Baseball finally, the massive output of Georges Simenon, and the need for some creative thinking: newsletter, July 24, 2020

July 26, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, books, journalism, newsletter, watercolor, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,5xx) on Friday, July 24, 2020.


A memory rattled through my brain this week of a newspaper column I read many years ago. It was in the 1960s, and the column was by Russell Baker in the New York Times (I’m pretty sure), and it satirized the fact that professional football was becoming dominated by television. Pretty soon, Baker wrote, the games would be played in empty stadiums, which were much smaller then than they are now, with only television cameras present. And because there were no crowds, it really wouldn’t matter where the stadiums were located.

Some of what Baker wrote comes to pass this week as Major League Baseball begins its season in empty stadiums (see more below). The times we live in are certainly strange ones.

Whatever strange situation you find yourself in, I hope that you can make the best of it. Keep reading, keep writing, and have a great weekend.

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Baseball opens its season, finally, with a word about Tinker to Evers to Chance

With trepidation all around, including this fan’s corner, Major League Baseball is ready to go with its latest Opening Day in history, July 23, 2020.

It will be Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance again with a key element missing: fans in the ballpark. How will this work? What will this sound like? No one has ever paid too much attention to the noise factor, but for a while at least, the lack of noise will be deafening. Will they have an organist in the stadium? Stay tuned.

And speaking of Tinker to Evers to Chance . . .

The Chicago Cubs double-play combination — Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance — gave rise to one of the most famous of all sports doggerels:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon[a] bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double[b] –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

The poem was originally titled “That Double Play Again,” reprinted as “Gothan’s Woe,” and later again as “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon.”  It was written by Franklin Pierce Adams in 1910. Adams was a columnist for the New York Evening Mail and was bemoaning a loss by his favorite New York Giants to the Chicago Cubs on the previous day. The Giants had a rally going in the late innings, but it was cut off by a Cubs double play — Tinker to Evers to Chance.

Giants fans were joined by other National League fans in gritting their teeth at the Cubs’ infield. The Cubs had won four league championships and two World Series titles between 1906 and 1910, and Adams summed up their frustrations perfectly.

The poem became widely popular and was reprinted and added to many times over the years. It established Joe Tinker, Johnny Evers, and Frank Chance so firmly into the heads of baseball fans and sportswriters that all three were eventually inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. Many have attributed that induction as much to the poem as to their playing ability.

Franklin Pierce Adams went on to have a hall of fame newspaper career. In 1914 he moved to the New-York Tribune where his column The Conning Tower was read avidly and admired greatly for its verbal wit. Adams is credited with drawing attention to top-flight writers such as Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, Moss Hart, and Dorothy Parker, who said of him, “He raised me from a couplet.”

New Yorker writer E.B. White once said of Adams: “I used to walk quickly past the house in West 13th Street between Sixth and Seventh where F.P.A. lived, and the block seemed to tremble under my feet—the way Park Avenue trembles when a train leaves Grand Central.”

Four new books about honey and bees

What is beekeeping all about? What motivates the beekeeper?

There are no easy or simple answers to these or other questions about the sometimes-not-so-gentle art of beekeeping. First, the term “beekeeping” is something of a misnomer. Those of us who “keep bees” don’t really keep them. The bees are wild animals, and they stay inside the hives we provide for about as long as they wish to.

But that’s another story — one I may tell some other time.

One of the good things about beekeeping is that your friends, knowing about your pathology, don’t try to talk you out of it or recommend a therapist. Quite the opposite. They send you links to articles and books about beekeeping.

That happened to me this week when friend Gary T. sent a link to a New York Times review of four new beekeeping books, each taking you a different path down into the garden of beekeeping.

The reviews begin with one intriguingly titled Honey and Venom: Confessions of an Urban Beekeeper by Andrew Coté, about which the reviewer Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson says:

Coté’s book is full of facts like this, interwoven with anecdotes from his life as an urban beekeeper. And we’re not just talking one or two beehives in a backyard here: Coté tends hundreds of hives throughout New York City, high on rooftops, in parks and gardens. He also travels the world to talk about beekeeping. Source: Dripping Slow and Sweet, Four New Books About Honey and Bees – The New York Times

If you read through these four short reviews, you may find something of interest that you will want to explore further. But be forewarned: Beekeeping can be highly contagious.

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

Georges Simenon: massive output and a memorable detective

By any measure, the body of work produced by Georges Simenon, the Belgian-born novelist who wrote the Inspector Maigret novels, was monumental: 500 novels and novellas, including 75 Maigret books and numerous shorter works of fiction in non-fiction. When he geared up to write a novel, he could turn out 60 to 80 pages a day.

He wrote under two dozen pseudonyms, and it is estimated that there have been a half billion of his books in print.

The Maigret novels are, by far, his most famous works, but he considered them just a warm-up for his more “serious” novels, books that few people remember or today have read.

Simenon, who died in 1989 at the age of 86, wrote his books in French and they were translated into many languages, including English, of course. Penguin Publishers has recently announced newly translated editions of all 75 of his Maigret novels into English. Jonathan Gibbs, writing for the Times Literary Supplement, has reviewed these translations  and concluded:

Well, the translations are good: fluent and even, and more concise than those that came before. Simenon was always a plain writer, though his claims to have limited himself to a vocabulary of 2,000 words don’t appear to stand scrutiny. Nor were the books bowdlerized. 

