Saturday, March 28, 2009

BAD HORSE WHINNIES HIS APPROVAL: The Streamy Awards (for excellence in programming distributed primarily over the Internet) are on (and being streamed), and unshockingly, Dr. Horrible is cleaning up--winning for comedy writing and direction, as well as a Streamy to NPH for his performance. Felicia Day's The Guild won for ensemble cast in a comedy, and even for someone like me who has relatively minimal familiarity with the MMORPG subculture, it's pretty darn funny.
WHO'S ZOOMING WHO? We've spoken often around here of the need for two types of film criticism--the first--advising folks about whether they should see a film and avoiding spoilers--and the second--analyzing a film post-viewing. I don't have much to say about Duplicity in the first category, other than that it's an enjoyable and interesting ride, and an interesting companion piece to Michael Clayton, looking at corporate greed and games from a comic, rather than dramatic, angle. In the second category, I do have something to say about what makes the film unusual, and that will have to go in comments, because it involves major spoilage.
DO IT, ROCKAPELLA: Following her review of Anoop Desai: The A Cappella Years, I asked Marsha to sum up the state of modern a cappella. Here goes:
“A cappella” merely means music sung without instrumental accompaniment. It can be solo or group, of any genre at all. A good deal of classical choral music is a cappella (the link is my absolute favorite choral piece), as is the music sung in many religious traditions. Most people will tell you that they like vocal harmony – they enjoy it when the person in the pew behind them harmonizes at church on Sunday, or they like the opening to “Carry On My Wayward Son” or “Seven Bridges Road.” They may even have a Tracy Chapman or Suzanne Vega song to sing you.

But if someone tells you they’re an a cappella fan, they usually mean something very specific. They mean “modern a cappella” music – taking a modern song that nearly always originally used instruments and reframing it for voices only. There are “professional” a cappella groups, but not very many of them. (Ted’s Band on Scrubs only sort of counts.) A few groups, such as Shai or Boyz II Men, managed to become known for a cappella numbers, and a few others recorded a song or two that was partially or completely a cappella (Queen was fabulous in this regard). Lots of “professional groups” tour and make albums, but very few make a living at it. The only one most people have heard of is Rockapella, and that’s because of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and the Folgers ads (although they’re very big in Japan). Modern a cappella music is really big in only one place – college.

College a cappella is a world unlike any other. Some college groups (like the Yale Whiffenpoofs) go back nearly 100 years, although most are much newer. For a long time, virtually all college groups did the same songs from the same few available a cappella albums by The Nylons, The Bobs, Rockapella, and a lot of old doo wop groups. After all, there was no YouTube, there were no jamborees, and there really was little opportunity to hear other college groups perform unless they were the guest group at your concert or you were at theirs. We could all be performing Zombie Jamboree and The Lion Sleeps Tonight and so long as no other group on your campus was doing the same song, the audience had no idea that the stuff was hackneyed and overdone.

Then came the early 1990s, when two things happened. First, in 1990, Spike Lee did a PBS Great Performances special called “Spike Lee & Co. – Do It A Cappella” (and related clips). The related album made a big splash in the college a cappella community, and the arrangements were copied by pretty much everyone. Then, in 1991, Deke Sharon graduated from the Tufts Beelzebubs. Deke was the guy who took a bunch of college groups and brought them together into a network, creating CASA (The Contemporary A Cappella Society), the A Cappella Summits, the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service, and the biggie – a cappella competitions. That’s right, college a cappella groups compete against each other, mostly for bragging rights.

They sing, they dance, they make complete fools of themselves and the audiences love it. And then came YouTube – and now the whole world can watch them. Now, every group is looking to put their own unique stamp on a song with a new arrangement, or to find a song to do that no one else out there is doing. It is routine now, when a group is deciding whether to do a song, to scour YouTube and the internet to see if other groups are doing it. Here’s the song that won Best Arrangement at the ICCA Midwest Semi-Finals this past weekend – I’d never heard of the song before, and a guy in the group arranged it. ) (Incidentally, this is the Missouri State BearTones, who won the night and advanced to the Finals in NYC April 19 – should be a great show.) That’s what it takes these days. You can still do Trickle Trickle if you like, but it’s not going to excite anyone any more.

