Josephine Baker, Handel’s comeback, and baseball’s pitch clock: newsletter, March 17, 2023

March 17, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Old time baseball aficionados like me used to be able to brag that, unlike basketball and football, baseball was not governed by any kind of a time clock. The pace of the game could be fast, or it could be leisurely. That was part of its beauty and charm.

We no longer have that to brag about. Baseball is now governed by what has become known as a “pitch clock.” This clock compels a pitcher to throw a ball within 15 seconds from when the umpire starts the clock when there are no base runners. If there are base runners, the pitch must be thrown within 20 seconds.

The first two weeks of spring training this year show that the pitch clock is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. It is speeding up the game. The average time of a spring training baseball game this year is a full 30 minutes shorter than it was in the spring of 2022.

Most sportswriters that I have read have hailed this change as a good thing, but I’m not so sure. True, the games are faster, and maybe that makes them more exciting. But there is a great deal about our lives that is fast-paced and getting faster all of the time. Baseball was once one of those things that allowed us to slow down, even to suspend time itself. Alas, that is no longer the case.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


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From the archives: Handel was washed up; then came the Messiah

For the past few years, sometime during Lent, I have posted this article on George Frederick Handel. It’s one of my favorites, and I continue with the tradition this year.

He was finished, they said. Washed up. He’s had his day, and he’s done.

The year was 1740, and the man they were talking about was George Frederick Handel.

Everybody in London knew who he was—and was was the operative word. Handel had once been the toast of the town, a composer without peer. His operas had thrilled and astonished audiences in a town that was tough to astonish.

Handel, who had lived in England for more than a quarter of a century, had never really ruled the operatic circles of London. It was too tough of a town for that. But the German-born musical genius had led his faction, and they loved him for it. By the mid-1730s, however, Handel had begun to lose his grip.

The public’s appetite for Italian opera, Handel’s specialty, was waning, and his last few productions had not gone well. Handel had made plenty of money during his career, but the operas were expensive to produce. Handel was facing bankruptcy.

There was also the issue of Handel’s health. In 1737, at the age of 52, he suffered what was like a stroke and lost the use of his hands and arms for playing and conducting. His doctor predicted that his career was over. But Handel fought his way back from that and by 1740 was ready to compose again. By April 1741, Handel conducted what he—and just about everyone else—thought might be his last performance.

Four months later, Charles Jennens, a poet and former collaborator, handed Handel the libretto for an oratorio about the life of Christ. Handel had composed oratorios earlier in his career, and he realized they were coming back into fashion.

Handel set to work on composing the music for the oratorio and kept at it night and day. He hardly ate, and he slept very little, if at all. Those who looked after him became concerned, even though he would often work in this furious, non-stop style.

Handel himself reported being overcome with emotion and joy at what he was creating.

Three weeks after he began, in September 1741, Messiah was a completed work. Handel premiered the work in Dublin the next April, and the audience response was enthusiastic. The Dublin Journal wrote:

Words are wanting to express the exquisite Delight it afforded to the admiring crouded Audience. The Sublime, the Grand, and the Tender, adapted to the most elevated, majestick and moving Words, conspired to transport and charm the ravished Heart and Ear.’

Hallelujah Chorus


The London audience was cooler to the work when it was played there, but eventually Messiah found adherents and was recognized as a great piece of music. Today Messiah, especially its “Hallelujah Chorus,” is one of the most popular and recognizable works in the history of music.

Handel composed other oratorios that were brilliant and well-received. One was Solomon, produced in 1749, which contains a sinfonia, “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” at the beginning of the third act that is still a favorite today.

Arrival of the Queen of Sheba

By the mid-1750s, Handel had gone blind and was generally in ill health. He died in London in 1759.

His music, however, continues to live even 250 years after his death.

David Vickers  The story behind the triumphant premiere of Handel’s Messiah

The Glorious History of Handel’s Messiah | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian


Good news and bad news about libraries in Great Britain

There is good news about libraries from Great Britain. There is also some bad news.

And the good news is that during the last year or so when statistics are available, the in-person use of libraries in that nation has risen by a whopping 68%. The time measured for this statistic was mostly during the pandemic. (This information comes from this article in The Guardian.)

The bad news is that during the same period, spending on libraries fell about 17%.

As librarians and others often point out, the public library is one of the few places that people can go where they are not expected to have business or to spend money. The library is the community’s resource. It is there to give and to give freely.

But, of course, libraries are not free. It takes money to stock the shelves, to pay the staff, and to provide many other services that they render. Most of that money comes from the public’s coffers.

We should not depend on book sales or overdue fines to support our libraries. We should all be strong advocates for increased public spending on one of the most precious gifts in our community.


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


Josephine Baker (part 1)

Anyone lucky enough to have been in Paris in the 1930s and to have witnessed a performance by Josephine Baker, the African-American expatriate, would inevitably describe the experience in the same terms. It was mesmerizing. Baker had the ability to create a world on stage into which she could draw an audience, and to make everyone there feel as though she was performing solely for that single individual.

Josephine Baker was universally acknowledged to be the best stage performer of her era.

But it was not on stage that Baker gave the best performance of her life. In 1940, after Nazi Germany had successfully invaded France, a Nazi colonel and a column of soldiers showed up at the entrance of Baker’s château in the south of France. He demanded entrance, saying that Baker had been denounced as an active member of the French resistance.

