Dodgers Dugout: Carl Erskine answers your questions
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and there are still two days left to vote for our Hall of Fame.
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Carl Erskine answers your questions
Carl Erskine, who turns 95 in December and was a key member of the 1955 World Series title Brooklyn Dodgers, is the latest to take part in our “Ask...” series, where former Dodgers answer questions from newsletter readers.
“Oisk” was known for his big overhand curve and was a staunch supporter of Jackie Robinson from the day Erskine joined the team as a rookie in 1948, one year after Robinson broke the color barrier. At one point during the 1948 season, Erskine left the clubhouse after a game to talk to Rachel Robinson and Jackie Robinson Jr. Fans filed by and stared at this white man talking to two Black people. Some didn’t care. Some were taken aback. Some shook their head. The next day, Jackie Sr. came up to Erskine and thanked him for talking to his family in the open, which was quite a thing for a rookie to do in those days. He said, “You know, you stopped out there in front of all those fans and talked with Rachel and little Jack.” Erskine replied, “Hey Jackie, you can congratulate me on a well-pitched game, but not for that.” In 2005, he wrote a book titled “What I Learned From Jackie Robinson.”
Erskine answered the following questions in a phone interview. The first person to send in the question got credit for asking it. Also, I passed along the messages from those of you who just wanted to send well wishes, and he thanks all of you for those. Special thanks to Jim Denny for setting this up.
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Neal Schiff of Springfield, Va., asks: What was it like pitching in Ebbets Field with the quirky center-field wall and huge wall along Bedford Avenue?
Erskine: When people ask me what park I liked best to pitch in, I always say Ebbets Field. I had some of my best games in Ebbets Field and the Dodgers always got runs there. So, while it was a tough park to pitch in, only 297 feet down the right-field line, and not one pitchers would normally pick, I loved it.
Marianne Pesci Klee of Fountain Valley asks: How challenging was it to pitch at the L.A. Coliseum? How did you have to adjust?
Erskine: We had a forerunner to that in Brooklyn. The Polo Grounds was a similar shape to the Coliseum. Very short down each line and then it went out to a large outfield. Since the two were very similar, it wasn’t much of an adjustment for me. It seemed like we’d been there before.
Roger Hanhardt of Hays, Kan., asks: How do you rate Duke Snider against the other two New York center fielders, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle?
Erskine: That’s not a fair question (laughing). When you play every day with a player, you get to know the essence of his greatness. Mays is the center fielder I pick as the greatest. He could do it all. Those were three Hall of Fame outfielders. Duke got overshadowed a bit. Duke was my roommate, and we were as close as brothers, so I’m sure I have a stilted view of those three. But I think Duke did not have the room at Ebbets Field that Mays and Mantle did in their outfields. And Duke made some of the greatest catches you would ever see.
Robert Sage of La Verne asks: How might have Duke Snider done batting against you?
Erskine: Actually, Duke did hit against me in some intrasquad games. One day after I pitched against him, he stopped me and asked, “How can a little fart like you throw so hard?”
Frazier von Velsor asks: Who was the most difficult hitter for you to get out and who was the most difficult to strike out?
Erskine: Same answer to both questions: Stan Musial. He could hit to all fields and was a real tough strikeout. He had good power, so when people ask me who was the toughest, he’s always the answer.
Sam Teller asks: Why didn’t Charlie Dressen go with you or anyone other than Ralph Branca in the 1951 playoff game?
Erskine: I think you have to put Clyde Sukeforth in the middle of that question. He was the coach in the bullpen, and when the call came from Dressen, I could hear Sukeforth’s response. He said, “Yeah, they’re both ready.” And then Dressen must have asked who was throwing the best, because Sukeforth said “They are both throwing well, but Erskine is bouncing his curve ball.” Dressen must not have wanted any wild pitches in that situation, and that may have been the deciding factor in going with Branca.
(Follow-up question from me): So when that game is over, how do you get over such a devastating loss like that?
Erskine: When you compete, you have to expect that some days don’t go your way. Everyone needs to understand that. The losses come, and you have to try to push them aside and move on. Otherwise it will drive you crazy. You have to take the good with the bad and take each day as a new day.
Marc Josloff of Freeport, N.Y. asks: I am always proud to say that my first live baseball game, which was at Ebbets Field, was your second no-hitter. When in the game did you become mentally aware of the possibility of a no-hitter? Do you have a personal “greatest moment” as a Dodger?
Erskine: I think you always know when you go through the lineup the second time that no one has a hit yet. So I was aware. Jackie Robinson made an amazing play to save a hit. So there are always plays that stand out, and it’s a team effort to get a no-hitter. My personal greatest moment ... Well, any time you make something happen in the World Series, you put that pretty high on the list. When I set the World Series strikeout record (Note: Erskine struck out 14 Yankees in Game 3 of the 1953 World Series), that is most meaningful to me. It’s not a record anymore. At the time, I wasn’t known as a strikeout pitcher, so that was an exceptional day.
Joe Wall asks: What kind of relationship did you have with Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson?
Erskine: Those two names are synonymous and are two of the greatest names in history. Mr. Rickey signed me to my first contract. Other than my father, he was the most influential man in my life. Jackie was a close friend and it was an honor to call him my teammate. He was a fierce competitor, but he faced challenges that none of us will ever have to face. And we knew he was going through those challenges and there wasn’t much we could do, except do as I did and tell him “You’re my teammate, I’m with you.” It was a great privilege to play with Jackie. Very intelligent man and very driven.
(Follow-up question by me): Did you ever see the movie “42”? Did you think it was a good reflection of what he went through?
