Friday, April 13, 2007
The heart of the plate
Sunday is Jackie Robinson Day, a fine excuse to do some baseball reading (when you're not watching the games, of course). Here are three recent books worth checking out:

  • "Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season" by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster). Eig's last book, "Luckiest Man," was a fine biography of Lou Gehrig; in "Opening Day" he follows Robinson's challenging rookie year, which culminated in the Dodger star winning the first Rookie of the Year award and playing in the World Series -- after surviving a season of catcalls, spikings and worse. Talk about blazing a trail.

  • "The Gashouse Gang" by John Heidenry (PublicAffairs). The 1934 St. Louis Cardinals were a team of colorful personalities, led by fiery player-manager Frankie Frisch and wacky ace pitcher Dizzy Dean. Heidenry isn't the greatest storyteller, but when you've got such a great story to tell -- Dean alone is worth the price of admission -- it's easy to get sucked into the rough-and-tumble world of 1930s baseball and go along for the ride.

  • "The Only Game in Town" by Fay Vincent (Simon & Schuster, paperback). Vincent, the former MLB commissioner, follows in the footsteps of Lawrence S. Ritter and Ritter's legendary "The Glory of Their Times" by letting the players of the '30s and '40s -- including Dom DiMaggio, Ralph Kiner, Warren Spahn and Buck O'Neil -- tell their own tales. DiMaggio, who labored in the shadow of his brother Joe, is particularly interesting.

    And kudos to ESPN for its "The Perfect Game" ad campaign, which is as close to poetry as an ad campaign has come. (And the commercial about the network's fantasy leagues is hilarious.)
  • Thursday, April 12, 2007
    Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007
    I saw Kurt Vonnegut in person just once, at a college lecture in 1983. He was sad and he was funny, railing against the apathy of the Reagan era, and afterwards -- particularly when pressured to sign a Wheaties box by a fan at a post-lecture reception -- he was prickly and distant.

    Exactly as I had imagined.

    He was a hero of mine. His last book, "A Man Without a Country," showed he'd lost none of his cynicism, his intelligence -- or his humanity.

    A campus organization used to print up bookmarks to publicize its university events. I still have the one of Vonnegut. His lecture was called "How to Get a Job Like Mine," but there will never be another like Kurt Vonnegut. He was one of a kind.
    Goodbye, Haley
    From CNN.com Special Projects producer -- and "American Idol" fan -- Steve Almasy:

    No more looking at the best gams in "Idol" history.

    Haley Scarnato gets to go home to beautiful San Antonio and get ready for the "Idol" summer tour, and maybe the Miss Texas pageant. (Watch Steve and Troy energetically debate the decision.) Yes, Phil Stacey survived another week, but I think he can start packing his bags for his departure next week.

    I was a little stunned that Chris Richardson was in the bottom three, but apparently there were many people who agreed with me that he screwed up a perfectly cool song on Tuesday night. It's just that I thought he was more popular than that.

    Next week should be interesting and potentially disastrous, and I hope I like it because I love country music. We need to hear someone do a little Patsy Cline ("Crazy," anyone?) or maybe some Johnny Cash (how about a modern version of "Ring of Fire," Blake?). Or maybe one of my favorite new groups, Sugarland. Melinda might do some Alabama, a band she has worked with before.

    And why, oh why, do I want Sanjaya to do his hair like Willie Nelson and sing "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys" or "To All The Girls I've Loved Before"?

    What songs do you want to hear?
    Wednesday, April 11, 2007
    Sanjaya was good?
    From CNN.com Special Projects producer -- and "American Idol" fan -- Steve Almasy:

    I can't believe what I just heard on "American Idol." I may have to type this slowly.

    Sanjaya was a-l-m-o-s-t g-o-o-d. Last night's performance was certainly his best vocal since his tryout. (Watch Steve and Troy sharply disagree about Sanjaya)

    Now while I found his burgeoning mustache a little cheesy -- OK, really, really cheesy -- he may want to try to sing Latin songs (the theme of the night) more often. And dude should get extra credit for singing in Spanish, too.

    The judges were a little harsh on Phil Stacey; his song choice was one of the best of the night. It fit his voice.

    Phil is in danger of going home, but it may be Haley's turn to leave. She again showed the legs -- and that was about all I remember. It seemed she might have forgotten the words, because she halfway through "Turn the Beat Around," I swear she just started baying.

    Melinda Doolittle had the line of the night after her decent performance of "Sway." Simon called it cabaret, wooden and lazy. Mindy Doo said, "You know what, I'm happy because I think that he really wanted to say something bad and I'm glad he got the chance." I usually agree with Simon, but Melinda was far from wooden.

    The worst performance was Chris Richardson's rendition of "Smooth," which should be used as a technique to get terrorism suspects to confess. How the judges liked the awful, flat vocal, I'll never understand. Face it, he was out-sung by Sanjaya.
    Monday, April 09, 2007
    Has crazy celebrity culture peaked?
    Interesting piece in Advertising Age about how celebrity gossip magazines may have hit a ceiling.

    And I haven't seen any wire-service stories on Paris Hilton lately, either.

    However, the Anna Nicole Smith soap opera continues -- though no less than Slate media critic Jack Shafer defends that coverage (most of it, anyway).
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