So that brings us to what it takes to be a good college a cappella singer. First, you gotta have a good voice, and you have to have excellent musicality. You must be able to stay on key, hold a rhythm, and stay on your part, and you have to be able to blend. An a cappella group has a collective sound (and every group’s is a little different), and you have to fit into it or it all goes to hell. You don’t have to have a solo quality voice to do well in a cappella (I never did) – plenty of people have long careers in college a cappella without ever having a solo. But if all you can do is sing a solo and you can’t handle the harmony, don’t bother to audition. It also helps to have some musical training – in the better groups, you really need to be able to read music. And groups are always looking for people who can write original arrangements.

Second, you have to be completely willing to make an idiot of yourself. College a cappella isn’t just about the singing any more. You’ve got skits, joke songs, and even lots of choreography. You’ve got to be able to put over a song, and be visually interesting as well. If your group enters college a cappella competitions, you’re going to need to be able to dance, or at least to move well. 40% of the judging in college competition is for “visuals,” which is about costumes, stage presence, and choreography. If you watch a 12 minute competition set, it is carefully constructed to be as exciting visually as it is aurally, showing off range of all kinds. This past weekend at the ICCA Midwest semi-finals, I saw 8 groups compete, and another two (the host group and the special guest) did at least 4 songs each, and I was never, ever bored. These people know how to entertain. Check out this number (really, 2/3 of their set) from the University of Illinois Xtension Chords at that competition to see what I mean.

Third, it helps a lot to be funny, and attractive to your audience. Ninety percent of the audience at an a cappella show is comprised of (a) the friends and family of the performers, (b) fangirls, (c) a cappella junkies (often overlapping with (a) and (b)), and (d) gay men. If you’re cute in that clean cut sort of way, and you’re willing to get down on one knee and solo to a girl in the front row, you’re ahead of the game. Even if you’re not cute, if you’re willing to put on a grass skirt and a coconut bra and do a skit while singing (and sell it like you love doing it) then you’re home Finally, it really helps to enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow singers. If you hate to rehearse, if you don’t like road trips, and if you’re an introvert, this ain’t for you. Good college groups practice up to 15 hours a week and often spend school vacations and weekends on road trips to other colleges or high schools in the middle of nowhere. For many college a cappella singers, their fellow singers are like family – for the rest of their lives.

One final note: a lot is made over gender differences in a cappella. The sound, obviously, differs a great deal if you’re in an all-male, all-female, or mixed group. Some people prefer to sing with only one gender for a purer, tighter sound and a certain kind of camaraderie; while others prefer the range and diversity that a mixed group brings. Some people will tell you that they don’t like all-female groups, but I say that’s because they haven’t heard a good one. The problem is that the human ear is wired to want to hear a range of tones, and to particularly enjoy base tones. A men’s group can sing falsetto and give you a range even with only men, but a women’s group can only go so low. A really stellar women’s group like Sweet Honey in the Rock finds ways to make those bass tones or not care that you’re missing them. What it comes down to is that great women’s a cappella is as wonderful as men’s or mixed, if not more so (an all-female group, BYU’s Noteworthy, won the ICCA Nationals last year). But mediocre women’s a cappella is really unpleasant – tinny, weak, and thin - while even a mediocre men’s group can still sound pretty decent to most people.

There’s a lot I didn’t cover here, such as foreign a cappella, influential groups and singers like The Bobs and Bobby McFerrin (and yes, that is him singing solo), jazz a cappella, wordless a cappella, but it’s time for you to all go out and buy some albums now and support these wonderful professional and college groups!

Friday, March 27, 2009

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SHE WASN'T EVEN A GERMAN PROSTITUTE: Vince Shlomi, ShamWow pitchman extraordaire, recently learned it's not always so easy to slap your troubles away, especially when there is a high priced hooker involved. (Are you following me, Mug Shot Camera Guy?)

Somewhere tonight, Billy Mays is sleeping with a big smile on his face.
CLEO DOES NOTHING, BECAUSE TEARS WOULD SHORT OUT HER CIRCUITRY: Okay, one last time before they bring out the paddles: Dr. Mark Greene's last episode (link is to TWoP's masterfully snarky recap) -- epic closure and sadness, or epically anvil-filled failure? Feel free to compare and contrast with, or otherwise praise or show disdain for other ER passings -- Doug Ross's going down with his principles, Gant's sad suicide, Jeanie Boulet and Kerry Weaver getting happy endings, or, yeah, that thing with the helicopter.
NOBODY CRITICIZE BEN SILVERMAN EVER AGAIN, PLEASE: Ausiello says, of the rumor Matt noted some weeks ago, that NBC will announce the two-season, 26-episode pickup of Friday Night Lights any day now. A mini-dose of Tyra and no Lyla because they're committed to pilots, says Ausiello, but frankly, after the two of them spent three years as Dillon seniors, Lyla's story is done and it would be nice to just check in with Tyra occasionally. The important thing is to pay off the promise of that awesome, awesome final scene.

