Renowned journalist James Herbert Smithâ€™s newly-released book is as much of a love letter to baseball as it is a tribute to Connecticutâ€™s Cancer Foundation.
â€śBaseballâ€™s Greatest Players: The Story of John Ellis and the Fight Against Cancerâ€ť 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 Connecticutâ€™s daily newspapers, including The Hartford Courant, The Connecticut Post, the Record-Journal, The Day and others.
â€śIâ€™ve always been crazy about baseball,â€ť 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 Hodgkinâ€™s Lymphoma. Heâ€™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 Smithâ€™s latest release, â€śa must-read book.â€ť
It was during a lunch he shared with Ellis and another friend when he decided to translate the retired playerâ€™s life into the written word. Four years and countless interviews later, â€śBaseballâ€™s Greatest Playersâ€ť was written and went on to be published by Elm Grove Press in Old Mystic.
â€śThis book took me four years, a lot of research and a lot of interviews, a lot of writing and rewriting,â€ť the author said. â€śI just love this story. Itâ€™s about a gutsy guy â€“ a kid really â€“ right out of high school who was drafted by the New York Yankees â€“ a dream come trueâ€¦.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.â€ť
While fighting cancer, Ellis vowed to dedicate his life to helping others if he were to survive.
â€śThe foundationâ€™s very first dinner began it all,â€ť Smith said of CCFâ€™s legacy. â€śMickey Mantleâ€™s appearance there was a great send-off for all the dinners after that. With the help of Johnâ€™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. Letâ€™s face it, Johnâ€™s going to heaven.â€ť
â€śBaseballâ€™s Greatest Playersâ€ť can be purchased at elmgrovepress.org/bookstore .
Smith said he canâ€™t stop writing, and is now working on a fictional book of short stories.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at email@example.com.