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In Memoriam: Carl Erskine

Other than in videos, I never got to see Carl Erskine pitch. By the time the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, Erskine was a shell of the pitcher he had been. But it must be noted that Erskine pitched almost his entire MLB career with pain. And it started early.

Erskine was born in Anderson Indiana on December 13th, 1926. His family was of Scottish origin and had originally settled in Virginia. In the late nineteenth century they traveled west to Boone Indiana. Eventually they settled in Anderson, which at the time was known as the glass-blowing capital of the world.

That would change when spark plug giant Delco-Remy settled in the area. Later Anderson would be known as the birthplace of one Carl Daniel Erskine. But that was down the road aways.

When he played, Erskine would become noted for his curveball. He was first taught the curve by his father, Matt. Matt’s curve was thrown sidearm, with little or no break, but more of a movement to the side. In other words, an old barnyard curve.

Seeking to improve his son’s breaking ball, the elder Erskine bought a book on pitching. While standing in his living room, Matt held the book in his left hand and a ball in his right, as he followed the instructions, he accidentally let go of the ball which crashed through the glass of his mother’s cupboard, destroying several of her dishes. His dad later admitted that it was the best break he ever got on a pitch.

Erskine threw an overhand curve. And it would become his best pitch. Like most kids his age, he played whenever and wherever he could. He played sandlot, park league, and American Legion ball.

When he got to high school, the coach, Charles Cummings asked him to play on the team. At first, he pitched batting practice for the team. His talent was evident and by mid-term, he was a regular on the team and would remain so for four years.

Carl began to establish himself as a standout pitcher. The Dodgers were the first to become interested. They sent the nearest scout to him, Stanley Feezle, who owned a sporting goods store in Indianapolis to scout the kid.

After graduating from high school, he was drafted into the US Navy. After boot camp he was stationed at the Boston Navy Yard. When the 46 season started, he approached the recreation officer about joining the Navy team explaining that he pitched high school and semi-pro in Indiana. After asking him how much he weighed, he told Erskine he had enough pitchers. So Erskine pitched on weekends for a semi-pro team. In 1948 at Ebbets Field, a fan started yelling at Erskine motioning him to come over.

Fraternization with fans was against the rules then, but this guy was persistent so Erskine walked over to the fan. The man stuck out his hand and said, ” shake hands with the dumbest so and so in the world. I am the rec officer who wouldn’t let you pitch for the U.S.Navy. With guys like me, I am surprised we won the war.”

While stationed in Boston, Erskine worked out with the Boston Braves, who were managed by Billy Southworth. John Quinn, the team’s owner, wanted to sign Erskine. Feeling loyalty to the Dodgers, Erskine stalled the Braves. He was 19 and he told them he was still a minor. Quinn said no problem, the All-Star game is in Boston, and we will bring your parents to the game and you can sign then.

Feeling a little panic, Erskine contacted Feezle. As it worked out, nothing would change. His parents would still come to Boston, only they would be the guests of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Just before the game, Erskine and his family were sitting in the parlor of the Hotel Kenmore. Who walks over smoking his big cigar, Branch Rickey. He said to Erskine, “Young man I understand the Boston team is after you. I do not know how much money they have offered you, and I really do not care. Boston has never been able to sign a player we are interested in or wanted, so young man, how much would it take for you to sign with Brooklyn? Erskine replied, Boston offered 2500, would 3000 be ok?

Rickey watched the three sets of eyes staring at him and replied, Carl, we won’t give you 3000, we are going to give you 3500, what do you think of that? So Erskine signed with Brooklyn. He finished up his obligation to the Navy and then when he was discharged, Happy Chandler, the commissioner of baseball declared him to be a free agent.

Brooklyn had violated the rule about signing players while they were in the military. Rickey was livid and sought to get his 3500 back. That request was denied. Then a bidding war began. Four teams besides the Dodgers were vying for his services. The Red Sox offered 10,000, the Phillies offered 11. The Pirates and the Braves were the other two interested parties. Erskine called Feezle and told him he would sign with Brooklyn for 5000 dollars.

