Deford at the Bat

Frank Deford opens the 25th Annual Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture

May 29, 2013
Acclaimed author Frank Deford delivered the keynote address on Wednesday. (Milo Stewart, Jr./NBHOF Library)

Serving up the first pitch of the 25th Annual Symposium on Baseball and American Culture was famed author and commentator Frank Deford, the keynote speaker and opening salvo of a three-day event involving lovers of the national game.

Approximately 160 people from throughout the country converged on the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for three days, beginning on Wednesday, May 29, to attend the annual Symposium. Co-sponsored by the State University of New York College at Oneonta and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the symposium and its more than 60 presentations examines the impact of baseball on American culture from inter- and multi-disciplinary perspectives.

“Together, our two institutions have created a unique forum for the academic community to conduct a dialogue on baseball and the impact it has on American culture and society,” said Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson in his opening remarks inside the Museum’s Grandstand Theater.

In introducing the keynote speaker, Cooperstown Symposium Co-Director Bill Simons described Deford’s writing as, “Graceful, eloquent, significant, honest, witty and engaging”

“Frank Deford,” Simon added, “reflects and shaped the transformation of sports writing over the past half-century. He is the dean of American sportswriters.”

Deford, a longtime writer at Sports Illustrated and author of 18 books, began his talk referencing the famous baseball poem, “Casey at the Bat,” which first appeared in print 125 years ago, on June 3, 1888. Not only did he research the tome for a Sports Illustrated article years ago, but he produced a book called, “Casey on the Loose: What Really Might Have Happened,” in 1989. He added that a musical based on the book has been in the works for years.

Deford would eventually get to his own relationship and how he was fascinated by the game from the earliest age he can remember, adding with a smile, “I am convinced my early scholastic aptitude in arithmetic came because I was familiar with batting averages.”

But the national pastime has puzzled Deford, too.

“It has always intrigued me why baseball caught on back then in the 19th century,” he said. “Baseball, more than any sport, is so dependant on good vision, especially, of course, for batters and fielders and pitchers. Hand/eye coordination in baseball is just so extraordinary.

“I can understand, for example, all the reasons why soccer is just so popular around the world. Everybody can kick a ball, even though it’s somewhat bizarre that the most popular sport in the world you don’t use your hands. The very thing that God gave us to separate us from the beasts of the field.

“Our football doesn’t discriminate like what baseball does. If you lack one talent in football, well then, there is another position which will accommodate you better, where your speed or strength can be applied.”

As an example, Deford used one of basketball's greatest stars to illustrate his point.  

“If you lack that crucial hand/eye coordination in baseball, there is just no place to hide,” he said, “no matter how magnificent you might otherwise be athletically, and nobody proved that more than Michael Jordan. Baseball is just so disqualifying by its very nature, that is why I always wondered why did it succeed, what was it about its initial appeal that made it work?”

All sessions require registration for the Symposium, which is sold out.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Basrbsll Hall of Fame snd Museum.