‘Oisk’ recalls the day the Dodgers left Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s had a band of colorful nicknames, like “Pee Wee,” the “Duke” and “Campy.” The most Brooklynese moniker, however, was “Oisk,” which, of course, belonged to pitcher Carl Erskine.
My introduction to him came with his ’51 Bowman (No. 260) card when he was listed at only 5-91/2 and 165 pounds. What he lacked in size he more than made up in heart. He epitomized the cliché, “It’s not about the size of the dog in the fight, it’s about the size of the fight in the dog.”

At 81, he is still vibrant and healthy in his native Anderson, Ind., once known as the glass-blowing capital of the world until giant Delco-Remy settled in the area. “Oisk” can still toss baseball stories around like he did his patented overhand curveball, which helped him establish a World Series single-game strikeout record in Game Three of the ’53 Fall Classic against the Yankees, and a career 122-78 mark.

Erskine’s father, Matt, purchased a book on pitching when Carl was a child. His father enrolled him in a park baseball program at age 9 during the Great Depression, and he frequently played catch with his two older brothers. He soon mastered the straight overhand throwing technique and curveball rotation. His high school coach, Charles Cummings, made sure that his team played with a National League baseball because he saw something he liked about National League baseballs, which were hard to come buy during WWII. Little did he know that one of his players would pitch his share of NL baseballs in the not-too-distant future.

At the time, the nearest Dodger scout was Stanley Feezle, a sporting goods businessman in Indianapolis. Feezle, who also scouted Gil Hodges in Indiana, would from time to time provide Erskine with a new glove, and he kept the fledgling pitcher interested in the Dodgers.

In 1945, Erskine was drafted into the Navy and was subsequently stationed at the Boston Navy Yard. A year later, he introduced himself to the Navy recreation officer and asked if he could play baseball. Erskine’s size and modest baseball background did not impress. He was turned down – a decision the officer regretted the rest of his life.

“In ’48, I pitched a night game against the St. Louis Cardinals and won,” said Erskine. “The next night, during the pregame workout, a man kept yelling at me from the stands. Players were not permitted to fraternize on the field with the fans, so I ignored him. Still, the fan persisted in calling out at me. Finally, I walked over to the rail. He stuck out his hand and said, ‘Shake hands with the dumbest so-and-so in the world. I’m the rec officer who wouldn’t let you pitch for the U.S. Navy. With guys like me, I’m surprised we won the war.’ ”

While in Boston, Erksine pitched Sunday baseball and worked out with the Braves. Billy Southworth, their manager and Hall of Fame inductee this past December, said that Erskine reminded him of Johnny Beazley, and predicted if he signed with the Braves, he would be in the majors inside two years. 

But in his heart, Erskine always wanted to be a Dodger and subsequently signed with the Dodgers for $3,500 when Dodgers GM and president, Branch Rickey, “The Mahatma,” paid him a personal visit and brought his parents to Boston to witness the signing because he was not yet 21. 

In 1946, Erskine pitched nine games for Danville in the Three-I League, named for the states through which it spread – Illinois, Iowa and Indiana. He struck out 52 batters in 50 innings, an impressive pace. But when he returned home after the season, he found that he was declared a free agent because Rickey signed Erskine while he was an active serviceman, which was against baseball rules. It is speculated that someone from the Braves organization blew the whistle on the Dodgers.         

Four other teams sought Erskine’s services, as a bidding war developed while he was a free agent. The Red Sox offered $10,000, and the Phillies offered $11,000. The Pirates and Braves were also interested, but he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, the team closest to his heart, for $5,000. He’s probably the only man to ever get two bonuses from Rickey.
He pitched a second season in Danville and won 19 games, plus two more in the playoffs. The next three years he would shuttle between the majors and minors, making stops at Double-A Fort Worth and Triple-A Montreal. He started the 1948 campaign in Fort Worth, where he went 15-7, and on July 25, 1948, the 21-year-old right-hander was brought up to the big club. It was on that day he won his first major league game (in relief against the Pirates), and his nickname was likely born.