Incidentally, has the non-DirecTV season ended yet? We haven't done any FNL posts since I finished the DirecTV season, but if anyone wants to jump in here to talk about the parts of FNL that have aired on NBC to date (please, no spoilers for anything that hasn't aired on NBC yet), have at it. Smash? Street? Tim Riggins in New York? Crucifictorius doing "She Don't Use Jelly"?
I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO THE "EAT CAVIAR RAPIDLY WITHOUT TOSSING YOUR COOKIES" MINIGAME: TAR the video game! Coming soon. Provide your suggestions for levels and minigames below.
NO SNOWGLOBE? Blogcritics makes its picks for the 10 best TV series finales (spoilers galore). Six Feet Under tops the list, but missing are three of the usual suspects: St. Elsewhere, Newhart, and Mary Tyler Moore. I'm sure y'all will have plenty of other overlooked shows in the comments, but let's hear about some of the worst finales, too.
1-900-OKFACE: My office doesn't have a Productivity Czar yet, so we probably should talk about last night's stellar block of NBC 9-10p comedy. I don't have anything profound or meaningful to say -- we've got friends around who can do more than just list what was great, why it was great and what the larger meaning of the greatness is. I'll just acknowledge the nice pivot that The Office made, with its Jerry Maguire meets The Graduate ending, and especially having Stringer Bell around for a while as the one non-funny person in Scranton. Also, more 30 Rock-Muppet crossover is always welcome. Fun episode.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

AMERICA VOTED: Sometimes, Idol works. And I think we know enough about this season to roll out the tiers from this point forward, because I'll be damned if You Know Who In Los Angeles is going to steal my shtick. Including tonight's ouster, this is how the tiers should play out from here:
The Next Three Gone, Because They're Just Not Good Enough: Megan Joy, Sarver, Blind Guy
Just Not Winning It, Likeable Though They May Be, But Like Elliot Yamin One Of Them Could Sneak In As Number 3: Kris, Matt, Anoop
Guaranteed Number 4: Lil
Could Be Final Three, But If The Base Isn't There Could Go Early, But If She Wins This Remember I Called It Before Anyone Else -- Like, Weeks Ago: The Force of Nature That Is Allison Iraheta, who needs a nickname already.
The Presumptive Final Two: Adam, The Inevitable Danny Hokey a/k/a DWG a/k/a RDJJ.
PORTFOLIO, THE CLOCK IS STILL TICKING: Most of the time, when a magazine dies, it's far from surprising--be it Radar's repeated deaths and resurrections, the decline and fall of George, or the death of US News and World Report. But I have to say that today's news that Blender is folding surprised me. As Rolling Stone has gotten increasingly political and focused on other realms of pop culture (in 2008, RS featured folks whose primary endeavor was not music on almost half of its covers, including 3 Obama covers), and other music mags have gotten more and more narrowcast, Blender retained a focus on music, though sometimes mixed with the cheesecake photos that are a staple of sister publication Maxim. Sadly, I'm assuming Blender subscribers will have their remaining term filled with Maxim.,
KISANGANI: Darfur. Mississippi. The Congo. San Diego. Iraq. Live Television. Did the Very Special Travels of ER hold your dramatic interest? Were they at least worthy attempts at Important Television, or did they all just feel like rating-seeking stunts?

[Note: we're putting Hawaii off to the side. We talk about that episode plenty as-is.]
LOOK AT THE GROUSE! LOOK AT THE GROUSE! Sean Penn, perhaps America's most acclaimed male dramatic actor, is in talks to portray the screen legend who grew up right near here at the corner of 3rd and South Streets in Philadelphia, the man born in 1902 as Louis Feinberg and known to us all as Larry Fine of the Three Stooges.

Farrelly Bros. to write and direct, Jim Carrey to gain forty pounds to play Curly Howard, with Academy Award winner Benicio Del Toro being sought for his brother Moe. No word yet on Shemp.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

BUT I WAS SO MUCH OLDER THEN; I'M YOUNGER THAN THAT NOW: Since West Coast is handling Lost tonight and East Coast gets ants-in-the-pants whenever it has to wait for a thread, consider this an open thread for discussion of tonight's Lost. I'll update tonight.

