Editor’s Note: We are dipping into the archive again to present to you the second half of the Carl Erskine Interview from August 1, 2005.
He may have not been a Hall of Famer, but Carl Erskine captured the hearts and minds of the Brooklyn faithful in the 1950’s.
The Indiana native won 118 games – he was a career-best 20-6 in 1953- during the 10 years Ebbets Field was home. But stats and numbers don’t tell the story. Erskine was more than just a pitcher; “Oisk” was as famous for his relationship with his teammates and fans as much as he was for his on-the-field accomplishments.
One of those friendships was forged when he was playing in the minors and faced a future teammate -Jackie Robinson.
“Jackie approached me as a minor league kid,” Erskine said. “After a game I pitched in Texas, he sought me out and shook my hand. He said, ‘You won’t be in this league long.’ When I was called up to Brooklyn, he was the first person at my locker. That really started a really wonderful relationship.”
To Erskine, it didn’t matter what race Robinson was and regularly conversed with Jackie’s bride, Rachel, after games. Robinson saw that as a noble gesture on Erskine’s behalf, but the pitcher felt differently.
“I told him that it was just as natural to me and that everyone with white skin was not his enemy,” Erskine said. “He learned something from that.”
The Dodgers eventually named Erskine their player representative and he roomed with Hall of Famer Duke Snider on the road. Snider, said the pitcher, was the cornerstone of the Dodgers.
“He was the ‘Duke of Flatbush’,” Erskine said. “There was never a person who showed more dignity.”
It was important the Dodgers represented Brooklyn with class, since there were three teams in town back then. Even though they faced the Yankees seven times in the World Series, the Dodger rivalry was with the New York Giants.
“We played every team 22 times – 11 home and 11 on the road – and with the Giants they were all in New York,” Erskine said.
And in 1951, the Giants came back from 13½ games in the standings to force a three game playoff, which was topped off with Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”
No matter how close the team was to each other, speaking to management was a different story. When Walter O’Malley decided to move the team to Los Angeles, the players were as much out of the loop as anyone.
“We were not privy to anything, but what we read in the paper until Spring Training in 1958,” Erskine recalled. “We all went to the same place and we all played our games. At the end, we would normally start north, but we didn’t do that. We boarded a plane and went to San Francisco. That’s when it hit the team the Brooklyn experience was over. When we went to California, it was a strange feeling.”
But the righthander did start the Dodgers’ first game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1958, which was the antithesis of Ebbets Field.
“There were 80,000 people there and they were all sitting on their hands,” he remembered. “It wasn’t like Ebbets Field, where it was noisy and people screaming. This was a curious crowd of elites, who came to this historic event. I looked out in the third inning and saw Bing Crosby, Danny Kay and Lana Turner. We were a curiosity the first year. I know they were thrilled to have a major league franchise, but the contrast was so different.”
He only won four games that first season in Los Angeles, mostly coming out of the bullpen and, ultimately retired the next season. Even though finished his career on the West Coast, he will always be remembered for his time in Brooklyn.
When a new shopping center went up on the Queens border a decade years ago, an exit on the Belt Parkway was named Erskine Street in his honor.
He will forever be part of the Brooklyn fabric.