“I came up from Fort Worth, Texas, to join the Dodgers,” recalled Erskine. “I walked through the rotunda at Ebbets Field with my duffle bag looking for a way to get to the clubhouse. I heard those people in line say, ‘Hey, there’s ‘Oyskin’ from ‘Foyth Woyth.’ ”

Erskine didn’t have to break a sweat to chalk up his first win. Pitching in relief of Hugh Casey, he entered the game and walked a couple of batters before Ralph Kiner lined to left field, where Gene Hermanski made a shoestring catch (that he later said he trapped) and doubled-up Johnny Hopp at first base. In the bottom of the inning, Erskine was pinch-hit for, and the Dodgers scored two runs to win the contest, 7-6.
As a rookie, Erskine learned a lesson about the autograph hobby.
“My rookie year was especially exciting because signing autographs for Brooklyn kids made me feel like a bona fide major leaguer,” he wrote in Carl Erskine’s Tales from the Dodger Dugout. “That is, until the day I came out of the Dodger clubhouse and was stopped by several boys wanting autographs. I signed several, and then one boy came back a second time. I gladly signed again. In a few minutes, he was back for a third autograph. This time I asked him why he would want three of my autographs. His honest answer was, ‘Actually I would like to have six. If I can get six of yours, I can trade them for one of Jackie Robinson.’ ”

Pitching mostly out of the bullpen in ’48, the young right-hander won five in a row before suffering his first loss. However, in the process, he damaged his right shoulder. The injury occurred in his first big-league start while facing Bill Nicholson and the Cubs. Midway in his second start, he told manager Burt Shotton that he was experiencing severe pain, but Shotton, being from the old school, thought that a pitcher should pitch through his injuries. This was an era when a rookie did not dare climb onto a trainer’s table, and pitch counts were unheard of.

Erskine made another start with pain and, like the other two, he was a winner, but the damage to his shoulder plagued him his entire career, which ended on June 14, 1959. His impressive portfolio includes two no-hitters, in addition to his 20-win season in ’53 when he led NL pitchers in winning percentage, going 20-6. 

The first no-hitter came on June 19, 1952, against the Cubs in Brooklyn. It was a near perfect game, but a two-out walk in the third inning to opposing pitcher Willard Ramsdell spoiled his bid for the perfecto.

“Willard was one of the worst hitters ever to pick up a bat,” laughed Erskine. “I walked him trying to beat a rainstorm. We hadn’t played five innings yet, and we had a 5-0 lead. So I was hurrying and I walked Ramsdell on four straight fastballs. I just couldn’t find the plate. We waited 40-45 minutes during a rain delay. When we came back, I didn’t allow another base runner. So, Willie was the star of the game.”

His second no-hitter came almost four years later. On May 11, 1956, Erskine received a shot of cortisone. The next day he no-hit the hated Giants at Ebbets Field, a tough park for pitchers. The game was television’s Game of the Week, with announcers Buddy Blattner and Dizzy Dean calling the contest.

“Unbeknownst to anybody, I got the cortisone shot,” recalled Erskine. “The doctor told me I had a spasm back there. When (Walter) Alston gave me the ball, I almost said to him, ‘I need another day’s rest, but I took the ball. I was really in doubt. Al Worthington pitched against me, and I was amazed after five innings I was still pitching.”
A sidebar to the no-hitter involved Tom Sheehan, a scout for the Giants who wrote a scathing article about the Dodgers being over the hill.

“In Willie Mays’ second time up, Jackie Robinson robbed Mays of a hit,” said Erskine. “When the game was over, Robinson ran over from his third base position with the article in his hip pocket that Sheehan wrote and waved the article in Sheehan’s face. That showed you Jackie’s intensity.”

If there’s a signature game in Erskine’s career, it was Game Three of the 1953 World Series when he beat Vic Raschi and the Yankees, 3-2 at Ebbets Field, striking out  a then-record 14 batters, including Mickey Mantle four times. Entering the game, the Dodgers were down two games to none.