Meanwhile, I'll pose this question, which may or may not have anything to do with tonight's episode: What is the Oceanic 6 5 4's current goal? They came back to the island because otherwise, as Jack said in drunk-bearded angst, everybody on that island would die. Now, as far as Jack & Co. know, Sawyer, Juliet, and Miles are safe and happy in 1977 (it's clear from the last episode that they don't want to leave), Faraday is in 1977 too, Desmond and Aaron are safe in the real world 30 years later, Charlotte and Locke are already dead, most of the remaining Oceanic passengers (including Rose and Bernard) have to be presumed dead, given what Sawyer should have told Jack about the flaming arrows and the trip wires and the time-travel nosebleeds, and Claire was kidnapped and presumed dead before the freighter tsuris. Jack doesn't have any reason to believe that anybody he knows is on the island in 2009, when whatever is going to happen to the island might happen. Even if he suspects that the plane landed on the island, the group of current islanders would consist only of Lapidas (who he knew only for the duration of a helicopter flight, a boat ride, and half a plane trip), and Sun, plus Ben and the Others (who he hates) and the Ajira passengers (for whom he is not responsible, since the plane presumably would have gone down with or without the O6 passengers). So, apart from guilt over dragging Sun back in or some strong encouragement from Jin, why wouldn't Jack, Kate, and Hurley either settle into a comfortable life on the island or convince LaFleur to think of a way to send them back to the mainland, where they could buy Apple and bet on the US Olympic hockey team? Who is around to convince them that they have any reason to care about anything but their own welfare? I realize that events will contrive to frustrate their idyllic lives, but at this point, if I were Jack, I wouldn't be looking for any reasons to rock the boat.

ETA: Two other non-spoilery thought on an episode that neither posed big new questions nor answered big old ones.

First, this show's time structure is moving gleefully toward entropy. There were whole seasons devoted to a single structure: Present/flashback. The first big break was Desmond's lucid-dream flashback. Then we got a shorter, but still longish, dose of flash-forwards. This season, as Sepinwall has noted, we have had multiple time signatures -- on/off island; three years apart on the island; thirty years apart on the island. This episode's structure was, on the surface, pretty straightforward (other than the opening flashback): 1977/flashback to immediately before Ajira. What I found interesting about it, though, is that the story made very little sense without our knowledge of things that happened out of the chronology -- what really happened to Locke; what was going to happen with Ben and Richard; what happened to Sayid both in Iraq and on the island the first time. I really hope Cuse and Lindelof keep pushing this -- it's a great way to keep people on their toes when doing an otherwise straightforward story.

Second, they're clearly not trying to pick up new viewers. To people who have seen every episode, this was pretty straightforward. But can you imagine trying to sort this out if it were your first episode?
NO, YOU CAN'T HURRY, LOVE. YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT: Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Lambert is Link Larkin, in a performance of "Tracks of My Tears" that stripped things down, made the lyrics meaningful and far outclassed a meh field tonight. Not "top 10 performances ever on the show," but a damn good one. Beyond that:

Did Their Thing: Allison (wh-hoo!), Anoop (soporific but lovely), Danny Hokey (who's starting to coast), Lil.

Unmemorable but Amiable: Matt Giraud (really? Didn't convince me he wanted to get it on with anyone -- too happy), Kris Allen (what's the point of a guitar one can't hear?)

In Trouble: Megan Joy (played to the camera rather than sold the song), Blind Guy (made me miss the Phil Collins version, but at least -- as Dan notes -- he didn't do Stevie, yo. But Stevie's hard.)

I Fast-Forwarded, Because I Just Presume He Sucked: Michael Sarver.
DEPARTMENT OF COINCIDENCE: Interesting that Fox decided to rerun the episode of House featuring Todd Louiso as an agoraphobic who refuses to have anything to do with other people (and memo to House producers: that is how you write an episode that actually uses almost all the characters) the same week The New Yorker featured an article from Atul Gawande about the long term effects of isolation. (Also, anyone else having problems with intermittent audio cutouts with Fox HD? It rendered Dollhouse so unwatchable that I watched on Hulu instead.)
PREPARE TO ROLL YOUR TERRIBLE EYES: The trailer is up for Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are. I love Spike Jonze -- loved his videos for "Cannonball," "Drop," "Weapon of Choice," "California," and, especially, "Da Funk"; loved his acting in Three Kings; loved his Being John Malkovich; was okay with Adaptation -- and Where the Wild Things Are is what I used to lull/terrify my children into placid sleep for years, so I can still recite it from memory.

