Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: A Yankees book that even Red Sox fans should read

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The proverbial Dog Days of Summer are upon us. Why they're called the Dog Days, I do not know.

But with our local sports teams having pretty much wrapped up their seasons and the September baseball playoff push still weeks away, it's a good time to get away and recharge the batteries.

When you go on vacation, it is always preferable to bring a book or two along. They can be on your tablet, on your phone, or actually in a bound edition (my favorite). If you like to read about sports history, I have a book for you.

It does not matter if you are a Yankees fan or a Red Sox fan, the book "A Franchise on the Rise: The First 20 Years of the New York Yankees" by Hartford Courant baseball writer Dom Amore will fascinate you.

Did you know that, while not a black hole of baseball, the first two decades of American League baseball in New York City were not all lollipops and rainbows? Did you know that a North Adams native was front-and-center with the team in that era? Did you know that the team we know as the Yankees actually started its history playing in Manhattan and not in The Bronx?

The book details how the New York Highlanders came to be and how, with fits and starts, became the Yankees.

Jack Chesbro, who was born in North Adams and died in Conway, might have had one of the best seasons a pitcher could ever have had.

It was 1903 and it was his second year with the Highlanders.

Today, wins and losses don't mean what they used to. After all, modern starters don't always throw complete games. But in 1903 with the Highlanders, the man known as "Happy Jack" made 51 starts and four relief appearances. He went 41-12 with an impressive 1.82 earned-run average. In 454 2/3 innings, Chesbro struck out 239 and walked only 88. He had 48 complete games, and those records will never be matched.

You might not have known that in addition to his pitching accomplishments that saw him get into Cooperstown, Chesbro replaced the legendary Cy Young as the pitching coach at Harvard University. That was something I never knew.

Now according to the book, Chesbro, "had discovered a potion — the art of applying saliva, maybe with a little tobacco juice, on the baseball."

Chesboro, according to the book, owned New York City in the summer of 1904.

Hilltop Park was not Yankee Stadium, nor was it the Polo Grounds, where the New York Giants once played. In fact, for a time, the Yankees and the Giants shared the Polo Grounds. Kind of an early 20th century version of when the Yankees shared Shea Stadium with the Mets while the old Yankee Stadium was being renovated. That happened after Chesbro was gone.

As Amore wrote, late in the season, Chesbro met the team at Grand Central Station to take the train to Boston for a series at Fenway Park. Chesbro was not expected to pitch in a doubleheader, but talked his way into working the first game.

He held a 1-0 lead after three innings, but the Red Sox opened things up and "Happy Jack" wasn't very happy after a 13-2 loss in the first game of a doubleheader.

Chesbro came back to pitch the next day, threw a costly wild pitch in the ninth inning, and the Highlanders were beaten.

There is much more to the Jack Chesbro story in the book.

You find out how Jacob Ruppert purchased the team that became the Yankees and the 20th century juggernaut it was, and every stop on the way.

Amore, who also covers UConn basketball for the Hartford Courant, has written a fascinating tale with characters who must have been larger than life in the early 20th century.

Even if you are a Red Sox fan, you will find this story most interesting.

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.


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