“Mickey was a free swinger,” he explained. “He went for broke on the last swing, as well as the first one. He did strike out a lot, like a lot of home-run sluggers. I had this hard overhand curve, and I’d get Mantle to take a good fastball strike and swing at a bad curveball. (Casey) Stengel was going crazy on the Yankee bench that day. I was getting Mickey to chase the curveball down. I also got (Joe) Collins four times that day.

“I didn’t realize what happened in that game, but out of the 14 strikeouts, 10 of them were against left-handed hitters and that was mainly because of my curveball. Johnny Mize was the 14th strikeout. He pinch-hit for Raschi in the ninth.”
Getting Mize was sweet revenge for Erskine.

“He hurt me in the ’52 Series when he hit a three-run homer in the fifth game,” recalled Erskine. “I won the game, 6-5, but I had to pitch 11 innings and retire the next 19 batters in a row at Yankee Stadium to win it. I broke a blister on my finger which finished me for the rest of the Series. That one pitch to Mize caused all that.”

Numerologists can put Erskine’s career under the microscope. Strange but true, Erskine’s ’53 World Series masterpiece and strikeout record came on Oct. 2. Sandy Koufax established a new World Series game strikeout mark with 15 on Oct. 2, 1963, against the Yankees. And on Oct. 2, 1968, the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson eclipsed Koufax’s record when he fanned 17 Tigers.

The number “5” accompanied Erskine in the 1952 Fall Classic. To begin with, Game Five was played on Oct. 5, which was Erskine’s fifth wedding anniversary. In the fifth inning, he gave up five runs to the Yankees, including Mize’s three-run shot mentioned above.

“Veteran Dodgers broadcaster Vince Scully says when the game ended, he swears it was 5:05 p.m.,” stated Erskine. 
Not considered a great hitting pitcher, “Oisk” swung a cool stick on Aug. 31, 1950, in a game the Dodgers demolished the Braves 19-3, behind Gil Hodges’ four home runs.

“I remember I had a bunt hit and couple of bloops over the infield,” said Erskine. “I then hit a ball that went off the hand of third baseman Bob Elliot. I was 4-for-4 and came to bat for a fifth time and hit a shot in the gap that Sid Gordon caught.”
 Although Erskine might have been known for his nasty curve that dropped out of sight, he often quips that his best pitch was the one he bounced in the bullpen while warming up with Ralph Branca in the ninth inning of the historic third and deciding game of the ’51 NL playoffs between the Giants and Dodgers. It certainly could have set the table for one of baseball’s most historic moments.

He explained: “I was in the bullpen with Branca when “Newk” (Don Newcombe) got in a little trouble. Our manager, Charlie Dressen, called the bullpen and talked to coach Clyde Sukeforth. He must have asked him how we were throwing because Sukeforth said, ‘They’re both throwing OK, and Erskine bounced his curve.’

“To make it a good pitch, you had to almost bury it. And Campy (Roy Campanella) always said you bury it, you throw it down there and I’ll get it. But Campy wasn’t catching that day because he was injured, and Rube Walker took his place.
“In the Polo Grounds, there was a long distance between home plate and the backstop. I never asked Dressen why he chose Branca over me because I was better rested. I think when Sukeforth told Dressen that I bounced my curve, he must have envisioned a wild pitch with the long distance behind the plate. Plus, Rube was a real slow runner. Dressen called in Branca and then Bobby Thomson hit the ‘Shot Heard ’Round the World.’

“When Thomson hit the home run, Clem Labine was up with me in the bullpen. As soon as that ball went over the fence, Clem said to me, ‘You know what Carl? I didn’t see a ball go over the fence, I saw my wallet.

   The second and final part of this article will be featured in an upcoming issue of Sports Collectors Digest. It will include Erskine’s perspective and recollection of the fateful day when the Dodgers moved to the West Coast, leaving behind the heartbroken Ebbets Field faithful.

