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Remembering Carl Erskine: A Towering Figure in Baseball

Baseball Legend Carl Erskine: A Life Lived with Dignity and Grace

In 1948, the skillful display of a minor league pitcher, Carl Erskine, during an exhibition game caught the attention of the legendary baseball player, Jackie Robinson. Following the exceptional performance, Robinson offered him words of inspiration. The power of these words materialized when Erskine secured his spot in the renowned Brooklyn Dodgers within a few weeks, succeeding in 17 appearances, including a commendable 6-3 from mainly relief pitching.

As time passed, Erskine cemented his legacy as the last living member of the acclaimed ‘Boys of Summer’. The Brooklyn Dodgers, from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, remain etched in the annals of Baseball history. However, on Tuesday Erskine’s phenomenal ride came to an end at a hospital located in his birth town of Anderson, Indiana. A chapter closed as he left us at the age of 97.

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Dodgers’ fans fondly referred to Erskine as ‘Oisk’. He dedicated twelve significant seasons of his life to the Dodgers, during which he graced the field in five World Series. His prowess was instrumental in 1955 when the Dodgers claimed the franchise’s lone world championship in Brooklyn. This happened before they transitioned to Los Angeles post the 1957 season.

Erskine operated under the shadows of renowned teammates such as Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Duke Snider. Nonetheless, his 1953 performance shone brightly as he posted a stellar 20-6 record, propelling the Dodgers to ascend to the World Series. Despite the Dodgers’ unfortunate defeat by the Yankees in six games, Erskine established an impressive World Series record, striking out 14 opponents.

In the third game of the series, Erskine outshone Vic Raschi by securing a tight 3-2 victory for Brooklyn. The highlight of his performance was curtailing Mickey Mantle four times, reflecting Erskine’s exceptional skill and finesse.

Post his baseball career, Erskine emerged as a prominent advocate for the Special Olympics. His commitment became even more profound when his youngest son, Jimmy, was diagnosed with Down syndrome in 1960. Rejecting the common practice of institutionalizing children with such conditions, the Erskines chose to raise Jimmy alongside his three older siblings.

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For his prolonged and dedicated support to the Special Olympics, spanning over four decades, Erskine was awarded the distinguished Buck O’Neill Award at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July. The award, issued no more than once every three years, commemorates individuals who fortified the positive societal impact of baseball through their extraordinary efforts.

Erskine was often invited to deliver speeches as a World Series champion. During these events, he would present his World Series ring, expressing its personal significance. However, he would always conclude by showing one of Jimmy’s gold medals from the Special Olympics, indicating where his true pride lies.

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Born as Carl Daniel Erskine on Dec. 13, 1926, in Anderson, Ind., Erskine ventured into Baseball after his naval service following high school graduation in 1945. Despite being excluded from the base’s baseball team due to an excess of pitchers, he was soon scouted and enlisted by the Dodgers upon his service discharge.

Erskine ended his final two seasons with the Dodgers in Los Angeles and chose retirement in 1959, prioritizing his young family. Throughout his career, his record stood at a commendable 122-78, with two no-hitters in 335 big-league games. His exceptional performance earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team in 1954.

After retiring from baseball, Erskine ascended into various roles, including launching his insurance business, coaching baseball at Anderson College for 12 seasons, and eventually presiding over a local bank. Inspired by his dedication, his name was commemorated by the city of Brooklyn in the form of a street in 2002.

Erskine’s hometown of Anderson went a step further, erecting a statue in his honor at the Carl D. Erskine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center. Further, an Erskine school was built on land donated by him, which his son, Jimmy, attended.

Erskine is remembered by his wife, Betty, and four children, along with five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. His memorable legacy remains intact, celebrating not only his baseball triumphs but his contribution to society.

In a 1951 playoff game against the Giants, Don Newcombe was pitching in the ninth inning, Erskine was warming up in the bullpen alongside Ralph Branca. Despite having his curveball ready, Dodgers’ pitching coach Clyde Sukeforth opted for Branca to face Bobby Thomson, a decision that led to the famous ‘Shot Heard ‘Round the World’. Erskine’s response to questions about his best pitch thereafter was always, ‘The curveball I bounced in the Polo Grounds bullpen in 1951.’

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