In 1954, when Sporting News polled writers about the players they covered, Carl Erskine stood out. Among his fellow Brooklyn Dodgers, Erskine’s traits have been cited, including “best marriage”, “best parent”, “most intellectual” and “best conversationalist”.
Erskine, 96, outlasted all of his 1954 teammates. Yet when I visited him last month at his home in Anderson, Indiana, he was still displaying the same traits those writers mentioned nearly seven decades ago. He and his wife, Betty, have been married for 75 years. The youngest of their four children, Jamie was born with Down syndrome in 1961, and Carl’s work with Special Olympics and other organizations helped him receive the Hall of Fame’s Buck O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
Erskine no longer travels, so family and friends will represent him at the gala Saturday in Cooperstown, New York, but he remains an intellectual speaker, and his thoughts extend far beyond the column I wrote from my visit. Here are some of these anecdotes:
opposite Stan Musical
“He almost didn’t miss a swing. He always hit the ball somewhere. Sometimes it was a line shot, sometimes it was a glancing shot. But he was always in touch. You didn’t really have the width of the field for him; he hit the ball somewhere. But he didn’t have Good contact with non-fast pitches.” Erskine added that he once played a harmonica duet with Musial. I told him later, “It was a lot easier to play with you, Stan, than against you.” “
“Aaron was an interesting hitter because in his early years, he didn’t have a lot of home runs. He hit those lines, just shots. The term in baseball is clothesline. But he eventually—I don’t know what changed—but he started to put the ball in the air. And when he did, he hit them out of the field.”
Confronting Willie Mays
“You finally learned to get Mays in because you always sidestepped because he hit these wrong balls upstairs. You had to rally him a lot to keep him from getting the ball fair. He was a pure hitter. Those guys, there are few of them in baseball, They break all the rules about how you stand, how you hold. But they are the best hitters in the league.”
Changes in the game from 1949 to 1959
“The Diamonds started out more professionally. There weren’t a lot of bad jumps, that was one thing. Then the gloves improved the defense a lot because the gloves were so heavy and made of cowhide. But they started making them out of kangaroo leather, very lightweight leather, and not The way you can have a glove that’s big but not too heavy. So that was a huge defensive change in baseball. Just part of the evolution of the game.”
Transition from Ebbets Field to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
“The Coliseum was like the polo field it was in the National League, very short in every line and deep in the field. So it wasn’t a shock in the grandstand, because it reminded us all of polo grounds. That was one coincidence that happened.”
in the modern game
“That’s an interesting question because all the changes actually came more from baseball than from baseball. The game itself and the basics, they hardly changed anything. How you ground the ball and how you hit the ball in reverse, all those things are still there. So when I think about Baseball, I don’t think so much about how it’s going to change as I’m about how it stays the same.”
of his optimistic outlook
Norman Vincent Peale – do you know that name? He was a minister. His identity was his comment: positive thinking. He always emphasized that. You can think in different ways, but the best way to keep life in perspective is to be positive and see the positive in it. It just hit me. , and I believe that. That’s what you know. In fact, he wrote a book called The Power of Positive Thinking, and it’s a powerful book. It focuses you on a positive life. Instead of always seeing the worst part of an experience, there’s always something you can choose that gives you another edge. I love that. And I think he’s right.”