Carl Erskine, Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitching star during 1950s, dead at 97

Carl Erskine

ANDERSON, Ind. — Carl Erskine, a pitching star for the Brooklyn Dodgers who threw two no-hitters and struck out a then-record 14 batters in a World Series game, died Tuesday. He was 97.

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Erskine died after a brief illness in his hometown of Anderson, Indiana, at Anderson Community Hospital, his family confirmed to the Indianapolis Star. Ted Green, a filmmaker who directed a 2022 documentary on Erskine, “The Best We’ve Got, said the cause of death was related to pneumonia, according to The Washington Post.

Erskine was the last survivor of the 13 Dodger players of his time who were the subjects of Roger Kahn’s 1972 iconic book, “The Boys of Summer,” The New York Times reported.

He was part of a pitching staff with Don Newcombe, Preacher Roe, Clem Labine, Johnny Podres and Joe Black for the Dodgers as the team won five pennants in Brooklyn between 1949 and 1956, according to the newspaper.

The right-hander, nicknamed “Oisk” by the Brooklyn faithful, set a World Series record when he struck out 14 batters during Game 3 of the 1953 World Series, the Times reported. That record was topped in 1963 by Sandy Koufax’s 15 in Game 1 of the Fall Classic and by Bob Gibson, who fanned 17 batters in Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

In the 1952 World Series, Erskine won Game 5, retiring the last 19 batters he faced in a 6-5, 11-inning complete game.

Erskine compiled a 122-78 record in 12 major-league seasons, all with the Dodgers, from 1948 to 1959, according to Baseball-Reference.com. His best season was 1953 when he went 20-6 and led the National League with a .769 winning percentage. He ended his career in Los Angeles after the Dodgers moved west from Brooklyn after the 1957 season.

Erskine pitched no-hitters against the Chicago Cubs in 1952 and the New York Giants in 1956, both coming at Ebbets Field, the Times reported.

In addition to his pitching talent, Erskine was a fierce champion for human rights and racial equality, according to the Star. When his youngest son, Jimmy, was born in 1960 with Down syndrome, Erskine joined the cause to fight for people with special needs.

Erskine and his wife, Betty, resisted the customary practice of placing children with Down syndrome in a group home, the Times reported. Jimmy remained at the Erskine home in Anderson, worked at an Applebee’s and competed in the Special Olympics, according to the newspaper.

“The assumption right in the beginning was, of course, you’re going to take him to some institution,” Mr. Erskine told the Times in 2023. “And Betty says, ‘No, no, he goes home with us.’”

Erskine, who grew up in a racially mixed neighborhood, was a defender of teammate Jackie Robinson, who broke major league baseball’s modern color barrier in April 1947.

“Jackie made people look beyond race, inside their own souls, inside the depths that made them human, and see the light,” Erskine wrote in his 2005 book, “What I Learned From Jackie Robinson.” “In doing so, Jackie likewise changed the way people viewed each other.”

Erskine was born on Dec. 13, 1926, in Anderson. When he was 4, his father drove him to a neighboring town, where the day before a Black man had been lynched by a mob, the Post reported.

“I saw a lynching rope before I was 10,” Erskine later said, according to the newspaper.

Erskine served in the Navy during World War II and signed with the Dodgers in 1946 for $3,500 -- more than his father, a grocery store owner in Anderson -- made in a year, the Post reported.

He was a childhood friend of Johnas “Jumpin” Johnny Wilson, a high school basketball superstar in Anderson who also helped shape his attitudes about race.

Erskine was in the Dodgers locker room when he heard a man come up behind him, he told the Star in a 2015 interview.

“Hey Erskine, how come you don’t have a problem with this Black and white thing?” Robinson asked.

“I said, ‘Well, I grew up with Johnny Wilson,’” Erskine said. “‘I didn’t know he was Black. He was my buddy. And so I don’t have a problem.’”

“You didn’t have to be a lifelong Dodger fan to be a huge fan of Carl Erskine and the remarkable character with which he led his life,” former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday, according to the Star.

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