Erskine recounts days with the Dodgers
Member of '55 championship team chats with fans online
During a live Web chat, Dodgers legend Carl Erskine shared stories about pitching for the Dodgers from 1948-59. Erskine is scheduled to participate in the celebration of the anniversary of the '55 world championship on Aug. 28 at Dodger Stadium. In 1953, the Dodgers won a club record 105 games with the well-known "Boys of Summer," including a career-high 20 wins for Erskine. An All-Star in 1954, Erskine finished his career with a 122-78 record, including two no-hitters.
Base_Ball: You truly are one of the Dodgers greats -- thank you. I hope to see you Aug. 28. Must be awesome to stand there with the likes of Sandy Koufax and other Dodgers greats.
Carl Erskine: I've never had a day in my life that I'm not thankful that I played in the big leagues and that I was fortunate to play with some of the all-time greats. When I stand there, there will be a flood of memories of the games and personal relationships. You mentioned Sandy, and he actually apologized to me for breaking my World Series strikeout record. He said to me after the game, he would have been happy to have just tied it. There were some great people and we were very, very close.
jjr928: What are your memories of that '55 season?
Erskine: We started out in Spring Training just like most other seasons. We'd won some pennants already and were a contending team when we went to Spring Training. Now, we had never won the series yet, but we had won the pennant in 1949 and then we got beat on the last day in 1950 and '51. It was just like, "Hey, we're going to go get it." We did start off great and I think I pitched Opening Day and we beat the Pirates and we never were caught after that. We played clear through the regular season and World Series never being in second place.
mayorofdodgerstadium: Even though the '55 team was the first to win a championship, do you think that was the best Dodgers club you were a part of?
Erskine: That's always a very good question because, you obviously know we had some other tremendous years as a team. 1951-53 were all outstanding. I always thought our 1952 and '53 teams were absolutely strong, strong teams. But neither one of those two teams won the World Series. In 1955, we had this big surprise of Johnny Podres and a rookie Roger Craig, winning three of the four games. So, that '55 season, that team was not there in the early part of the year, all of those guys. It's hard to say, if you look at the record, the 1955 team was the one that got it done.
mlb_com_member: How did it feel to be drafted to go to war and leaving baseball for a while?
Erskine: Well, I didn't have to leave baseball. I was drafted into the Navy right out of high school. I graduated high school in the summer of 1945, turned 18 and was immediately drafted into the U.S. Navy, so I did not have a chance to sign before I went in, although the Dodgers would have signed me. There was a probation against signing players when they were in the military. Fortunately for me, the war didn't last much longer. I stayed in for a little over a year, was discharged and immediately signed by the Dodgers.
Base_Ball: Which of your two no-hitters was the most surprising or challenging? How close did you ever come to a third no-hitter?
Erskine: Well, for the first part of that. The first one against the Cubs, I had been in the league a couple years, but we got rained out in the middle of the game and we had to come back after a 45-minute delay. That was pretty rare for a no-hitter. But the satisfying one was the one against the Giants. That day, there was an article by Tom Sheehan that said the three of us, me, Jackie (Robinson) and Campy (Roy Campanella) were over the hill. That day pitching with an injured shoulder, Jackie saved the no-hitter with a fantastic play on Willie Mays at third base and Campanella caught the whole game. The three of us that had been quoted that morning, May 12, 1956, in the article. Plus, it was in front of our home crowd. Jackie was always sensitive about what was written about him, so he had read every article that was written about him and the real story is that Jackie read that article, too. And to my total surprise, when Alvin Dark grounded out to me to end the game, Jackie rushed to me, shook my hand, and turned to the Giants box seats and waved that article at Tom Sheehan and he said, "How do you like that for the old guys?"
Base_Ball: Were you nervous pitching the first Dodgers home game in Los Angeles history in 1958?
