Monday, October 20, 2008

2008 World Series Contenders + SNL + Late Blooming

Howard and RollinsLast night, the World Series lineup was set: the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox to win the 2008 American League pennant, and will now face the National League's Philadelphia Phillies. The Ray's ascendance is remarkable; they are only a decade old, and only twice have they not finished last in their division: in 2004, and this year. The Phillies have also known futility. Playing in the same division as formerly dominant Atlanta, the always-contending New York Mets, and the ever surprising Florida Marlins, who have managed to win 2 World Series despite constantly being stripped of their best players, the Phillies haven't been to the World Series since 1980, and with some of the most enthusiastic fans in the league, probably feel they have a debt to remit.

Rays CelebratingIt will be an exciting matchup. Both teams have prodigious homerun hitters (the Phillies have the NL's best in St. Louisan Ryan Howard, above right, with Jimmy Rollins (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek), who hit 48 during the regular season and drove in 146 runs; the Rays got hot when the playoffs rolled around, and Carlos Peña (at center above, with Fernando Pérez, biting on the league trophy, and Michel Hernández, Doug Pensinger/Getty Images), Evan Longoria, and the relatively light-hitting B. J. Upton), strong defense, and decent starting pitching, though the Rays have the stronger starting corps and the Phillies have the edge in their closer, Brad Lidge. Because of the All Star game results, the Rays have home field advantage. At the risk of saying the most obvious thing possible, I believe it'll come down to pitching--which team's relievers, in particular, hold up best--and whether the Rays' relative youth and inexperience prove a liability.

William Rhoden talks up one noteworthy angle I broached several posts in a recent piece Bernie sent along. In addition, both teams also have players from Japan and the Dominican Republic, and the Rays also have players from Venezuela and Australia, while there are Phillies natives of Canada and Panama, an indication of the now unremarkable internationalization of the league.


I caught Governor Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live two nights ago, and it became clear to me what her calling is: a media personality. She appaers to know even less and be far more telegenic that the vast majority of the on-air punditocracy, so if she ever decides that Alaska is too small and remote for her, I can foresee a thoroughly scripted, hour-long show, probably more in the variety vein than a chatfest, with her at the helm. On Fox, of course. (She can keep the beat pretty well, I must say.)

Best non-Tina Fey bit: Kristin Wiig as the crazy McCain supporter, with the hair all over her head, who thought Obama was an "Arab."

They're starting to fall off from the first few episodes of this season, though. And they've got to find a better Obama-impersonator. Fred Armisen, not so good.


I was recently speaking about the following article with a friend of mine who confessed his own anxieties over, to put it simply, not being a prodigy. We all know how our culture in particular extols and exoticizes them, but it's not just the US. Nevertheless, play Mozart and Chopin before learning to crawl or solve problems in topology at the age of 7, which would admittedly be quite extraordinary, and you'll certainly appearing on 60 Minutes with Morley Safer slobbering his delight with you before millions of equally admiring viewers.

The literary arts also love a quick and prodigious study: the younger and more accomplished the painter, sculptor, and especially author, the more cash and attention she or he can command. As Malcolm Gladwell's recent New Yorker article notes, there's something to be said for the late bloomer, though. It isn't all in her or his hands, he argues, as he goes on to explore the parallel careers of Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne on the one hand, and Ben Fountain and--let me suppress a gag--Jonathan Safran Foer. Lots of other things have to fall into place, both within and outside the artist's control. Above all, contingency, persistence, practice and a certain amount of struggle are the begetters of late genius, I guess you could put it. But then this is true of most career pursuits, isn't it, for all but a very few?

(Well, there are some careers, like physics, where youthfulness might be integral to exceptional accomplishment. Hmmm.)

At any rate, here's a quote from Gladwell:
“All these qualities of his inner vision were continually hampered and obstructed by Cézanne’s incapacity to give sufficient verisimilitude to the personae of his drama,” the great English art critic Roger Fry wrote of the early Cézanne. “With all his rare endowments, he happened to lack the comparatively common gift of illustration, the gift that any draughtsman for the illustrated papers learns in a school of commercial art; whereas, to realize such visions as Cézanne’s required this gift in high degree.” In other words, the young Cézanne couldn’t draw. Of “The Banquet,” which Cézanne painted at thirty-one, Fry writes, “It is no use to deny that Cézanne has made a very poor job of it.” Fry goes on, “More happily endowed and more integral personalities have been able to express themselves harmoniously from the very first. But such rich, complex, and conflicting natures as Cézanne’s require a long period of fermentation.” Cézanne was trying something so elusive that he couldn’t master it until he’d spent decades practicing.

Ah yes, those decades....Best not to think of how finite they really are. I do think my friend felt better, though, after reading the article. I certainly did, and I certainly am nobody's Cézanne.

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