But I'm not exactly wild about this trailer. On the one hand, I appreciate the way Jonze's production designer has gotten Sendak's prickly textures and earthen palette just right. On the other hand, I don't like the idea that Max, a defiant and fearless ball of pure id whose sole job in the book is to get sent to bed and dream himself a lawless kingdom until he gets hungry enough to wake up, gets stuck in a domestic drama and saddled with more complex emotions like hope and fear. Or worse: the monsters have emotions. In my version of the story (spoiler alert), Max (only temporarily) tames the monsters with the magic trick of staring into all of their yellow eyes without blinking once, not by hugging them until they secrete compassion.

And the monsters kind of look like H.R. Pufnstuf with a bigger budget. I mean, I'll give it a chance, but ...
GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT (WHETHER OR NOT I WANT IT): This is a little late, and I can't say I support this, but a very important and beloved part of our constituency here will, so: NBC has greenlit "Sing-Off," a battle-of-the-bands show for a cappella groups. It's amusing to me that the Variety story clarifies that the a cappella groups will compete "sans instruments." By the way, over at the World Baseball Classic, Japan's baseball team beat Korea's baseball team by outscoring them in the game of baseball. Anyway, my pure speculation is that NBC tries this out as cheap, frothy summer filler.

HT: Warming Glow.
YOU TAKE THE BAD: It came up in a Facebook discussion yesterday, and there's no better time than the present to excavate this clip: George Clooney, it's time to learn about The Facts of Life.
OH, LUKA, EVERY WOMAN WHO WORKS IN THE HOSPITAL KNOWS WHO YOU ARE. TRUST ME: Benton and Carla. Benton and Jeanie. Benton and Corday. Benton and the Cleo-Bot. John Truman Carter with Harper Tracy, Anna Del Amico, Abby Keaton, Susan Lewis, Rena (the teenager), Lucy Knight, the cancer patient played by Rebecca de Mornay, Liz (the one with a doctor fixation and gonorrhea), Abby Lockhart, Roxanne (the volleyball-playing insurance saleswoman played by Julie Bowen), Wendall and Kem. Carol Hathaway and Tag, Shep, Luka (briefly) and, of course, Doug Ross, the one relationship we'd probably all pick as the core romantic (as opposed to bromantic) relationship in the fifteen-year history of ER.

That's not to say we can't have other favorites too, and I want to note two favorite flings -- Carter and Keaton's clandestine surgeon-student thing that had them both giggling, and Mark's midlife crisis post-divorce hookup with nurse Chuny, because it made no sense whatsoever. Yours?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WHO IS GEORGE?: A quick Maroon shout out to Dan Pawson, University of Chicago Law '06, for winning Jeopardy! tournament of champions. I know we have at least two Jeopardy players (and one one-time champion) in our commentariat. My illustrious co-blogger, too, had a good run with Regis. Here's a thread to boast about any of your own game show / trivia contest glory.
OKAY, WELL HERE'S THE TWIST -- WE FIND OUT THAT THE KILLER REALLY SUFFERS FROM MULTIPLE PERSONALITY DISORDER, RIGHT? SEE, HE'S ACTUALLY REALLY THE COP AND THE GIRL. ALL OF THEM ARE HIM: Writing for the Washington Post, John Anderson wants to know what happened to Nicolas Cage -- once perhaps "the most interesting actor in American movies" but with so much of his post-Leaving Las Vegas career bearing "the infernal reek of sulfur, brimstone and gross receipts .... with few detours from the action star/blockbuster track upon which Cage has trod with particularly graceless aplomb, and virtually no humor at all, except on top of his head, where his hair is continual source of mirth and mystery, because you never know what it's going to do, where it's going to go or to whom it once belonged."

Still, Adaptation wasn't that long ago, and World Trade Center was certainly a story worth telling. Still, in the decade-plus since he made Leaving Las Vegas, The Rock and Face/Off in a row, after a career that began with beloved manic classics like Peggy Sue Got Married, Raising Arizona, Valley Girl and Honeymoon in Vegas ("I know that NOW!"), what the hell happened?
F. SCOTT FITZGERALD WAS WRONG: F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously declared that "there are no second acts in American lives." Mr. Fitzgerald, allow me to introduce you to Mr. Curtis Montague Schilling, an American man of modest accomplishments through the age of 30, who turned out to have an extraordinary second act.