*  *  *  *  *

The Brooklyn Dodgers played their final game at Ebbets Field on Sept. 24, 1957. New York City-born left-hander Danny McDevitt shut out the Pirates, 2-0, on five hits in front of a paltry 6,702 fans. Organist Gladys Gooding played songs to infuse the maudlin mood. After the final out, she played “Auld Lang Syne.”

“It was a non-event,” remembered Erskine, who said goodbye to the place where he made his living for the past 10 years. “Very few fans came out. They were upset with the announcement that the Dodgers were going to leave.”

The players had nothing to do with the move, but the fans felt jilted. Add to the fact that the Dodgers finished third, 11 games behind Milwaukee, and it was not a summer to remember for the Flatbush faithful.

The 2008 season will mark the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers move to California. As of this writing, there are plans to possibly have the Dodgers play one game in the Los Angeles Coliseum where they played their first four years in California.

The Dodgers have trained in Vero Beach, Fla., since ’48. In ’58, instead of heading north with the Braves and barnstorming in cities like Jacksonville, Mobile, Atlanta and Nashville, the club flew to California.
“That’s when it really hit most of the team,” lamented Erskine.

How did he feel about going to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers would play in a football stadium?
“It depended on what part of your career you were in,” he said.

Erskine won the first game ever played in the Coliseum on April 18, 1958, when he beat the Giants in front of 78,672 fans.

“The veterans, like Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe and I had already had our best years. Going to California meant that we had to prove ourselves all over again. But guys like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres were just about to bloom.”

Going to California also meant that the Dodgers would be rubbing elbows with the movie crowd. In ’58, Erskine and several of his teammates were invited to appear in Jerry Lewis’ movie Geisha Boy. Each player received a stipend of $300. Erskine, who at the time was the Dodgers’ player rep, successfully bargained to get every player on the Dodgers team a $300 payment.

One player who did not make the move was Campanella, the Dodgers’ Hall-of-Fame catcher, who was hospitalized in New York with a broken neck suffered in an auto accident on Jan. 28, 1958, that left him a quadriplegic. Campy lost control of his car on an icy road in Long Island as he drove home from his Harlem liquor store business named “Roy Campanella Choice Wines and Liquors” on the corner of Seventh Ave. and 134th St. in Harlem. The car slammed into a telephone pole and flipped over, pinning him behind the steering wheel. The crash fractured his fifth cervical vertebra and damaged his spinal cord.  

Erskine was the first of Campy’s teammates to visit him in the hospital. The emotional meeting occurred early in the spring of ’58.

“We opened the season in Los Angeles,” remembered the right-hander. “The first road trip in late April or early May we played in Philadelphia and had a rainout. So I went down to the train station and took a train to New York on my own.
“I went over to the hospital unannounced and asked if I could see Campy. They said, ‘No, he’s not having any visitors – only family.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine. But you might call him in his room and tell him that one of his teammates is here.’ They let me see him. When he saw me, I think he saw the whole team.

“It was very emotional. For about five minutes we just kind of stood there. He started to cry. I cried. He cried for 10 minutes, but he recovered first. Eventually, with his great spirit, he started telling me about his unfortunate accident. He had this positive outlook about his recovery. He was telling me about the 5-pound weights he was going to lift the next day. He was face down on this special bed. His neck was broken and he had a collar on his neck.

“I couldn’t help but think of this great man that threw out these runners and hit home runs for me and all the rest of us was here, a hopeless person with a great attitude.”

And who knows what he would have done taking aim at that short left-field fence in the Coliseum that stood only 250 feet from home plate with a 40-foot high screen. Some called it a “China Wall” or “O’Malley’s Chinese Theatre.” Erskine always felt that Campanella might have broken Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record popping flies over the dinky screen that Dodgers’ outfielder Wally Moon took advantage of in ’59 with his inside-out lefty swing. His patented “Moon Shots” were lifted over a 42-foot screen, as the height of the screen was increased by two feet and the distance to the fence was increased by a foot.

