Frank Deford: Legendary Sportswriter — And Proud Key West Bubba

May 4, 2017

Sports commentator Frank Deford passed away yesterday, May 28 2017. He talked to WLRN's reporter Nancy Klingener a little over a month ago, when he filed his last piece for NPR. Here's what they talked about. 

Frank Deford recorded his final commentary for NPR this week — in Key West, where he spends winters. After that recording, he and WLRN Keys reporter Nancy Klingener talked about why he's chosen the southernmost city as his home.

WLRN: When did you first come to Key West?

DEFORD: I came to Key West in, I believe it was 1997 — anyway, it was about 20 years ago. I was sent here by National Geographic Magazine, which is kind of rare because I only did two pieces for them in my whole life. But they wanted a story on the Keys and I'd never been here. I thought it would be interesting.

Well, let me tell you — the minute I got here, I said, 'I like this place. I really do.' I think just seeing the pink taxicabs was enough to win me over. And I called my wife an hour or so later. I knew I had to come back and I was going to bring her. And we started coming down for vacations, longer and longer, and finally moved here.

Read more: Deford Says Thanks For A Good Game, Drops Mic

I'd been to Florida 50, 60 times before and apart from the weather in the middle of the winter, I never was crazy about it. But Key West has a special flavor. I find that people either like Key West or they don't like Key West. And I like it.

I like it because it's a small town that's never boring, you know?

It is not. It is not boring. And I don't even think of it as a small town. Yes, of course it's a town. But it's a little more than that. It's a resort. It's a strange piece of real estate.

From our archives: Frank Deford's Letter From Key West: A Different Air

I like the people. I like the variety of people. Everybody is out for themselves the way they are everywhere in the world. But by the same token, there is a certain shared feeling of 'we're all in this together' that I feel more here than in other places.

Frank Deford says before he visited Key West for the first time, the first person he called was Boog Powell — the Baltimore Orioles star grew up in Key West.
Credit AP

Of course, the sports culture here is baseball. We've talked about that before.

Baseball here can start earlier than just about anywhere in the United States. And I love picking up The Citizen and reading on the front page of the sports section about the 30-and-over softball, co-ed, whatever. I love the way the people who play it for fun get celebrated.

Read more: Frank Deford's 1656th Commentary

When I was back covering baseball a little, I got to know Boog Powell. And he was the first person to really tell me about Key West.

Right, because he grew up here.

He grew up here, and when I found out that I was coming down here to do the story, the first person I called was Boog. A wonderful gentleman, by the way. We were Lite Beer All-Stars together. I think he was easily the most popular of all the guys.

Anything that you've learned about Key West since spending more time here?

Well, it's a very loyal place. And you've got to earn your loyalty. I think the greatest compliment that I ever receive here is when somebody calls me Bubba. I can't ever be a Conch. But I can be a Bubba.