(quick conflict of interest disclosure: I contributed an essay to a book called Win it For, for which Schilling wrote the forward. My aunt has had fairly modest business dealings with Curt Schilling and his wife Shonda. Finally, I am both a Red Sox fan and a fan of Schilling's. I have sought to be even-handed in the analysis below.)

Schilling, a gifted player of what is perhaps our most American of games, announced his retirement yesterday in an uncommonly eloquent and moving essay on his blog:
"Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”

I used to wait with bated breath for Don Meredith to start singing that on Monday night football. Normally it was sweet music if the Steelers were playing.

If I could get him to sing it again I would. This party has officially ended. After being blessed to experience 23 years of playing professional baseball in front of the world's best fans in so many different places, it is with zero regrets that I am making my retirement official.

To say I've been blessed would be like calling Refrigerator Perry 'a bit overweight'. The things I was allowed to experience, the people I was able to call friends, teammates, mentors, coaches and opponents, the travel, all of it, are far more than anything I ever thought possible in my lifetime.

Four World Series, three World Championships. That there are men with plaques in Cooperstown who never experienced one, and I was able to be on three teams over seven years that won it all is another 'beyond my wildest dreams' set of memories I'll be allowed to take with me.

On the day that Curt Schilling turned 30, he had a 52-52 career record. His most similar pitchers from ages 27-29 were Ken Forsch (114 career wins), Ron Robinson (48), and Marty Pattin (114). He was mediocre and on the road to nowhere.

Since turning 30? 164 wins, 94 losses. Plus some of the most dramatic moments in baseball history (see below).

Schilling has often said the pivotal moment in his career came when Roger Clemens read him the riot act during a chance meeting at the Astrodome in the early 1990s. (Query: what sort of advice might Clemens have offered Schilling had they met a half-dozen years later?)

Esteemed baseball writer Rob Neyer offered his views on whether Schilling is a Hall of Famer? His answer:
Of course he is.

It's not his 216 career wins. It's not his .597 career winning percentage. It's not his 11-2 record in postseason games, or his 2.23 ERA. It's not even the bloody sock.

It's all of those things.


Two years I was lukewarm about Schilling's Hall of Fame candidacy. I wasn't against it, exactly. But neither was I for it. But during those two years, Schilling helped pitch the Red Sox to another championship and I got just a little bit smarter. Today I can't imagine a Hall of Fame without him.

Here at A List of Things Thrown Together Five Minutes Ago, we do not need to rely solely upon the opinions of sportswriters for we have become experienced at using a tool known as the Keltner list.

The Keltner list is a systematic method created by famed baseball analyst Bill James to consider whether a baseball player deserves to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Keltner list is not designed to yield an binary answer about a player's worthiness, but is instead intended to shed some light on how strong a showing a player can make in 15 areas. As James wrote, "you can't total up the score and say that everybody who is at eight or above should be in, or anything like that." The list originally appeared in James' 1985 Baseball Abstract together with the anecdote of how he developed the Keltner list.

With no further ado, here is my take on how Schilling fares on the Keltner list:

1. Was Schilling ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

The answer is no, but it is perhaps a little closer than you might expect. Unusually for a pitcher, he finished in the top 14 in the MVP voting 4 times.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

A close call. He may well have been the best player on the 1992 Phillies, although Darren Daulton and John Kruk would be strong contenders as well. He appears to have been the best player on the 1997 Phillies, although that team was not especially strong. He was the second best player on the 2002 Diamondbacks, although the top player on that team was Randy Johnson, who had an extraordinarily good season that year. On the World Champion 2004 Red Sox, Schilling and Manny Ramirez were of roughly equal value, although Ramirez fared better in the MVP voting.

3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

Again a close call, but I think you would have to say no to both questions. He finished second three times in the Cy Young voting. In two of those cases, he lost to a pitcher having an extraordinary season (Johnson in 2002, Santana in 2004). He also finished 4th in the Cy Young voting once.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Emphatically yes! Let me toss out four numbers: 1993, 2002, 2004, and 2007. I could fill ten pages on this subject.

5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

Yes. At age 37, he finished second in the Cy Young award balloting and was the best or second best player on a World Series Champion. At age 39, he had an ERA+ of 122 (10th best in the AL). At age 40, he had an ERA+ of 120 (just outside the top ten). He was the 7th oldest player in MLB that year.

6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?

No. There must be 5 or more players ahead of him.

7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?

Possibly the most interesting question among the 15. There are a lot of ways to go about answering this.

