Thursday, April 12, 2007
Sports journalist Frank Deford comes to Chico State University with novel view of baseball
By DAN BARNETT
Sports Illustrated senior writer Frank Deford is also known for his Wednesday commentary on the National Public Radio program "Morning Edition."
Publicity materials suggest Deford knows a thing or three about his subject: "The winner of an Emmy, a Peabody and a National Magazine Award, Deford has been elected to the Hall of Fame of the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters, and has been voted U.S. Sportswriter of the Year six times."
Deford will speak at Chico State University's Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Sponsored by Chico Performances, Deford's presentation is titled "Sports: The Hype and the Hypocrisy." Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $14 for students and children at the University Box Office (898-6333).
Deford is also the author of "The Entitled: A Tale of Modern Baseball" ($24.95 in hardcover from Sourcebooks, Inc.), which is set to be published in May. The quotations that follow, from my advance reading copy, give a flavor of the book but may be revised in the final publication version.
With that said, I can report that "The Entitled" kept me interested from first to last. Engrossed would be the better word, and I really don't know anything about baseball. Years ago, during my stint on the KPAY morning show, Sports Director Mike Baca explained to me the delight he took in watching a baseball game -- not only for the action on the field but especially for the intense strategizing that went on when nothing appeared to be happening. Deford's fictional novel makes that observation a compelling reality.
"You gotta always think ahead," Howie Traveler says to his girlfriend, Margo. Howie, at 57, is the manager of the Cleveland Indians. "You've got to consider the possibilities. Like tonight. Dinky Furlong is pitching for me, and he's getting them out, but Connie and me, we know he hasn't really got his best stuff. They're gonna get to him, for sure, but when do I start warming somebody up? Too early, maybe I altogether waste a guy I might need tomorrow. And Furlong is very insecure. He's like some pitchers: He sees a guy warming up, he takes it personally. But if I wait, maybe then it's too late, and the Yankees are into a big inning."
Baseball is about people, all right, and Howie is altogether (his favorite word) enmeshed in the life of his star player, maybe the best in the game: Jay Alcazar, who Howie calls a "five-tool player": "That means & he can hit, hit with power, run, field and throw." Alcazar also has a way with women, and his one-night stands are legion. But one night, as Howie walks down the hotel corridor to his room, he sees the door to Jay's room open. A woman is trying to get out, but she is pulled back inside and the door kicked shut. Soon afterward, the woman charges Alcazar with rape, and Howie is forced into an ethical dilemma. Should he tell the police what he saw, and maybe lose his star player and his job? Or should he keep quiet?
Deford illuminates the politically incorrect world of Major League Baseball even as he creates sympathetic characters that linger in the memory. An altogether captivating performance.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.