Carl Erskine: A Part of Baseball History

By Norm:

Today I’m excited to have former Dodger Carl Erskine. Erskine was an all-star in 1954 and won a World Series in 1955. He also crafted two no-hitters in his career vs. Cubs, June 19th 1952, and Vs. the NY Giants, May 12th 1956. 

Mr. Erskine, thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at 9 inning Know it All. This is quite an honor. 

They are releasing “42” in April of this year. What can you tell us about Jackie Robinson? 

I played with Jackie Robinson nine seasons starting in 1948. He was an intelligent, polished, articulate and a driven individual. It’s hard to imagine anyone else breaking the color barrier. Great talent, smart, educated and he had Rachel, also a class person, as his wife. When Mr. Rickey met Rachel he must have said, “He’s got the whole package”.

carlYou played in the “Boys of Summer” era. Can you explain where that term came from and what was that time period like?

In 1952 and 53 a young reporter, Roger Kahn, joined the Dodger writers and traveled with us. After the two  years Roger was enamored with this team. So in early 1970’s he visited several players from that team and wrote the book “Boys of Summer.” It became a significant piece of baseball literature.

I’m going to name a few players, please describe them for us.

1. Pee Wee Reese- A solid professional, our Capt. He was an extension of the manager on the field. A little older than some of us and had already been in the league before us. We were freshman, he the senior. When Pee Wee died at age 81 a New York paper headlines read “this Pee Wee was a giant”

2. Don Newcombe- One of the early black players and suffered the same indignities as Jackie. Hard thrower and a good hitter. Newk had some trouble adjusting to the big leagues but Roy Campanella and Jackie in their own way gave Newk great support.

3. Duke Snider- My roommate for ten seasons. Close as brothers we were. He had trouble early with the high strikes. A great hitter geo. Sisler was the coach that helped Duke handle that pitch.  Among the greatest center fielders to play in New York.

4. Roy Campanella- My catcher for ten seasons, over 1000 innings. Caught both of my no-hitters.   Sweet spirit and a grateful attitude. Was beyond smart as a player. He had savvy, handled pitchers so well managers would tell the staff don’t shake off campy. After he was paralyzed in an auto accident he sat in a wheel chair for 33 years but never  complained, he was a great help to other paraplegic’s.

5. Gil Hodges- Quiet strong man, glue of our infield. Good power assisted Jackie on the field by keeping the peace.  Smart baseball mind, and a good sign stealer. Belongs in the hall of fame.

You threw two no-hitters, what do you remember about them?

1952 vs. Cubs: It rained in the third inning and we went in the club house and started card games on the trunks. I played bridge with Billy Cox, Pee Wee and Billy Herman. After 40 minutes I had just bid four hearts and made the bid, they called us back, I finished and had a no hitter with a bridge game in the middle.

1956 vs. Giants: A sweet no-hitter because of the great rivalry between the Dodgers and Giants. Plus a Giant’s scout had been quoted that day in a New York paper that Jackie was over the hill, Campy was finished and Erskine was throwing garbage. It turned out that Jackie saved the no-hitter with a great play on a smash by Willie Mays, campy caught the no-hitter and I got to pitch it.

The Dodgers moved to Los Angeles before the 1958 season. Take us through that period of time. What was the move like? What was playing in Brooklyn like?

Brooklyn was an orphan borough compared to uptown New York, and the glitz of Broadway. From 1947 thru 1956 the dodgers who seldom won a pennant won six in that decade (Jackie’s years). This brought respectability to Brooklyn. Fans felt ownership. We lived in the neighborhoods and knew the people, it was a love affair. Then the jet plane changed everything. Now you could keep a schedule even on the west coast. Mr. O’Malley wanted to stay in Brooklyn but the city fathers wanted him to go to flushing meadows. He took the great offer from L.A. In 1958 we played the first game in the L.A. coliseum and I was the pitcher. 80,000 in the stands, a quiet crowd not like 30,000 in Ebbets. Culture was quite different and we had to get used to that. Eventually the fans fell completely in love thanks to Vin Scully.

You struck out 14 Yankees in the 1953 World Series can you still name your victims? 

1953 my best season, 20 – 6. I started the first World Series game which was in Yankee stadium and had a bad first inning. Gave up four runs. Dressen our manager said ‘I’m going to bring you back in game three.’ So after we lost the first two games I got the ball again. I was so determined not to fail again I pitched my best game ever, 14 k’s. Yes, I even remember the hitters; Mcdougle, Collins four times, Mantle four times, Woodling and finally big John Mize who had hurt me in earlier games. There were a couple other strike out, Rachie and Rizzuto etc.

What advice would you give to the young ballplayers? How has the game changed since you played?

I am an old timer but i refuse to be critical of the game or current players…this is a new era and our culture is different than my era,  however I would say this to current major leaguers.

“My Six Pack for Current Players”

# 1  Respect the fans, even when you don’t feel like it. Fans last longer than players, keep the game healthy

#2  Sign autographs with pride easy to read. That says you’re proud of your name and thanks for asking.

#3  Do interviews and make yourself available.  You are a unique person to be a major leaguer.  Always be supportive of the game.

#4  Answer your mail. Some fans will never see you close up. A return letter is exciting for any fan.

#5  Know baseball history of the decades leading up to your career. You are beneficiaries of what owners and players did to set the big table for you.

#6  Carry yourself with dignity.  When you leave the ball park make it impossible to tell whether you won or lost.

These things cost you nothing and have lifelong positive effects on those who support you.  People won’t remember so much what you say or do, but everyone will remember how you made them feel. Carl Erskine Dodgers, 1948 – 1959

Mr. Erskine once again thanks for the time.