Let me start with the big picture. sets forth 4 HOF tests that are designed to evaluate if a player belongs in the HOF. Each test is calculated slightly differently. Under the "Black Ink" test, Schilling scores 42 (34th best among all pitchers). The average HOFer scores about 40 on this test.

Under the "Gray Ink" test, Schilling scores 205, again 34th best among all pitchers (Average HOFer ≈ 185). Using the "HOF Standards" test Schilling scores 46.0 (48th best) (Average HOFer ≈ 50). Applying the "HOF Monitor" test, Schilling scores 171.0, 33rd best among all pitchers (Likely HOFer > 100). Thus, on 3 of the 4 most commonly accepted tests, Schilling exceeds the HOF standard and on the 4th test he is fairly close to the score for the average HOF member. I think on the basis of these "big picture" tests, you would have to say yes with respect to question 7.

Schilling has many other impressive statistics and a few that are not so impressive. He finished in the top ten in ERA 9 times, a very impressive showing. He led the league in strikeouts twice and finished among the top ten in the league a total of 9 times, another impressive feat. With 3,116 career strikeouts, he ranks 16th all-time, a very impressive accomplishment (every eligible pitcher with 3,000 or more strikeouts is in the HOF, except, inexplicably, Bert Blyleven).

On the other hand, Schilling won "only" 216 games, which is quite low for HOF pitchers. As noted here, there are two main reasons why Schilling did not accumulate a larger number of wins, and the second should be seen as a point in his favor.

First, he found success relatively late, in part due to injury, but also because of a somewhat reckless youth.

Second, common sense suggests he cost himself at least one season of his career, and perhaps more, by pitching through his gruesome injury during the 2004 postseason. Curt sacrificed some of his career statistics to help the Red Sox win the team's first World Series in 86 years. Let's just say that I am happy he did what he did.

8. Do the player's numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?

See #7. I would give Schilling a yes vote on #8, but reasonable minds could differ.

9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

Yes, in Schilling's favor. His postseason record is equal to or better than that of any pitcher in MLB history. Curt won 11 of 19 playoff starts while losing just two. His ERA was 2.23, and his WHIP an amazing 0.97. He struck out 120 batters in 133.1 innings, while allowing just 104 hits. He walked just 25. When you faced Schilling in a crucial game, you went into it with a pretty good idea that you weren't going to defeat him, and he sure as hell wasn't going to defeat himself.

If you don't put arguably the most accomplished postseason pitcher of any era in Cooperstown, then what's the point of even having the place?

Anyone who has read this far probably knows the story about Curt's bloody sock.

As Bill Simmons put it:

The Schilling Game takes its place alongside the Willis Reed Game, MJ's Flu Game, Bird banging his head against the Pacers and everything else in the Sheer Guts Pantheon.

10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?

No. I am going to ignore the word "eligible" in the foregoing question because Schilling himself is not yet eligible. Among the pitchers who are eligible or who have had quite substantial careers already, Schilling ranks behind several, including Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, and Pedro Martinez.

11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Schilling was never really a serious MVP candidate. As noted above, he finished second three times in the Cy Young voting. In two of those cases, he lost to a pitcher having an extraordinary season (Johnson in 2002, Santana in 2004). He also finished 4th in the Cy Young voting once.

12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go to the Hall of Fame?

Schilling was on the All-Star team 6 times, although he did not play in all of the games for which he was selected. I do not know how this compares to other HOF pitchers.

The phrase "All-Star-type seasons" is a little vague. He had ten seasons with an ERA+ over 133. In most years, that would rank between 5th best and 10th best in a league, which seems like a reasonable approximation of what it means to have an All-Star-type season.

13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

Not sure how to answer this one. On the one hand, this was arguably the case in 2004, when Schilling was a contender for the best player on the Red Sox and the Red Sox won the WS. That being said, I am having trouble with the phrase "would it be likely that the team could win the pennant." I think a typical peak Curt Schilling season could lead a team to win the pennant, but I think he would need a solid supporting cast to make that better than a 50/50 proposition.

14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Was he responsible for any rule changes? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

I don't think the clever use of orthopedic devices really amounts to all that much.

15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

Emphatically yes. Schilling is a very strong supporter of care for ALS sufferers. His organization, Curt's Pitch for ALS, allows fans and organizations to sponsor him, donating to the ALS Association for every strikeout he throws.

I think the bloody sock speaks volumes about character and sportsmanship as well.