Years later on May 12, 1956, after pitching his second no-hitter, Carl was interviewed by Dizzy Dean on the game of the week broadcast. Dean asked ” Who signed you?” Branch Rickey, came the reply. Cheapest man who ever lived, I played for him in St. Louis, he paid peanuts, about 2 bags a week Dizzy said.

Erskine then told Dean he had received two bonuses from Rickey. Dean turned to the camera and said, Folks, this young man belongs in the Hall of Fame, not because he pitched two no-hitters, but because he got two bonuses from Rickey. Erskine learned later that Rickey was prepared to go as high as 30,000.

So in 1946, Erskine began his journey in professional baseball. But Carl was more than just a baseball player. He was a firm believer in equal rights. As a young boy there had been a lynching in Marion, about 30 miles from his home. The day after it happened, his father drove him up to the site. Two black men had been taken out of jail and hung in the jail yard. His memory was of the rope hanging from a branch.

As a boy, one of his best friends was a negro boy named Johnny Wilson. They played basketball together. Wilson ate many meals at Erskine’s house. Wilson made all-state in high school and went on to play with the Harlem Globetrotters, Jumpin Johnny Wilson. With a background like that, being teammates with Jackie Robinson was easy.

An experience when he was playing in Cuba cemented that commitment to equal rights. Erskine was playing on a team with major leaguers, Danny Gardella, Solly Hemus and Chuck Connors. The team was managed by Cuban legend, Martín Dihigo. While there, Carl struck up a long time friendship with fellow pitcher, Max Manning.

Manning would never play in the majors, because he was black. He did pitch in the negro leagues until 1949. There was a hitter that Manning just could not get out. So he asked Carl how he did it, and Erskine replied, I throw him a straight change. He taught Manning the pitch and their friendship was sealed. It was experiences like this that made being Jackie’s teammate so much easier.

After toiling for a couple of years in the minors, Carl got his first game action in 1948. He pitched in 17 games, making 9 starts and had a 6-3 record.

What no one knew at the time was that during his first start of the season, on August 5th, when he made his second pitch of the game, he felt a hot sharp stab in the back of his shoulder. He had pulled a muscle and did not know it. The injury would haunt him the rest of his career.

Rookie pitchers in those days did not go into the trainers room. There were no guaranteed contracts, and there was always someone eager to take your job. His next start, he was facing the Phillies at Ebbets Field. By the sixth inning his arm hurt so bad he had a stomach ache. He was pitching with a torn muscle. He told Shotton about it, but Shotton said, son, you are pitching a shutout, just keep going, you are ok. He started out 5-0, but lost 3 of his last 4 decisions.

In spring training the following year, he could hardly throw, so he was sent to Fort Worth in the Texas League. In those days, you had to keep performing or you would be sent down. And it was not a rehab assignment either. But he got better, winning 10 games, was called back up to Brooklyn and went 8-1.

He pitched in 2 World Series games, but the Yanks beat the Dodgers, 4 games to 1. In spring training in 1950, he felt the same pain he had the year before. His high school baseball coach noticed he had changed his arm slot. Erskine explained about the pain, and the coach felt he was over-compensating.

He was sent to Montreal. While there he met a doctor in charge of the Veterans Hospital in the city. He studied Erskine’s arm motion and saw which muscles were affected most and put him on a weight program. Erskine pitched regularly and won 10 games. Rickey came to see him, and after watching him allow one run in three games, ordered him called up to the Dodgers. He went 7-6 for the 1950 team.

From 1951 on, Carl started every season of his career with the Dodgers. From 1951 to 1956, he won in double figures every year with 20 in 1953 his high water mark. A 92-58 run. At age 30 in 1957, his arm began to give out on him and he won only 9 games over his last three seasons.