Following the visit, Erskine returned to Philadelphia, where he dedicated his next start to his injured teammate. It came the following day and Campanella was able to watch it on television. Pitching in terrific pain, “Oisk” tossed a no-hitter for five innings and ended up with a two-hitter.

“I won it for Campy,” Erskine exulted. “It was the last complete game I would ever pitch in the majors.”

*  *  *  *  *

Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who will be inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame next July, has been vilified for slinking off to the West Coast (and taking the New York Giants with him) 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line and two years after their greatest triumph – beating the hated Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Many in Brooklyn agreed with columnists Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield when they named the three most evil men of the 20th century as “Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley.”

O’Malley was well aware of the problems facing his club. Attendance had been in decline, parking was limited and Ebbets Field was not easy to access from the suburbs. In the 1955 world championship season, the Dodgers averaged only 13,400 per game, their lowest attendance since 1945. Ebbets Field needed to be replaced or undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation without any hope of aid from the city. O’Malley had the Dodgers play seven games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., in ’56 and eight times in ’57, hoping to convince authorities in Brooklyn to replace Ebbets Field before choosing to move to Los Angeles. But the city didn’t blink. 

In 1952, O’Malley invited industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes to help design a new stadium that would have a retractable roof, foam rubber seats and could be heated in cold weather. Also included would be a 7,000-car garage. But it was only a dream.

O’Malley had the money to finance the ballpark, but he needed land from the city. He had a site in mind at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues that was occupied by the Long Island Railroad Depot and other businesses. To achieve this, O’Malley needed the support of Robert Moses, the chief of the state park system in New York. Moses was not willing to give the Dodgers the land that O’Malley was looking for. Moses, who was more concerned about creating more parking for picnicking and swimming and roads to travel on and public housing, was willing to bargain with O’Malley for a new ballpark only if it would be a city-owned park in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

O’Malley, who at the time was hailed or condemned as the real commissioner of baseball, said no thanks and headed west to sunny California. Ironically, the site where O’Malley wanted his new ballpark in Brooklyn is still undeveloped.
Erskine gave his take on the Dodgers move to California.

“If you were a Dodgers’ fan and had to blame somebody, Walter O’Malley got the blame,” he said. “But I never blamed Mr. O’Malley directly. I thought he was kind of trapped. Ebbets Field was old and needed to be replaced. The economy of Brooklyn was not good. He took all those factors into consideration. If O’Malley had gotten the property in downtown Brooklyn, I don’t think he would have gone to Los Angeles. He didn’t want to go to Flushing Meadows, which is where Moses wanted him to go.”

O’Malley sat with Erskine in his office and showed him the architectural plan for the stadium with the retractable roof, a concept decades ahead of its time.

“He was a futuristic thinker,” stated Erskine. “He thought that some day we would be able to control the temperature in cities. He was out there.”

    The growing popularity of jet travel affected baseball history since games could now be scheduled on the West Coast. Add to that the consistently mild and dry Mediterranean climate of Southern California, and logic was about to prevail.
Added Erskine, “When they offered O’Malley 300 acres of downtown Los Angeles at the intersection of the freeway, his board of directors would have fired him if they didn’t take the opportunity. In retrospect, if you were a stockholder of the Dodgers, you would say that O’Malley was a hero and probably should be in the Hall of Fame.”

It was a black day when the Bums left Brooklyn in ’57, but for some, Feb. 23, 1960, was even more sorrowful since that the was the day the wrecking ball came down on the park that stood at 55 Sullivan Place in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. A once-pristine playing field with greener-than-green grass was replaced by ugly weeds that grew wild. Erskine, who played there for 10 years, was there that day. And thanks to him, a bit of baseball history has been preserved.

“It was a cold day,” he recalled. “Campy was there in his wheelchair. Tommy Holmes and Ralph Branca were also there. The video of that day was taken from my 8mm movie camera. It was strange to walk on this field that was now growing weeds and was in terrible shape. When the ceremony was over, they dropped the wrecking ball on the visitor’s dugout. I kind of got sick emotionally. I just left.” 