What makes Jules Maigret stand out from other literary sleuths? Graeme Macrae Burnet, writing about the new translations in The Guardian, says this:

The apprehension of the culprit is secondary to his desire to comprehend the motivations of his opponents. In Maigret’s Childhood Friend, he tells a suspect, “I’m not judging you. I’m trying to understand.” It’s a phrase that perfectly encapsulates both Maigret’s and Simenon’s work. Source: Put that in your pipe: why the Maigret novels are still worth savouring | Books | The Guardian

Georges Simenon was born in 1903 in Liège, Belgium, and at the age of 15 took a newspaper job in his hometown where he learned to write and edit quickly. He wrote many features and began submitting stories to other publications. He published his first novel in 1921 and gave up his newspaper job the next year. In the meantime, he had written more than 800 humorous pieces, and his contact with the nightlife of  Liège and its characters supplied him with enough to write fiction for the next five decades.

The first Maigret novel, Pietr the Latvian, was published in 1931, although the Maigret character had debuted in some short stories published before the novel appeared. By then, Simenon had moved to Paris and was making a lot of money and hobnobbing with the literati. One of his great friends was Andre Gide who was always a fan of his work.

Simenon’s war years were spent in the small town of Vindée, where he continued to write and publish. They were controversial because some viewed him as a collaborator with the Germans, while others saw him simply as an opportunist who hoped to sign a movie deal with the Germans. He was investigated by the French after the war, but nothing conclusive about collaboration — either for or again — was ever found. He moved Canada and then to the United States after the war to escape harassment by the French and lived much of the next decade in California.

The last Maigret novel appeared in 1972.

In 1955 he returned to France and finally settled in Switzerland. He died there in 1989.

Many of his books were made into movies, and Maigret became the subject of two British television series. As Burnet says:

One does not read the Maigret novels in expectation of wild revelation or plot twists, but to inhabit the vividly realised world of Parisian streets, dives, bistros and high-class hotels. If the books are sketches, they are the sketches of an old master. But the thread that runs though all the books is Maigret’s inquiries into the psychology of his adversaries, and it is this unfailing humanity that makes the Maigret books truly worth reading.

If you have never tried any of the Maigret novels and are a detective fan, you probably should. They are never long — usually 40,000 to 50,000 words — and the style is simple and straightforward. They are also, as you can imagine, not hard to find.

Reopening the economy and schools needs some creative thinking

The current pandemic, with its shutdowns and isolation, seems to have left us with a bleak choice: return to normal or stay in shutdown mode.

Take schools. One argument is to resume schools as we do each fall. The other is to have the kids stay home and do everything online. Neither seems to be a good option at the moment.

What we have not given much to, it seems, are any creative alternatives. One of those was proposed this week by Shardha Jogee, an astronomy professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and the mother of a sixth grader. In a New York Times op-ed, she wrote:

There is a better way: Allow schools to offer only virtual classes this fall, and convert schools and other large unused spaces into Safe Centers for Online Learning. We could call them not schools, but “SCOLs.”
This is not a radical concept. Many universities are bringing some portion of their student body back to campus, but still holding classes mostly or exclusively online.
Students who can keep learning at home should do so. As a result, the centers would not be crowded and it would be possible to maintain social distancing. Source: Opinion | How to Reopen the Economy Without Killing Teachers and Parents – The New York Times

I don’t know if what she is proposing would work or not. What I firmly believe is that we need more of this kind of thinking rather than the “return to normal” or “stay at home” choice we are given.

In other words, we need to get creative, try some things, evaluate, and see if they DO work. Who knows what we might come up with.


Dan C.: A quick note to your librarian friend. Ask her if her Library still has Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in their original form? Over the last decade, many Libraries and school boards across the country have removed Mark Twain’s originals and replaced them with heavily edited (I should say censored) versions. The banning of these literary classics is the same thing that happened over a hundred years ago when they were first published. Your librarian friend was not worried about books disappearing, but movies and TV shows are disappearing from streaming sites in growing numbers. I agree with Idris Elba, the Black actor who says they should not be removed. Instead, they should be provided with content warnings. 

And here is my quote of the week. As a self-proclaimed idiot (by Mark Twain’s guidelines), as well as a proofreader and content/line/copy editor, I give you: 
“In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made proof-readers.” 
– Mark Twain, 1893. 

Eric S.: Re: Edna Buchanan and police reporting: There’s a delicate balance covering law enforcement as a beat. It takes a smart, tough and no bs reporter who can relate to the hell that cops see in their shifts.

Edna Buchanan was successful as a cop shop reporter because she was all of the above and a gifted writer. I used her book about covering cops in my journalism course because it reflected my own experience as a reporter. 
However, she developed relationships that probably were unethical in her zeal to get the story before her competition. Who hasn’t.
We are all human.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor (with graphite): Roylston Hotel, Maryville, TN, circa 1920

Best quote of the week:

The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace. Carlos Santana, musician (b. 1947)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Changing American attitudes toward slavery, police reporting reconsidered, and reader reactions: newsletter, July 17, 2020


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