He won the first game ever played at the LA Coliseum over the Giants. Carl retired during the 1959 season. He just was not physically able to pitch anymore.

Carl and his wife, Betsy, would raise four children. The youngest, Jimmy, was born with Downs Syndrome. They were told they should put him in a home and that he would not live much past 10. They decided to raise him themselves.

The Erskine’s became huge supporters of the Special Olympics and passed up more lucrative employment to stay in their hometown and raise their family there. Jimmy passed away in November of 2023. He was 63 years old, outliving the prediction of the doctors by several decades.

Carl Erskine was one of the nicest guys to ever pull on a uniform. He pitched in pain his entire MLB career at a time when acknowledging such pain would have ended his career. That he was as effective as he was is simply amazing. A true humanitarian, he shall be missed.

 

 

 

 

MiLB Game Reports

 

Sacramento River Cats (Giants) 8 – OKC Baseball Club 4

Walker Buehler made another rehab assignment at OKC, and this one did not go so well.  The first four batters reached.  After a BB and single, Ramos was out at 3B attempting a steal.  Brett Wisely moved to second. Luciano drew a BB, and Brooks singled home Wisely and Luciano moved to third.  He scored on a sac fly, and the River Cats had a 2-0 lead.

After a 26 pitch 1st inning, Buehler followed that with a 32 pitch 2nd inning. After 2 walks and single loaded the bases, Buehler got the last out with a K and no runs scored.

In the 3rd, Buehler got two quick outs, allowed a single, and was then pulled after 68 pitches (34 strikes).

OKC got an unearned run in the 4th.

Sacramento scored 5 unearned runs in the 6th off Tanner Dodson.  Maybe he should not have had to continue in the inning, but after 2 errors loaded the bases, with 2 outs, Dodson had a WP and two 2-run singles.

Andre Lipcius had a solo HR (5) in the bottom of the 6th.

In the 8th, Ryan Ward tripled (1) and Kody Hoese hit a 2-run HR.

I have been in the Kody Hoese is a bust club since he was drafted.  But how he has started his 1st year at AAA has been very encouraging.  I hope it continues and at least gives the Dodgers an option.

J.P. Feyereisen did allow a 9th inning HR to conclude the scoring.

  • Ryan Ward – 2-4, 1 run, triple (1)
  • Kody Hoese – 1-3, 1 run, 2 RBI, HR (2)
  • Hunter Feduccia – 2-4, double (2)
  • Chris Owings – 2-4

Based on what I watched today, Walker Buehler is not yet ready.  50% strikes.  94-95 MPH fastball with his 4-seamer mostly flat at the top of the zone that were hit.  Prior to his latest surgery, these are the pitches that he threw with late rise for his strikeouts.

 

Box Score

 

Unfortunately for these reports, I had grandfather duty and could not write them up.  I have provided the scores and box scores.  I will review on Friday and report anything positive of note.

 

 

Wichita Wind Surge (Twins) 7 – Tulsa Drillers 6 – 10 innings

Box Score

 

 

West Michigan White Caps (Detroit) 12 – Great Lakes Loons 0

Box Score

 

Rancho Cucamonga Quakes 11 – Inland Empire 66ers (LAA) 3

Box Score

 

 

 

 

 

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Oldbear48

Quiet day. Lots of wind and clouds, but no baseball. I missed Buehler’s start because I was doing some research. Taking my truck in for another estimate on the work it needs tomorrow.

Oldbear48

I actually purchased the Erskine card at the beginning of this post. I should get it this week.

Badger

Great story Michael. Thanks. I think I have a distant memory of Erskine pitching against the Braves at the Coliseum. I could be wrong about that. The Dodgers were quiet that night. Milwaukee wasn’t.

Lipcius. Utility maybe? Owings, Ward, Lipcius. If Taylor has to go go on the IL with a pulled batezius muscle, which of those guys takes his place?