Erskine did not live his life through his scrapbooks. His post-playing career has been of equal interest. In 1960. he started his own insurance business. For 12 years, he coached baseball at Anderson College, where he won four Hoosier College championships. He eventually went into the banking business and rose to presidency of the First National Bank of Anderson, Ind. He has also been involved in the Special Olympics program for many years following the birth of his son, Jimmy, who was born with Down’s syndrome in 1960. Today, Jimmy is a popular employee of an Applebee’s Restaurant, where he has worked for about seven years.

In 2000, his book, Carl Erskine’s Tales from the Dodger Dugout, was published, and four years later, he wrote, What I Learned from Jackie Robinson. A noted harmonica player, “Oisk” once played the national anthem at Dodger Stadium in front of 45,000 fans and also played “Oh Canada” before a Dodgers-Expos game.

As for his collectibles he said, “I never collected anything. I gave away all my uniforms. I had uniforms from six World Series. When we played in the World Series, they made four sets of uniforms, two home and two road. I have two World Series rings, and I might have a team-signed ’55 ball.

He also has a signed photo that reads, “To Carl, The Greatest W.S. Pitcher in the World – Mickey Mantle, 4 K’s.”

The Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s had a band of colorful nicknames, such as “Pee Wee,” the “Duke” and “Campy.” The most Brooklynese moniker, however, was “Oisk,” which, of course, belonged to pitcher Carl Erskine.
At 81, he is still vibrant and healthy in his native Anderson, Ind. “Oisk” can still toss baseball stories around like he did his patented overhand curve ball. This is the concluding part of a two-part feature; Part I appeared in last week’s issues of SCD, dated Jan. 11, 2008, featuring Erskine and Vice President Richard Nixon on the cover.

*  *  *  *  *

The Brooklyn Dodgers played their final game at Ebbets Field on Sept. 24, 1957. New York City-born left-hander Danny McDevitt shut out the Pirates 2-0 on five hits in front of a paltry 6,702 fans. Organist Gladys Gooding played songs to infuse the maudlin mood. After the final out, she played “Auld Lang Syne.”

“It was a non-event,” remembered Erskine, who said goodbye to the place where he made his living for the past 10 years. “Very few fans came out. They were upset with the announcement that the Dodgers were going to leave.”

The players had nothing to do with the move, but the fans felt jilted. Add to the fact that the Dodgers finished third, 11 games behind Milwaukee, and it was not a summer to remember for the Flatbush faithful.

The 2008 season will mark the 50th anniversary of the Dodgers move to California. As of this writing, there are plans to possibly have the Dodgers play one game in the Los Angeles Coliseum where they played their first four years in California.

The Dodgers have trained in Vero Beach, Fla., since ’48. In ’58, instead of heading north with the Braves and barnstorming in cities like Jacksonville, Mobile, Atlanta and Nashville, the club flew to California.
“That’s when it really hit most of the team,” lamented Erskine.

How did he feel about going to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers would play in a football stadium?
“It depended on what part of your career you were in,” he said.
Erskine won the first game ever played in the Coliseum on April 18, 1958, when he beat the Giants in front of 78,672 fans.
“The veterans, like Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Don Newcombe and I had already had our best years. Going to California meant that we had to prove ourselves all over again. But guys like Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres were just about to bloom.”

Going to California also meant that the Dodgers would be rubbing elbows with the movie crowd. In ’58, Erskine and several of his teammates were invited to appear in Jerry Lewis’ movie Geisha Boy. Each player received a stipend of $300. Erskine, who at the time was the Dodgers’ player rep, successfully bargained to get every player on the Dodgers team a $300 payment.

One player who did not make the move was Campanella, the Dodgers’ Hall-of-Fame catcher, who was hospitalized in New York with a broken neck suffered in an auto accident on Jan. 28, 1958, that left him a quadriplegic. Campy lost control of his car on an icy road in Long Island as he drove home from his Harlem liquor store business named “Roy Campanella Choice Wines and Liquors” on the corner of Seventh Ave. and 134th St..

