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World Series Champion with Brooklyn Dodgers Passes Away

Carl Erskine, pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their heyday as “The Boys of Summer,” has passed away. The right-hander from Anderson, Indiana pitched for Brooklyn from 1948-57, during which time they won a World Series and five National League pennants. He followed them to Los Angeles in 1958, retiring in the middle of the 1959 season, and missing out on one more world championship. Erskine was 97.

Brooklyn Dodgers Hurler Carl Erskine Dies at 97

In The Boys of Summer, author Roger Kahn called Erskine “the master of the overhand curve.” “Oisk,” as he was affectionately known to Brooklyn fans, was 122-78 for his career with an even 4.00 ERA. His best year was 1953 when he was 20-6 with a 3.54 ERA. He placed ninth in MVP voting that year; there was not yet such a thing as the Cy Young Award. Erskine was named an All-Star for the only time in 1954 when he was 18-15.

Erskine and Ralph Branca were warming up in the bullpen during the bottom of the ninth in the pivotal playoff game against the New York Giants on October 3, 1951. The call came to the bullpen. Dodgers manager Chuck Dressen asked bullpen coach Clyde Sukeforth who was throwing better. Erskine bounced a curveball. Sukeforth reported that Branca looked better. Dressen signaled for Branca to face Bobby Thomson. The rest is history.

Erskine Hurled Two No-Hitters for the Boys of Summer

Erskine tossed two no-hitters in his major league career. The first came against the Chicago Cubs at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on June 19, 1952. Erskine faced 28 batters on that day. A third-inning walk to Cubs pitcher Willie Ramsdell, of all people, cost Erskine a perfect game. A thunderstorm struck in the top of the fourth, but Oisk was able to return after a 44-minute delay to finish the 5-0 win. After the game, Dodgers president Walter O’Malley presented him with a $500 bonus check.

The second no-hitter, followed by a second $500 check, also occurred at Ebbets Field. The date was May 12, 1956, and this time the victims were the rival Giants. United Press International reported that Erskine was battling an arm injury and relied on “guile and courage” as he “slow-balled” his way to a 3-0 victory. He benefited from sparkling defensive plays by second baseman Jackie Robinson, shortstop Pee Wee Reese, and right fielder Carl Furillo.

1952 World Series, Game 5

On paper, Erskine’s World Series stats belie a couple of clutch performances. Appearing in all five Series that the Dodgers played in during his career, he was 2-2 with a 5.83 ERA. However, the games aren’t played on paper.

Erskine was called upon to start Game 5 of the 1952 World Series against the mighty Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The Series was tied, 2-2. With the Boys of Summer ahead, 4-0, Erskine surrendered five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. “I didn’t for a minute consider yanking Erskine when the Yanks had their big five-run inning,” Dressen told United Press after the game. “I told him it was his wedding anniversary and he had to stay in it to win it for his wife if it took all night.” It nearly did. Erskine went on to pitch six perfect innings, earning a complete game, 6-5, 11-inning victory. He finished the game by retiring Mickey Mantle, Johnny Mize, and Yogi Berra in order.

It looked good for the Dodgers with Brooklyn returning home for Games 6 and 7, needing to win one game. However, the “Bums” never failed to break the hearts of the Brooklyn fans. The Yankees won Game 6 when Brooklyn pitcher Billy Loes famously lost a groundball in the sun. In Game 7, Yankees lefty Bob Kuzava pitched 2-2/3 hitless innings in relief and saved a 4-2 Yankees victory. It was thought to be managerial suicide to pitch a left-hander against the Dodgers’ murderous lineup of right-handed hitters. But they gave the journeyman Kuzava no trouble at all.

1953 World Series, Game 3

The Yankees won this World Series, too, but not before Erskine pitched one of the greatest games in Series history. Erskine earned a 3-2 victory at Ebbets Field, pitching a complete game and breaking a Series record (since broken) with 14 strikeouts. He struck out Mantle four times in the game. Mantle was so frustrated that he refused to speak to reporters after the game. Erskine didn’t know that he had broken the record until after the game.

Erskine recounted the top of the ninth humorously for Kahn in The Boys of Summer. After striking out the leadoff batter, Mize came up to pinch hit. All game long, Erskine could hear Mize in the Yankees dugout, berating the hitters for “being suckers for a miserable bush curve.” Erskine got two strikes on Mize and struck him out – on a “miserable bush curve.”

However, Erskine walked Irv Noren and quickly got worried. Up came left-handed hitting Joe Collins. Erskine had struck out Collins four times, too. But Collins hit 17 home runs during the regular season. Erskine suddenly was worried about the short porch in right field. What he didn’t know was that Mize was riding Collins about going into the record book for striking out five times. Erskine reported that Collins was choked up six inches on the bat. Collins swung straight down and grounded to Erskine to end the game. “It ends with me scared to death of the long ball and Collins scared to death of striking out,” Erskine told Kahn.

The Last Word

Erskine finally got a World Series ring when the Bums finally beat the Yankees in 1955. He did not figure prominently in that Series, lasting three innings in his only start. Erskine was not the last surviving Brooklyn Dodger, but he was the last of the so-called Boys of Summer.


Photo Credit: © Michelle Pemberton/IndyStar


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