Editors Note: We are tired of deflated footballs, so NY Sports Day would like to present this memory of the Brooklyn Dodgers from the late Carl Erskine, originally printed August 1, 2005.
There he was. The last Brooklyn Dodger escorted in by a vintage car to the Keyspan Park ceremony honoring the 1955 championship team. At 78, former pitcher Carl Erskine looks as natural with the Dodger ‘B’ on his cap as he did 50 years ago at Ebbets Field.
“There’s only one like it,” Erskine, who was joined by former teammates Clem Labine, Ed Roebuck and George Shuba, said. “I thought most of the guys would wear their caps, but most of them don’t have them any more. I put a few of them away and the property guy didn’t know it.”
Erskine was a key member of the 1955 team, when he went 11-8 with a 3.79 ERA. When the Dodgers finally won the championship after so many near misses, it was a relief, not only for the players, but also for the borough itself.
“It was because Brooklyn didn’t have the glitz of Manhattan and Broadway,” the former pitcher explained. “It was a community of churches and botanical gardens. When we brought a championship to Brooklyn, it brought a level of respectability to the borough; we were right up there with the rest of them.
“Also, the nation hated the Yankees so much, they were finally glad we beat them.”
The Dodgers faced their city brethren from the Bronx five times before in the World Series [’41, ’47, ’49, ’52, and ‘53] and never could get over the hump. The teams were talented, but the Yankees always were a little better. Going into 1955, Erskine and his teammates expected the same.
“We went to Spring Training in ’55, after not winning a series yet,” Erskine said. “It was a given that we were going to win the pennant, but no one said we were going to win the Series. 1955 started out like every other season. We got in front and stayed there the whole season.”
And, the Dodgers seemed like they would continue to be on the short end of the 1955 World Series. They dropped the first two games at Yankee Stadium, 6-5 and 4-2.
“We had to play up to this great team and tradition,” the pitcher mused. “It was a different type of rivalry. We were never intimated by the rivalry, since we had some great stars and some great pros.”
The Dodgers stormed back, winning Game Three at Ebbets Field, 8-3, behind a complete game by eventual MVP Johnny Podres. Erskine started Game Four and felt very comfortable pitching at the intersection of McKeever and Sullivan.
“The distances were short, but that wasn’t the problem,” Erskine recalled. “We didn’t have any foul territory and, if you got a hitter to pop up a catchable foul ball, it would land in the rows. That was tough. I was of the mind that pitching in Ebbets Field was favorable because I would get a lot of runs. I had some of my best days at Ebbets Field and I didn’t mind pitching there. We always took advantage of the tough parts better than our opponents.”
The Dodgers won that day, 8-5, with Labine coming out of the bullpen to get the victory. After winning the next day, 5-3, the Dodgers faced the daunting task of winning a game in the Bronx.
“The bus always started at Ebbets Field and there were two – one for the players and one for the families,” Erskine said. “As we would go across the bridge and up into Manhattan, the signs were always ‘Go Get ‘Em’ and ‘Good Luck’, until we got to the Bronx. Then we would get the tomatoes, eggs and cabbages [thrown at the bus].”
Hall of Famer Whitey Ford shut down the Brooklyn offense, 5-1, in Game Six to set up a showdown on October 4, 1955.
Podres shutout the Yankees, 2-0, that day and Shuba came in for a key pinch at bat, which ultimately allowed Sandy Amros to come into game as a defensive replacement and make the World Series saving catch. At 3:43 PM, Elston Howard made the last out and “next year” finally arrived.
“After Howard made the last out, we all rushed out on the field,” Erskine said. “We went up the runway into the visitor’s clubhouse and there was almost a short period where there was a moment of reverence. Guys had tears in their eyes. We had, finally, won the championship and on Yankee soil. It then erupted in celebration. It was deeper and I felt it.”
Then the Dodgers took the ride back to the Borough of Churches and the people were celebrating from Bushwick to Bay Ridge.
“When we came back, the people were whooping and hollering on the rooftops,” he said. “They were out in all sizes from little kids to people in wheelchairs. That night no one went to bed in Brooklyn.”
It was the relationship with the fans that made winning for the borough sweet for Erskine, a Bay Ridge resident during the 1950s.
“Brooklyn fans, God bless them,” he said. “They suffered through that ’51 season when the Giants came back from 13 ½ games to beat us. That was unreal for the great team we had. We felt as good for the fans, as ourselves.”