New book looks at baseball's greatest players

Published on Monday, 2 August 2021 11:36
Written by Erica Drzewiecki


Renowned journalist James Herbert Smith’s newly-released book is as much of a love letter to baseball as it is a tribute to Connecticut’s Cancer Foundation.

“Baseball’s Greatest Players: The Story of John Ellis and the Fight Against Cancer” debuted this summer. It is the sixth book written by Smith, who retired in 2010 as executive editor of the New Britain Herald and Bristol Press after a 50-year career in journalism. Smith, who lives in Bethel with his wife Jacqueline, served as chief editor of many of Connecticut’s daily newspapers, including The Hartford Courant, The Connecticut Post, the Record-Journal, The Day and others.

“I’ve always been crazy about baseball,” Smith said this July in an interview about his latest work.

The writer grew up idolizing Yogi Berra and The New York Yankees, among the many players and organizations featured in the book.

The story chronicles the life and career of New London native John Ellis, a 13-year Major Leaguer who played for the Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. He went on to have a wildly-successful career in real estate before being struck with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He’d also lost his brother, sister and sister-in-law to cancer, all before they were 40.

Ellis and his wife Jane founded the CT Cancer Foundation (CCF) in 1987, which has donated more than $6.9 million dollars to CT families facing financial hardship and cancer. The CCF has also granted more than $2.5 million to cancer research. Its annual fundraising galas have all been attended and supported by MLB greats including Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra Hank Aaron and countless other celebrity athletes.

YES and ESPN broadcaster Michael Kay called Smith’s latest release, “a must-read book.”

It was during a lunch he shared with Ellis and another friend when he decided to translate the retired player’s life into the written word. Four years and countless interviews later, “Baseball’s Greatest Players” was written and went on to be published by Elm Grove Press in Old Mystic.

“This book took me four years, a lot of research and a lot of interviews, a lot of writing and rewriting,” the author said. “I just love this story. It’s about a gutsy guy – a kid really – right out of high school who was drafted by the New York Yankees – a dream come true….Ellis was never an All-Star but he endured. A 13-year career in baseball is an incredible accomplishment and I wanted to capture it.”

While fighting cancer, Ellis vowed to dedicate his life to helping others if he were to survive.

“The foundation’s very first dinner began it all,” Smith said of CCF’s legacy. “Mickey Mantle’s appearance there was a great send-off for all the dinners after that. With the help of John’s friends in baseball, this dinner attracts upwards of a 1000 people paying big bucks to meet Major League stars and fight cancer. Proceeds have gone on to help families hit by the disease. Let’s face it, John’s going to heaven.”

“Baseball’s Greatest Players” can be purchased at .

Smith said he can’t stop writing, and is now working on a fictional book of short stories.

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Monday, 2 August 2021 11:36. Updated: Monday, 2 August 2021 11:39.