* * * * * * * *

Schilling is not a slam dunk for the HOF. I think he deserves a positive answer on many of the Keltner questions, but by no means on all of them. For what I think is a balanced but somewhat skeptical view on the subject see Tony Massarotti's story.

I suspect that Schilling will be enshrined, but not in his first year of eligibility.

Is This the Mother From How I Met Your Mother? -- Vulture -- Entertainment & Culture Blog -- New York Magazine

LIVING IT UP WHEN I'M GOING DOWN: New York Magazine's Vulture blog is speculating that while we were mesmerized trying to guess Robin's secret last night on HIMYM (Rick Moranis, the Reverse Rick Moranis, antique Judaica), the latter M in the title may have been revealed, and no, it isn't Louisa, the lunch lady (Meatballs?).

And on a sidenote, for some reason I love the the level of care and detail that went into the Wikipedia entry for Aersomth "Love in an Elevator."
HASBEENGATE: This promo photo of the cast of the new Stargate spinoff on the Syphilis Channel (and you have to ignore the photoshopped Toonces, I guess) is interesting for exactly one reason. The likelihood that you've heard of the actor corresponds exactly to the level of disappointment in agreeing to do the show that the actor is expressing in the photo.

I mean, Robert Carlyle looks like he's trying to escape through a trapdoor.
RETURN OF THE REPRISE OF LADY REDUNDANT WOMAN: So if Matt's going to ask the grownups are reading and Isaac's going to get into Spaceboy 1.0's love of The Decemberists, it's time to pull this Venn Diagram together: what media are you promoting for your kids these days?

Right now, Lucy (almost six) is very much in love with her Junie B. Jones books and the Cam Jansen mysteries, and it's really a joy to see her able to more-or-less read them on her own now. On tv, she is deeply into the adventures of Word Girl, and we thus far don't regret our decision to give her the gateway drug into the reality tv world by letting her watch The Amazing Race with us this season, through which we're trying to teach her about geography, teamwork, patience, politeness and planning. Thank goodness this hasn't been a season with abusive teammates.

[Speaking of which, the Travel Channel will be reairing season 12 soon, with Kynt/Vyxsin, TK/Rachel, and Ronald and Christina, a/k/a Team I Wasn't A Supportive Father When You Were Growing Up, And I'm Not About To Start Now. Given the redemption arc they get, can you recall any reason that this season would be objectionable?]

And, interestingly, she seems to be completely out of her Disney phase for the moment -- no Princesses holding her interest, no demands to listen to Troy and Gabriella in the car. Phew.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A VERY SPECIAL: James Cromwell as an ailing bishop. Ewan McGregor robs a convenience store and takes hostages, Kirsten Dunst is a troubled teen and Bob Newhart is going blind. Let's talk about your favorite ER guest roles as the slow discharge from County General continues.
SPOILER ALERT: The NYT TV Highlights/Listings are normally pretty good about avoiding spoilers, but I must quibble about tonight's, which (if accurate) reveals a major plot point/character twist and piece of casting on Chuck tonight of which I was not aware, and which I don't think was public knowledge even on spoiler trafficking locales. Grrr!
THIS WATER IS HEAVY!: Another episode which begged for HD - camels, castles, crushing poverty - but beyond that, not that interesting of an episode. Everyone arrives at the same time and, despite being spotted a speed-bump, the stunt fellows damned near lost it by taking the [needle] in a[n actual] haystack task. Unless you are in the back of the pack, is this ever a good idea?

The Roadblock was a good one - and a good lesson about reading the clue a couple of times before working the problem.

I try to make allowances for voice-overs, since it's unclear exactly when Victor said such douche-baggy things about his sister -- perhaps not in the middle of the race -- but he's the only racer I left who I really don't like. Next week, hopefully, he will be eaten by a tiger.
FEATURE REQUEST DEPARTMENT: I'm always interested in seeing what other people are ordering on Amazon, so I check their bestseller list about once a week, but could Amazon introduce filters so I don't have to see the same titles over and over again? In particular, I'd LOVE it if I could have a no-Twilight filter. Currently, on the 100 sellers, 10, including all of the Top 5, are Twilight-related, and Meyer's other novel, The Host, also makes the list. Something that filtered diet books would also be appreciated.

And, since we haven't had this since the holidays--what are you reading now? I'm currently about 2/3 of the way through Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, which demonstrates the frightening convergence of all major pop culture through the show.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

SETTING THE TONE: With only two episodes of ER to go, it's time for us to start saying farewell to Chicago's County General Hospital. Bill Carter and EW compile some oral history.