I would say the team should be very cautious with Buehler. He will be needed in September and October, not April and May.

Interesting story on Mizuhara. I wonder if we will hear anymore on it. For now I expect a plea bargain.

Bumsrap

Bargain? Those pleas are going to get can time.

Badger

Probably yes. But with good behavior he will be out and interpreting again within a few years. Fraud? Big deal. Fraud is committed in this country every minute of every day. Some of it by very important people. Besides, he said he was sorry, isn’t that enough? Forgive and forget. I’m sure Ohtani would like to forget this one.

Last edited 28 days ago by Badger
Jeff Dominique

Vargas.

Badger

Fine by me. Like his bat. But what position does he play now? I was thinking about the utility position.

Jeff Dominique

Mostly LF with some DH. He played 2B and 3B quite a bit at OKC last year. Put a bat in his hands and tell him not to worry about defense, and he can get traded to a team with a need for a bat and no position like Michael Busch was. He would be perfect in Miami. As Bear and others have said, the Dodgers have Kiké as their utility guy and really do not need two. The Dodgers need a bat they can insert into the bottom of the order. Someone has to take that role. Why not Vargas? How long do the Dodgers wait for CT to be that guy?

None of the other three (Ward, Owings, or Lipcius) are on the 40 man. Vargas is the only non pitcher/catcher on the 40 man roster not in MLB. But that is another sad scenario problem that has been brewing. And really the pitching depth on the 40 man at MiLB is nothing to get overly excited about. This is the year that the LAD depth is going to get tested, because they do not have a whole heck of a lot to work with, that is not injured.

Badger

“Why not Vargas”

Good question.

Glaze3

So what do you do when Heyward comes back? Outfield will be Heyward, Outman, and Teoscar. No where for Vargas to play except for Platoon with Heyward. If you keep changing the RH platoon guy you just can’t get any rhythm with a few at bats here and there.I think we already found out that didn’t suit Vargas before.

Jeff Dominique

The question was who could be brought up if CT3 finds himself with a mysterious injury. Vargas is the only non pitcher/catcher on the 40 man, so he is the logical choice. Nobody knows when Heyward is coming back, but when he does, it will be Pages who gets sent back to OKC. And chances are that CT3 will still be striking out at high rate, thus I am not expecting or even predicting Vargas will get recalled.

Last edited 28 days ago by Jeff Dominique
Bumsrap

I wonder if the Dodgers have a date in mind for deciding the future of Taylor. If it is June, then they will give him at bats though May. By then they will have a better understanding of his current capabilities before deciding if they want to eat his contract, eat part of it and trade the rest away, or prefer him to the alternative.

If the Dodgers want to use his replacement for pinch hitting duties then I think they should go for a contact hitter. I assume big swingers don’t do well as pinch hitters. If there is a runner at third and less than two outs, I want the ball put in play.

If Vargas winds up as mostly a pinch hitter and concentrate on contact over power, then maybe he has a role with the Dodgers.

Last edited 28 days ago by Bumsrap
Badger

Mike Marshall

Interesting read about a compelling individual.

Last edited 28 days ago by Badger
Jeff Dominique

Excellent SABR read. They are a fantastic source of biographical material. I have used them, Harold used them, and I know Bear uses them. I had not come across this artical on Marshall. Thank you.

Jeff Dominique

I know I never saw Carl Erskine pitch. I really knew nothing about the Boys of Summer until my wife bought me the Roger Kahn book, Boys of Summer, for Christmas in the mid 70’s. Great Book. Have read it twice. That is the extent of my knowledge on the subject. Didn’t live through the Dust Bowl or depression, but learned a lot (about a lot) after reading Grapes of Wrath. Great books draw great pictures in your mind that get validated through time stamped actual pictures. Boys of Summer will always be one of my top 5 books, not because it involved the Dodgers (although that is why it was given to me as a gift), but because of the way Roger Kahn can exact a picture. Very similar to the words heard from a transistor radio from Vin Scully.