Erskine: Walter Alston selected me to pitch the opener. We had actually been to San Francisco for the Giants' opener and I don't recall, I think Don Drysdale pitched one of those games and Podres the other one. Then we came to L.A., what a historic moment that was, in the Coliseum, to be selected to pitch the opener. I hadn't had a good spring and was definitely at the end of my career. I always imagined Alston selected me to pitch the opener simply because of all of the bands playing, the newness of the stadium and I had pitched in five different World Series. He must have felt like he wanted an experienced pitcher, so he started me. So I was more than honored. It was kind of a wild ballgame. The game, I think we ended up winning 6-5. Clem Labine relieved me in the eighth inning and I picked up the win. I also remember this -- I gave up a couple singles to start the ballgame, so the first out ever recorded in Los Angeles baseball history was Willie Mays. I remember getting him out for the first out of the inning. And, it was kind of a wild ballgame because there was some crazy baserunning and some home runs over that short fence in left field and the crowd of close to 80,000 was a different kind of crowd because we were all new and this was kind of a historic game. I think the crowd was more curious to see this team they had read about, but never seen, playing in their hometown with the first Major League game. There were several Hollywood people there and about half the bench was gawking in the stands, looking at Bing Crosby, Lana Turner, Danny Kaye and several others. It was a different and unusual crowd. There wasn't a lot of cheering because we were new, but it was a fantastic finish and I left one ticket that day. It was a friend of mine who worked for a laundry in Long Beach. After the game, there was a press conference and Alston was answering questions to a group of newspaper and radio people and this voice in the back kept asking about how great Erskine was and Alston finally asked, "Who is that guy?" And it was my friend, who had gotten into the press conference, Matt Brinduse, who was from my hometown in Anderson, Ind. He was the only person I knew in Los Angeles.
Base_Ball_1: Why did you retire during the 1959 season? Did you regret not participating in the World Series that fall against the White Sox?
Erskine: I retired on June 15 because I was having so much arm trouble. I probably should not have pitched that year. I was trying to nurse the arm through one more season and I was going to retire, but Drysdale, Duke Snider and Don Zimmer told me I couldn't retire, couldn't quit. I hung on for one more game and I finally retired when we were in fifth place in June. Pee Wee Reese had retired, Don Newcombe had been traded, guys were getting older, and so in fifth place, I knew the club was going to have to make some changes. So I finally went in and voluntarily retired. But I did stay on as a coach and I did share the proceeds of the World Series. The guys voted me a half share because I had been there half a season. My best contribution was to retire and let Roger Craig take my place. He won 11 games in the second half of that '59 season. I never asked the guys why they voted me a half share -- because of how I played, or because I let Roger do the pitching.
Base_Ball: I read in a magazine about your father teaching you the overhead curveball in your family's house. Is this true?
Erskine: It is true. My dad, who had a very good throwing arm, he was showing me how to put the rotation on an overhand curveball. We were standing in the living room and I was about 12 years old. He was so engrossed and actually released the ball. It took a bounce through an open doorway, went into the dining room and we heard a huge crash. It hit the window of my mother's china cupboard. My mother screamed, "Matt Erskine, what have you done?" My dad, who always had a quick wit, said, "Son, that's the best break I ever got on a curveball."
Base_Ball_2: I enjoyed your recent book, "What I Learned From Jackie Robinson." Jackie is known for his debut in 1947 and breaking barriers. But he also was a member of the 1955 Dodgers. What was his role with the Dodgers that season, and is it true he and other teammates gave a speech to the players before Game 3 after Brooklyn lost the first two games of the World Series at Yankee Stadium?
Erskine: By 1955, Jim Gilliam had already joined us and replaced Jackie at second base and Jackie moved over to third base. Probably not very well known by fans, Robinson also played left field on occasion to keep his bat in the lineup. He had slowed down in 1955 and had started turning gray. We used to call him Uncle Remus. Jackie's role was to play in key games, occasionally he would pinch hit, but most of the time he rested a few days and then played. He was always a threat on the bases, even in his later years. I think the opening game in the '55 series, he stole home. Someone asked me who was the best base stealer between Robinson and Maury Wills. My answer was -- they were two kinds of runners. Maury was a base stealer and Jackie was a base runner. He did miraculous things on the bases. Taking the extra base, stealing home 19 times, and all that. He was a spark plug. He brought energy to the game. By '55, he saved himself for the key games. As for the speech, I don't remember a specific one, because in the clubhouse, the guys talked to each other all the time. Pee Wee was a quiet captain, but he would say a few words. Campanella and Jackie were both, in their own way, strong encouragers. Campanella had a saying, "The same team's going to win today that won yesterday," which meant us. Jackie would be intense in his remarks, even if he wasn't on his soapbox making a speech. We were never intimidated by the Yankees. Certainly we had respect for them and wanted their respect. Finally, it was sweet to beat them on their own territory at Yankee Stadium for the championship.
Erskine: Did you ever meet Howard Ehmke, who previously held the World Series single-game strikeout record?
Erskine: Yes, I did meet Howard. In the spring of 1954, in Vero Beach, Fla., at Dodgertown. I was warming up in the spring on the pitching mounds designed for workouts and Howard came over to that area and introduced himself to me. I had never met him before and he was a very dignified man, very polished. He came over and shook my hand and congratulated me. I also was congratulated by Connie Mack on the Ed Sullivan Show after the series. He stopped me in the aisle and congratulated me. He was the one who selected Howard to start that game. That was a real piece of history for me to talk directly to Mr. Mack.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.