The car slammed into a telephone pole and flipped over, pinning him behind the steering wheel. The crash fractured his fifth cervical vertebra and damaged his spinal cord.  

Erskine was the first of Campy’s teammates to visit him in the hospital. The emotional meeting occurred early in the spring of ’58.

“We opened the season in Los Angeles,” remembered the right-hander. “The first road trip in late April or early May we played in Philadelphia and had a rainout. So I went down to the train station and took a train to New York on my own.
“I went over to the hospital unannounced and asked if I could see Campy. They said, ‘No, he’s not having any visitors – only family.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s fine. But you might call him in his room and tell him that one of his teammates is here.’ They let me see him. When he saw me, I think he saw the whole team.
“It was very emotional. For about five minutes we just kind of stood there. He started to cry. I cried. He cried for 10 minutes, but he recovered first. Eventually, with his great spirit, he started telling me about his unfortunate accident. He had this positive outlook about his recovery. He was telling me about the 5-pound weights he was going to lift the next day. He was face down on this special bed. His neck was broken and he had a collar on his neck.
“I couldn’t help but think of this great man that threw out these runners and hit home runs for me and all the rest of us was here, a hopeless person with a great
attitude.”

And who knows what he would have done taking aim at that short left-field fence in the Coliseum that stood only 250 feet from home plate with a 40-foot high screen. Some called it a “China Wall” or “O’Malley’s Chinese Theatre.” Erskine always felt that Campanella might have broken Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record popping flies over the dinky screen that Dodgers’ outfielder Wally Moon took advantage of in ’59 with his inside-out lefty swing. His patented “Moon Shots” were lifted over a 42-foot screen, as the height of the screen was increased by two feet and the distance to the fence was increased by a foot.

Following the visit, Erskine returned to Philadelphia, where he dedicated his next start to his injured teammate. It came the following day, and Campanella was able to watch it on television. Pitching in terrific pain, “Oisk” tossed a no-hitter for five innings and ended up with a two-hitter.

“I won it for Campy,” Erskine exulted. “It was the last complete game I would ever pitch in the majors.”

*  *  *  *  *

Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley, who will be inducted posthumously into the Hall of Fame next July, has been vilified for slinking off to the West Coast (and taking the New York Giants with him) 10 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line and two years after their greatest triumph – beating the hated Yankees in the 1955 World Series. Many in Brooklyn agreed with columnists Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield when they named the three most evil men of the 20th century as “Hitler, Stalin and O’Malley.”

O’Malley was well aware of the problems facing his club. Attendance had been in decline, parking was limited and Ebbets Field was not easy to access from the suburbs. In the 1955 world championship season, the Dodgers averaged only 13,400 per game, their lowest attendance since 1945. Ebbets Field needed to be replaced or undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation without any hope of aid from the city. O’Malley had the Dodgers play seven games at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, N.J., in ’56 and eight times in ’57, hoping to convince authorities in Brooklyn to replace Ebbets Field before choosing to move to Los Angeles. But the city didn’t blink. 

In 1952, O’Malley invited industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes to help design a new stadium that would have a retractable roof, foam rubber seats and could be heated in cold weather. Also included would be a 7,000-car garage. But it was only a dream.

O’Malley had the money to finance the ballpark, but he needed land from the city. He had a site in mind at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues that was occupied by the Long Island Railroad Depot and other businesses. To achieve this, O’Malley needed the support of Robert Moses, the chief of the state park system in New York. Moses was not willing to give the Dodgers the land that O’Malley was looking for. Moses, who was more concerned about creating more parking for picnicking and swimming, roads to travel on and public housing, was willing to bargain with O’Malley for a new ballpark only if it would be a city-owned park in Flushing Meadows, Queens.

O’Malley, who at the time was hailed or condemned as the real commissioner of baseball, said no thanks and headed west to sunny California. Ironically, the site where O’Malley wanted his new ballpark in Brooklyn is still undeveloped.
Erskine gave his take on the Dodgers move to California.