Carl Erskine represents the end of an era.

tedraymond

Very nice write up on Carl Erskine Bear. I was able to get his autograph while he was sitting in the Dodger BP along the RF line at the Coliseum in 1958 or ’59. As a 9 year old he seemed like a nice man.

I have been wanting the Dodgers to somehow get CT3 on the IL and bring up Vargas and play him everyday in LF. He hasn’t played 2B this year so for him to replace Lux for a spell wouldn’t be wise at this time. But, LF for sure for Vargas. If not now, when? I know that Pages was just called up, but I would think some playing time for Vargas with the Dodgers might be a good idea for nothing else than to showcase him for a possible trade for a SS at the trade deadline.

Let’s see if the offense can get back on track against the Mets this weekend. With the incredible hot start by the top five hitters I was concerned that when they cooled down it may happen all at once with them. These recent game losses are a result of that. How about 2-3 hot at a time?

The Dodgers are again proving that a team can never have enough starting pitching. Although, it could be much worse. Ask the Marlins. Kim Ng has to be happy she was excused from that ownership and front office.

I watched a You Tube video with John Smoltz and his opinion for pitching arm injuries. It’s something he has been commenting on for years. And, I agree and have for years as well. Analytics and science has caused the arm to exceed its healthy limits. He states initially all these advances metrics and analysis was suppose to allow a pitcher to throw harder and stay healthy longer. Only the former has taken place. I think the channel is called Bat Flippin’. I know many don’t like Smoltz as an announcer, but I think he is right on his opinion on this matter. And, the sad thing is, it’s probably not going to change near term. Too much money involved and too much demand for high velocity.

Carry on.

Jeff Dominique

I have that very youtube discussion in my post tomorrow. Very timely and very poignant. And BTW, I may be one of the few, but I like John Smoltz as an announcer.

BTW the show is Flippin’ Bats with Ben Verlander (yes, Justin’s brother). Ben was also a product of Old Dominion University and was a Detroit Tigers draft pick (14th round). Ben is 9 years younger than Justin.

Duke Not Snider

Flippin’ Bats.

Oldbear48

Thanks Ted. If I remember correctly, one of the first baseball cards I got in 1959 was Erskine’s. The autographed card at the top of the post, I bought off of Ebay the other day. To find out that the man basically pitched his entire MLB career with a bum wing was amazing to me.

Jeff Dominique

Drew Pomeranz has opted out of his Dodgers MiLB contract and is again a free agent.

From Alex Freedman – OKC Director of Communications and OKC Broadcaster

The 4 walks tied Buehler’s overall career high. Worth noting: This was an ABS game tonight and the first time Buehler has ever pitched with a fully automated strike zone. Had quite a few looks back to the scoreboard at pitch location.

Also from Alex:

Miguel Vargas missed his 2nd consecutive game at OKC. Why? He took his U.S. citizenship test and passed.

Last edited 28 days ago by Jeff Dominique
Duke Not Snider

Favorite scene from “42.”

Oldbear48

It is a great scene. The actor portraying Branca, Hamish Linklater, did a great job showing his embarrassment. Boseman, who played Jackie, was an excellent actor. Left us way too soon.

Jeff Dominique

Again from all of you who do not believe that defense plays a big part in the game, explain to me why you think that defense is overrated. The Dodgers lose because of sterling defense by Luis Garcia (Nats), and allow an unearned run in Friday’s 2nd inning.

Smith’s flip was ugly, and Pages bobble took away any chance for him to show off his arm. Not an error, but assuredly not a defensive run saved.

Badger

With our pitching and defense – gotta score 7.

Badger

So far Yamamoto looks hittable. And the Dodgers? Any time guys.

Oldbear48

Leaves his heater up in the zone too much. He is also working on somethings. I think the size of the American baseball is a huge adjustment for him and he has not figured all of that out yet. But remember, the kid is just 25.

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