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Picking Nits with Frank Deford

In the Hyperbolic World of Sports Journalism, the Sports Illustrated Icon Is Considered a Master Storyteller. And Most of the Time, He Gets It Right.

January 11, 2004|Glenn F. Bunting | Times staff writer Glenn F. Bunting last wrote for the magazine about televangelist Dr. Gene Scott.

"So I started to lay her down where they would cut her open. And in that moment, I could not hold back any longer; one tear fell from all those welling in my eyes. And Alex saw it, saw my face as I bent to put her down. Softer, but urgently, she cried out, "Wait!" We all thought she was only delaying the operation again, but instead, so gently, so dear, she reached up, and with an angel's touch, swept the tear from my face. I will never know such sweetness again in all my life." -- "Alex, The Life of a Child," 1983

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday January 24, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Frank Deford -- A Jan. 11 Los Angeles Times Magazine article on writer Frank Deford incorrectly stated that Deford collaborated on books with five professional tennis players. In fact, Deford wrote "Big Bill Tilden" in 1975 on his own. The article also referred to Robert Victor Sullivan as a Mississippi prep football coach. He was a junior college football coach.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 08, 2004 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Part I Page 8 Lat Magazine Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
The article "Picking Nits With Frank Deford" (Jan. 11) incorrectly stated that Deford collaborated on books with five professional tennis players. In fact, Deford wrote "Big Bill Tilden" in 1975 on his own. The article also referred to Robert Victor Sullivan as a Mississippi prep football coach. He was a junior college football coach.

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"It was 30 years ago, and the car containing the old retired basketball player and the young sportswriter stopped at a traffic light on the way to the airport in Los Angeles .... The old player said, "I'm sorry, I'd like to be your friend." The young writer said, "But I thought we were friends."

"No ... friendship takes a lot of effort if it's going to work, and we're going off in different directions in our lives, so, no, we really can't be friends."

And that was as close as I ever got to being on Bill Russell's team." -- Sports Illustrated, May 10, 1999

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"The current penny-pinching owners of the Cubs are the Tribune Company. Should they operate the Los Angeles Times as they have the Cubs, The Times will soon be without editorial pages, comic strips and the NASDAQ listings. -- National Public Radio, July 5, 2000

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

THE MISSES

Widely known as "the world's greatest sportswriter," Frank Deford has displayed a penchant for using inaccurate superlatives throughout his distinguished writing career. Here are some examples of Deford's mistakes, along with Deford's responses to the corrections.

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DeFord article: June 18, 2003: "You never hear about [cheating] in sports such as golf and tennis . . . "

Correction: Deford himself later wrote about reports of pro golfers using illegal drivers.

Deford's response: "OK, I'll give you that one . . . . Overstatement. Absolutely."

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DeFord article: April 16, 2003: Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery are "the swiftest creatures God ever fashioned."

Correction: Florence Griffith-Joyner holds the women's world record in the 100-meter dash.

Deford's response: "I guess you are right. But first of all, FloJo was on drugs. I think you are really nitpicking here."

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DeFord article: Nov. 6, 2002: "No woman has ever played in a PGA tournament."

Correction: Mildred "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias competed in the men's L.A. Open in 1938 and 1945.

Deford's response: "I'm surprised. God, I knew that . . . maybe I wasn't aware of it at that time."

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DeFord article: Sept. 4, 2002: " . . . you can't win [the Heisman Trophy] unless you're a quarterback or a running back on a winning team . . . . "

Correction: Six players from other positions won the Heisman, the most recent defensive back Charles Woodson in 1997.

Deford's response: "There are a couple of exceptions. I really think you're splitting hairs."

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DeFord article: Aug. 28, 2002: "Curious as it may be for this nation of immigrants, we Americans have never cottoned to foreign athletes."

Correction: Deford himself has written about popular foreign-born athletes such as Wayne Gretzky, Pele, Orga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci.

Deford's response: "Never is an overstatement . . . I still stand by the principle of the thing."

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DeFord article: Feb. 16, 1998: " . . . in a celebrity sports world, hockey never creates identifiable stars."

Correction: Deford himself wrote that Gretzky was a "fabulous legend."

Deford's response: "What's sort of silly is obviously I know about Wayne Gretzky. . . OK, sometimes I overstate the case."

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DeFord article: June 26, 2002: " . . . the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena [are] the first sisters ever to play in the finals of a major tournament . . . "

Correction: In 1884, Maud Watson defeated her sister, Lilian, in the first women's finals at Wimbledon.

Deford's response: ". . . I would stand by it in the sense that in 1884 . . . about 17 people were playing tennis in the world."

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DeFord article: July 12, 2000: "No major championship has ever been contested in Africa."

Correction: In 1974 in Zaire, Muhammad Ali beat George Foreman for the heavyweight boxing title.

Deford's response: "Oh, I was thinking of a team championship . . . I think you're really nit-picking here. I really do."

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DeFord article: March 11, 1998: " . . . good quarterbacks don't become football coaches . . . but someone like Steve Spurrier . . . is one of a kind."

Correction: Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm van Brocklin, Otto Graham and Bart Starr also became head coaches in the NFL.

Deford's response: "But I also do not have either the time or the resources to go through every football record book or whatever."

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Sources: Times research and interviews

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Times researcher John Beckham contributed to this story.

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