“If you were a Dodgers’ fan and had to blame somebody, Walter O’Malley got the blame,” he said. “But I never blamed Mr. O’Malley directly. I thought he was kind of trapped. Ebbets Field was old and needed to be replaced. The economy of Brooklyn was not good. He took all those factors into consideration. If O’Malley had gotten the property in downtown Brooklyn, I don’t think he would have gone to Los Angeles. He didn’t want to go to Flushing Meadows, which is where Moses wanted him to go.”

O’Malley sat with Erskine in his office and showed him the architectural plan for the stadium with the retractable roof, a concept decades ahead of its time.

“He was a futuristic thinker,” stated Erskine. “He thought that some day we would be able to control the temperature in cities. He was out there.”

    The growing popularity of jet travel affected baseball history since games could now be scheduled on the West Coast. Add to that the consistently mild and dry Mediterranean climate of Southern California, and logic was about to prevail.
Added Erskine, “When they offered O’Malley 300 acres of downtown Los Angeles at the intersection of the freeway, his board of directors would have fired him if they didn’t take the opportunity. In retrospect, if you were a stockholder of the Dodgers, you would say that O’Malley was a hero and probably should be in the Hall of Fame.”

It was a black day when the Bums left Brooklyn in ’57, but for some, Feb. 23, 1960, was even more sorrowful since that the was the day the wrecking ball came down on the park that stood at 55 Sullivan Place in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. A once-pristine playing field with greener-than-green grass was replaced by ugly weeds that grew wild. Erskine, who played there for 10 years, was there that day. And thanks to him, a bit of baseball history has been preserved.

“It was a cold day,” he recalled. “Campy was there in his wheelchair. Tommy Holmes and Ralph Branca were also there. The video of that day was taken from my 8mm movie camera. It was strange to walk on this field that was now growing weeds and was in terrible shape. When the ceremony was over, they dropped the wrecking ball on the visitor’s dugout. I kind of got sick emotionally. I just left.” 

Erskine did not live his life through his scrapbooks. His post-playing career has been of equal interest. In 1960, he started his own insurance business. For 12 years, he coached baseball at Anderson College, where he won four Hoosier College championships. He eventually went into the banking business and rose to presidency of the First National Bank of Anderson, Ind. He has also been involved in the Special Olympics program for many years following the birth of his son, Jimmy, who was born with Down’s syndrome in 1960. Today, Jimmy is a popular employee of an Applebee’s Restaurant, where he has worked for about seven years.
In 2000, his book, Carl Erskine’s Tales from the Dodger Dugout, was published, and four years later, he wrote, What I Learned from Jackie Robinson. A noted harmonica player, “Oisk” once played the national anthem at Dodger Stadium in front of 45,000 fans, and also played “Oh Canada” before a Dodgers-Expos game.

As for his collectibles he said, “I never collected anything. I gave away all my uniforms. I had uniforms from six World Series. When we played in the World Series, they made four sets of uniforms, two home and two road. I have two World Series rings, and I might have a team-signed ’55 ball.

He also has a signed photo that reads, “To Carl, The Greatest W.S. Pitcher in the World – Mickey Mantle, 4 K’s.”
Carl Erskine will sign autographs for SCD readers. You can submit one flat item with an SASE to: 4031 Fallbrook Ln., Anderson IN, 46011. Donations for Special Olympics would be appreciated.

Rich Marazzi hosts a weekly baseball radio talk show on ESPN Radio 1300 in New Haven, Conn., titled, “Inside Yankee Baseball.” The show covers baseball in general, with many nostalgic guests. The show is streamed on
espnradio1300.com. When you get to the home page, click on the “Inside Yankee Baseball” link. Many of the
interviews are podcast on the site.

Marazzi welcomes SCD subscribers to listen in and call the show. Throughout the show, there are trivia questions with great prizes, including Yankee tickets and Hall of Fame Museum tickets. The show phone number is (203) 230-1300.
He is also the rules consultant for the Houston Astros, New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. You can learn more about his Ruleball program by going to his website at www.Ruleball.com.

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