Erskine: I did. It was more like a documentary to me. It was very accurate and even when they did exaggerate at times, I don’t think it was overdone. Jackie faced some tremendous challenges. And he faced them down and made a great piece of history for the sport.
Fred Kranz of Spring Hill, Fla. asks: What do you think of the shift defenses played now, and would you have wanted it when you played?
Erskine: We always had meetings before games to determine where the fielders should be for each batter. The shift is just an exaggerated version of that. It has always existed to some degree. It’s just now pronounced and has proven to be pretty accurate. We didn’t have a computer on the bench when I played, so that has influenced the game. Sometimes I’ll see a good play made and I’ll say to myself, “That play was made in the clubhouse before the game.” They knew it was going to be hit there and they prepared for it.
Tom Blackwell asks: Who were your favorite teammates and why isn’t my favorite, Gil Hodges, in the Hall Of Fame?
Erskine: Other than Duke and Jackie, Pee Wee Reese was one of those people. He was a close friend and a real pro. He had the motivation and could bring the team with him. He was a good leader. Wasn’t a holler guy, didn’t throw stools in the clubhouse. But he was intense in his own way. As far as Gil, he’s gotten a lot of votes but never crossed the threshold. Then you had Ted Williams saying “Are you trying to get the entire infield in?” and he was negative to it. I have heard that, I don’t know that specifically. Somehow, I think this is his year. I believe this is his last chance, and I think that will get him over the hump. And deservedly so. There’s no question he deserves it. He was the premier first baseman in both leagues during his career.
No news on the free agency front as far as the Dodgers are concerned. Max Scherzer is expected to sign with someone before Wednesday, which is a key date because that is when the current labor agreement expires. If a new agreement isn’t reached before then, no one will be signed until a new agreement will be reached. So, many players would like to get a deal done before Wednesday.
If you would like to keep track of all the free-agent signings, you’re in luck. MLB Trade Rumors has a page devoted to this year’s free agents and where they sign. Click here to view it.
That site also predicts, with relative success, what kind of deals the top 50 free agents will sign and with what teams. For example, the site predicted Starling Marte would sign for four years, $80 million with the Mets. He signed for four years, $78 million with the Mets. Here’s what they have to say about the main Dodgers free agents:
Corey Seager: 10 years, $305 million, Yankees.
Scherzer: Three years, $120 million, Dodgers.
Chris Taylor: Four years, $64 million, Marlins, Red Sox or Mariners.
Kenley Jansen: Two years, $26 million, Blue Jays or Royals.
Clayton Kershaw: One year, $20 million, Rangers.
Corey Knebel: Two years, $18 million, Red Sox, Phillies or Twins.
Speaking of Gil Hodges
Former Dodgers Hodges and Maury Wills were officially named to the Golden Days Era Hall of Fame ballot. The Golden Days Era ballot includes Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Hodges, Jim Kaat, Roger Maris, Minnie Miñoso, Danny Murtaugh, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce and Wills. Any candidate who receives votes on 75% of the ballots cast by the 16-member committee will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and be inducted in Cooperstown on July 24.
The names on the 16-member committee haven’t been announced yet. The results of the voting will be announced on MLB Network’s “MLB Tonight” at 3 p.m. PT on Sunday.
The last time the committee met, in 2014, no one received the 12 votes necessary to make the Hall. The results then: Allen, 11 votes; Oliva, 11; Kaat, 10; Wills, 9; Miñoso, 8. Receiving fewer than three votes: Boyer, Hodges, Pierce, Bob Howsam and Luis Tiant.
The committee back then:
Hall of Famers (8): Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, Don Sutton.
Executives (4): Jim Frey (retired from Chicago Cubs), David Glass (Kansas City Royals), Roland Hemond (Arizona Diamondbacks), Bob Watson (retired from MLB front office).
Media (4): Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau), Dick Kaegel (The Kansas City Star), Phil Pepe (New York Daily News), Tracy Ringolsby (various outlets, including the Rocky Mountain News).
Dodgers Hall of Fame voting
There is still time to vote in the Dodgers Dugout Dodgers Hall of Fame voting. If you have already voted, don’t worry, your ballot was received and counted. You don’t need to vote again. So far, more than 7,000 ballots have been sent and there are two players on the fringe of election and six virtual locks to make it, so every vote counts.
The way it works: Below you will see a list of candidates divided into two groups, players and nonplayers. Voting will work similar to the actual Hall of Fame.
In the players’ category, you can vote for up to 12 players. You don’t have to vote for 12, you can vote for four, or six, or any number up to and including 12. Your vote should depend on what the player did on and off the field while with the Dodgers. The rest of his career doesn’t count, which is why you won’t see someone such as Frank Robinson listed. And you can consider the entirety of his Dodgers career, for example, Manny Mota was a good player and has spent years as a Dodgers coach and a humanitarian. You can consider all of that when you vote. And remember this is the Dodgers’ Hall of Fame, so there might be some people worthy of being in a Dodgers Hall of Fame who fall short of the Baseball Hall of Fame in your mind.
In the nonplayers category, you can vote for up to three people.
Whomever is named on at least 75% of the ballots will be named to the inaugural class. The 12 players receiving the fewest votes will be dropped from future ballots for at least the next two years. Active players or active nonplayers are not eligible (Jaime Jarrin will be eligible after he retires next season).
How do you vote? You email me at email@example.com. Send me an email with your choices, in any order (up to 12 players and up to three nonplayers). You have until 11:59 p.m. PT Nov. 30 to vote. Results will be announced soon after that.
Here’s the players ballot without comments. If you wish to read comments on each player, please click here.
Pee Wee Reese
Carl Erskine visits the Dodgers in Cincinnati. Watch and listen here.
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