Baker stood in her doorway, and with the entertainment moxie that she regularly displayed in her stage shows, she boldly refused to allow the soldiers to enter her home. She denied being part of the resistance. She denied harboring fugitives in her home.

Instead, she said, the Nazis needed to return to Germany. They had invaded France illegally, and they were acting illegally now.

Taken aback, the Nazi colonel tried a different tact. He asked if he could be invited in to have a cup of coffee.

“We don’t have any coffee in this house,” she said, “and it’s because of you.”

She went on to tell the colonel that if the Nazis would leave France alone and go back to Germany, he could then return to her house, and she would gladly invite him in and serve him a cup of coffee. As a friend, she said, not as an oppressor.

The Nazi colonel was so befuddled by Baker’s performance that he ordered his troops to leave, and the search of her home never took place. Had the Nazis forced their way into her house, they would have discovered that all of the charges made against Baker were true.

Josephine Baker was one of the most famous and recognizable individuals in Europe at the beginning of World War II. Her love of France and the freedoms that it had offered to her, a black American who had been denied so many things by her own country, steeled her determination to fight the German occupation with any of the tools that she possessed. And she possessed a great many.

Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906. She was the descendent of African and Native American slaves. She experienced racism from a very early age. She also determined early in her life that she wanted to be a stage performer.

She was married at the age of 13, but that lasted less than a year. She was married again at the age of 15 to a man named William Howard Baker. That marriage too did not last, but it gave her the name that she would use for the rest of her life. 

She caught on as a singer and dancer with a traveling vaudeville troupe, and her talent and ability to project herself to a live audience brought her success and some fame in entertainment circles. She could dance, she could sing, and she could tell jokes. It was the 1920s in New York, and she was making her name known not just in Harlem but also on Broadway.

Her success in New York opened the door for a trip to Paris, where she became an instant success. Her act included an almost nude erotic dance that overwhelmed a city that was becoming addicted to entertainment. Ernest Hemingway described Baker as “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” And Hemingway was not the only famous author who was mesmerized by Baker. Everyone talked about her, and everyone saw her show.

Baker achieved not only fame, but also a fortune with ticket sales, movie deals, tours of the major cities in Europe, including Germany, and endorsements of products. She was even the guest star at the start of the Tour de France for four years in the 1930s.

Baker’s work for the French resistance after the German invasion of France put her freedom and her life in danger several times. Because she was a famous star, she was allowed by French and German officials to organize an entertainment tour. That tour included stops in Spain and Portugal.

The French resistance had gathered a great deal of information about how the Nazis planned to conduct their war against Great Britain, but they had no means of getting that information, which included many photographs and high-level documents, out of France and into the hands of the British. Baker’s tour gave them that opportunity. The entourage traveled with a lot of people, equipment, and luggage. They were stopped at many points by French and German officials, but Baker’s ability to draw attention to herself, and away from any of the incriminating information that she carried with her eventually insured the success of the resistance plan. She and her touring group made it to Lisbon, Portugal, where they could turn the information that they had acquired over to the British embassy.

Eventually, however, the Nazis realized much of what Baker was up to, and she had to flee France, and she spent much of the rest of the war entertaining allied troops. 

Next week: Josephine Baker’s post-World War II life.


Group giveaways for March

Kill the Quarterback and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

March’s Free Mysteries

Page Turning-Mystery/Suspense

Killer Thrillers

Books You Can’t Put Down

Rah! Rah! Rah! Varsity Sports Themed YA and NA Novels

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Bill G.: You mentioned that Shakespeare paid tribute to Marlowe after his death by using some of his quotes in his plays.

But Shakespeare did much more than that. For centuries, scholars claimed that Shakespeare wrote 37 plays. For the last 40 years, they claim he wrote 38. It seems that Marlowe was working on EDWARD III when he died suddenly. (I think he was murdered.) Shakespeare was interested in a series of plays. Marlowe had already written EDWARD II. (The source for Marlowe’s possible homosexuality rumors.) If he had completed EDWARD III, that would lead into Shakespeare’s RICHARD II.  

So scholars suspected that Shakespeare had a hand in finishing EDWARD III. I once had my students do a study of this. I had them read RICHARD II, then Marlowe’s EDWARD II. They then read EDWARD III. Their test was to determine where Marlowe left off with his death and where Shakespeare picked up. All my students independently agreed with the scholars that Marlowe wrote ACT I and Shakespeare wrote ACTS 2-5. If you had the time to look at these I am sure you would agree. Marlowe’s style is juvenile compared to Shakespeare and in EDWARD III, the style shifts between ACT I and the rest of the play. For that reason, scholars now say that Shakespeare wrote 38 plays.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Mountain bluebird

Best quote of the week:

When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor (1847-1922)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Lenten devotionals

1st United Methodist Church in Maryville, Tennessee (full disclosure: my home church) is offering daily devotionals that will land in your in-box every day during Lent. They are written by church members and take less than a couple of minutes to read. (And yes, I have written one of them.) Sign up to receive them here.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: 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: Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, Chesterton’s definition of a detective story, and a new approach to beekeeping: newsletter, March 10, 2023





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