The Press Pass with Carl Erskine 5-29-20

Carl Erskine, Who Was Duke Snider’s Roommate, Gives a Surprising Answer to One of the Greatest Sports Questions of All Time—Who Was the Best Centerfielder—Willie, Mickey, or the Duke?

In an interview with WKXL’s Chris Ryan, Carl Erskine, who was a dominant pitcher for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, takes us back to a Golden Age for Baseball–the 1950s. The Dodgers were known as the Boys of Summer, Jackie Robinson was breaking the color barrier, there was a heated cross-town rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants, and it seemed that every year the World Series was a Subway Series between the Dodgers or Giants and the Yankees.

Carl Erskine’s twelve year major league career was from 1948 to 1959. He was a one time All Star in 1954, threw two no hitters, was a twenty game winner in 1953 with 16 complete games, and a World Series Champion in 1955. The Dodger fans affectionately gave him the nickname of “Oisk” which is the product of a Brooklynese pronunciation of his name. Carl Erskine compiled a career record of 122-78, 4.00 ERA, and 981 strikeouts.

The 93-year-old speaks with clarity about arriving at his first spring training and being told that the Dodgers have 200 pitchers in their 26 farm teams. Carl Erskine still enjoys watching baseball, and he analyzes the pitching philosophies and strategies of his era and today.
Baseball in the 40s and 50s was very different. There were only 8 teams in each league, and you played each team 11 times at home and 11 times away. You knew your opponents very well, but fraternizing with players on opposing teams was strictly forbidden. Carl Erskine breaks down the competition in New York among the three major league teams—Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees. The rivalry between the two National League teams, the Giants and Dodgers, was very intense. Carl Erskine’s Dodgers faced the Yankees five times in the World Series, but Brooklyn only managed to beat them in 1955. During this era, all three franchises had great teams, and sports fans and writers compared the players on each team, position by position. The most heated arguments arose over the three Hall of Fame centerfielders—Willie Mays on the Giants; Mickey Mantle on the Yankees; and Carl Erskine’s roommate, Duke Snider. He gives an evaluation of each player and his choice is somewhat surprising.

Carl Erskine poignantly recalls his relationship with Jackie Robinson. Erskine describes growing up in Anderson, Indiana in a racially mixed community. He relates stories of how his friendship developed with the Jackie Robinson, the man who integrated baseball. Carl Erskine debunks many of the commonly accepted perceptions about the challenges faced by Jackie Robinson and other African American ballplayers who entered the major leagues in the era of Jim Crow. Erskine describes the segregation which was practiced in northern cities at that time. According to Carl Erskine, “Society was slow in making the adjustment. The culture was slow in accepting Jackie. Baseball was quick.” Jackie was voted Rookie of the Year in 1947. His teammates and the fans recognized right away that his style of play brought excitement to the game. Carl tells how Jackie Robinson’s dreams and goals for racialequality went beyond baseball.

In the final segement of the interview, Carl Erskine discusses the 1955 World Series and evaluates his battles with the great hitters of his era. In 1955, he and Don Newcombe were the aces of the Dodger pitching staff. It was the year that the Dodgers finally succeeded in defeating the New York Yankees, but the pitching heroes were some surprising newcomers. Carl Erskine tells you what it was like to pitch against some of the greatest hitters of all time—Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, and Hank Aaron. This interview is a piece of oral history which gives you a glimpse into an exciting and turbulent period in American history. The United States was emerging from decades of economic depression and war, and it was ready for new challenges.