By former pitcher Carl Erskine, who won 11 games for the Dodgers in 1955
By Ted Reed
BROOKLYN, N.Y. (TheStreet) -- Carl Erskine, among the last living members of the iconic Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1950s, remembers Duke Snider as "a player who brought royalty to Brooklyn" and also as "a brother."
Snider and Erskine were born three months apart in 1926. Snider joined the Dodgers in 1947, and Erskine joined in 1948. Both bounced between the majors and the minors in their earliest years. On the Dodgers, they were roommates for ten years.
Snider "had this class about him, just like Joe DiMaggio did," Erskine recalled on Sunday, the day Snider died at 84. "He had a grace, whether he was hitting or making a catch. And he had the greatest name for Brooklyn, 'Duke.' It was Mickey Mantle uptown with the Yankees, Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds and Duke at Ebbets Field." Snider was often referred to as "the Duke of Flatbush."
"Ebbets Field was small, so Duke didn't have the space to run down hard-hit balls, and he didn't get a lot of credit for his fielding," Erskine said. "He made some fantastic catches, but he got overshadowed, at least during his playing days. As time passed, people saw that he played on a half dozen National League championship teams, and they recognized that he had a tremendous career."
The song Talkin' Baseball, with the famous line about "Willie, Mickey and The Duke," was released in 1981 and underscored the similar merits of the three New York center fielders. Snider was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981.
Of the six key regular players on the Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1950s, Snider was the last to die. Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo all preceded him in death. Two of the most famous pitchers from the team, Erskine and Don Newcombe, survive. Together, the players won six of 10 National League pennants from 1947 to 1956. Moreover, they went to the last day of the season in both 1950 and 1951, losing pennant-deciding games to the Phillies and Giants, respectively.
"As big a thrill as it is to give this award to one of my childhood sports heroes, it's not Carl's baseball career, it's the totality of the life he has lived, that made him a Sachem," said Daniels. "Taken together, his character, his faith, his integrity in business, his marriage and his devotion to his community mark him as a great man and the kind of person we want our children to emulate."
The Sachem is given annually to recognize a lifetime of excellence and moral virtue that has brought credit and honor to Indiana. Previous recipients include college basketball coaching legend John Wooden, the Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame and world statesman, philanthropist Jane Blaffer Owen, gospel music singing and songwriting pioneers Bill and Gloria Gaither and businessman and civic leader Danny Danielson.
"Most of us who have 'so called' achieved anything in life are merely the end result of good mentoring. Most teachers, coaches and parents got more out of me than I thought I had in me. I am overwhelmed," said Erskine.
Erskine, 83, was a pitcher for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers and member of the famous Boys of Summer teams in the 1950's. During his career he accumulated 122 wins, pitched in five World Series, made the National League All-Star team, and threw two no-hitters.
After retiring from baseball at the age of 32, Erskine returned to his hometown of Anderson where he started a business and began a career in banking and community leadership that continues to this day.
Born and raised in Anderson, Erskine learned to play the game he loved in local park baseball programs and with his father and older brothers. After graduation from Anderson High School in 1945, Erskine was drafted and served in the U.S. Navy during the closing months of World War II. While in the Navy, he was scouted by the Dodgers and, upon his discharge, spent a year and a half in the minor leagues before making his major league debut in 1948.
Erskine, or "Oisk" as he was affectionately nicknamed, became the team's starting pitcher in 1951, playing alongside Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, Preacher Row, Duke Snider and Carl Furillo. He was a part of teams that won five National League pennants as well as the 1955 World Series.
"Carl Erskine is class personified. Not only was he a great pitcher, he is a great person, which is why you live your life. I played with Carl, and I've admired him for many years. He's the best," said former Dodger teammate Tommy Lasorda, who is expected to attend the ceremony.
Today, Erskine is most known for his community involvement, advocacy and civic leadership. After starting his own insurance business, he later served as president and director of Star Financial Bank. Outside the office, he spent 12 years coaching the Anderson University baseball team, winning four conference championships. He also has served as a member of the board of trustees of Anderson University, St. John's Medical Center, Fellowship of Christian Athletes among other civic organizations. His greatest contributions have been through his more than 40 years of service as a volunteer with the Special Olympics and as a supporter of the Hopewell Center, a not-for-profit agency that serves persons with developmental difficulties.
Erskine's contributions to the Anderson community are evident throughout the city. At St. John's Medical Center, the Carl D. Erskine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center stands along with a bronze statue erected in his honor. The city also built Erskine Elementary on property he donated to the Anderson Community School System and the Carl D. Erskine Award of Excellence annually honors an outstanding member of the Anderson University baseball team.
In 1979, Erskine was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame. He shares the Sachem with his wife Betty, to whom he has been married since 1947, and to whom he credits with all of his success. They have four children, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Editor's note: A ceremony to honor Carl Erskine is planned for the south atrium of the Indiana State House on March 2 at 11:30 a.m. Governor Daniels will lead the ceremony.
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