks on us. Either way, he will always have a place in my heart. Damn. I should have known.


DutchFan said...

This is a great post.
Seems we all tend to be too late when it comes to thanking people or telling them how we feel. Until we depend on the supernatural.

John M said...

Deford was great. One of the all-time greatest. His on-air stuff was just as good as his print stuff, albeit without the full emotional effect his prose could achieve. Even as he got older, he never mailed it in, and his appearances on the Gumbel show were always terrific.

Goddamn. He looked awfully gaunt in recent years, but I never thought...

Damn. I've had more than my share of not-so-great news lately, and his departure isn't helping.

Tom said...

We all have to go sometime, and Frank Deford got in his full nine innings plus a few extras. He was a literary cat who made sports more fun. With guys like him, you didn't have to be there and see it on the tube. His descriptions were exciting and entertaining on their own.

Not surprising, too, that he was popular with the folks who populate this blog with words because we do seem to be a group of pretty damn good writers, present company excluded, of course. Glad that he gave Mustang and el duque the break that led to O, Holy Cow. I give a copy to every baseball fan who needs to understand how wonderful Rizzuto was behind the microphone, even when he was dodging thunder storms.

Alphonso said...

It may be, Mustang, that you would never have agreed to " learn the game," without such influences.

Who else could explain, " a double switch, and why it is mostly a National league thing?

Or what to think of that guy who stole Bernie's glove, or was it Derek's?

Or why Red Sox fans are so arrogant, vile and small-minded?

All the good stuff.

The Sayonara Kid said...

I really cherish this blog. Thanks for sharing.

JJ in MA said...

Just want to add my voice to the chorus. Great post. Thank you.

Rufus T. Firefly said...

Dutch fan (and duque) nailed it. Don't hesitate to connect with those that matter.

Buhner's Ghost said...

Great post, Duque. I will miss DeFord's NPR commentaries just like I've missed Red Barber. Maybe a silver lining: There's an opening now for sports commentary on Morning Edition and your rare combination of sports knowledge and literary wit could fill that void. Please apply.

Alphonso said...

Duque should do this. Although I feed him most of his best material.

Cowgirl-Up said...

Thanks for this. I would always stop whatever I was doing to listen to Frank Deford on NPR. I think you know I'm not a passionate sports fan, but his take on sports was poetry.