Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o’ Pine Tar

March 9, 2021 at 4:58 am (Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o' Pine Tar)

Once again, I’m teasing the upcoming book I’m writing with the great George Grimm. Publication date is August, 2021.The Ever Grateful Carl ErskineCarl Erskine, affectionately known as “Oisk,” spent ten years pitching for the Dodgers in Brooklyn and as he tells host Peter Trunk he loved every minute of it.Peter Trunk: Where did you live while you were playing in Brooklyn? Carl Erskine: We were a young couple with one child when I was called up to Brooklyn. A family by the name of Pepperman allowed us to rent a basement apartment in Brooklyn. We lived there for maybe two seasons and then we found another place in Bay Ridge near Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese. We leased a house from a lady named Grace Coughlin. it was on Lafayette Walk in Bay Ridge. She was very good to us. Most leases made you move out by a certain date, but she let us stay as long as we needed to in case were made the World Series. We all had one-year contracts, so you wouldn’t dare buy a house where you were playing because you could be sold or traded at any time. So we stayed at Mrs. Coughlin’s house for eight of the 10 years I was in Brooklyn. And since we all lived so close together we car pooled from Bay Ridge with Duke and Pee Wee and Rube Walker. Peter Trunk: Were your sons involved in Little League in Brooklyn?.Carl Erskine: My oldest son Danny tried out for the Little League team when he was only seven years old and came home with a uniform. And I thought they put him on the team because his father played for the Dodgers, but the coach said no, ‘We had tryouts and he caught the ball better that anyone else we had. He’s my centerfielder!’ So that was great for Danny. But then a few years later when it was learned that the Dodgers would be moving, everybody was just moaning about losing the team. So I ran into Danny’s coach one day and he started moaning like everybody else and I thought he was talking about losing the Dodgers, but he said ‘I’m gonna lose the best centerfielder in the league!’But we loved it in Brooklyn. We went to Abe Myerson’s Deli, but he wouldn’t let us pay for anything, and we got our haircuts at Cosmo’s. Peter Trunk: Tell me about spring training in Vero Beach – Dodgertown. Did you stay in Army barracks? Carl Erskine: Well after the war there were a lot of facilities around the country that were going to be abandoned but there was a naval air station in Vero Beach, Florida that had a small airport and two big barracks and a mess hall. Mr. Rickey leased that property for $1 a year in 1948 and turned it into a spring training camp. The Dodgers had a huge system with nearly 800 players under contract, so they needed the space. It was a wooden barracks with a lot of openings in the walls and cracks in the floor. There were bugs and whatever kind of varmints you could think of, lizards and whatever. It was very primitive. Within the complex there were playing fields and sliding pits and pitcher’s mounds, but the perimeter was still very much a jungle and you wouldn’t dare stick your hand in to pick up a ball that was in the bushes, you would just leave it there. There were ditches with alligators and what have you. The roads weren’t even paved but that’s how we started Dodgertown. After a few years the old barracks were torn down and a Villa was built and it became more like a large motel area, with streets named after the players. And it developed into a beautiful training site. Peter Trunk: When you came up in July of 1948 you were 6-3 as a rookie, and 8-1 your second year. The starting four were Rex Barney, Ralph Branca, Joe Hatten and Preacher Roe, and then Don Newcombe came in the second year. Carl Erskine: I came up from the minor leagues in Fort Worth, Texas and I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t afford a fine hotel, so I asked somebody if Brooklyn had a YMCA, because I was a member back in my home town of Anderson, Indiana. So they said it was on Hanson Place and told me how to get there. So I went there and I got a room with a cot and a little desk and I stayed there. And I won my first game and my second game and I started out going 5-0 living at the YMCA in Brooklyn. But before being called up I had already pitched the whole previous season, plus winter ball in Cuba and then had already won 15 games in Fort Worth by mid-July and so I had probably pitched over 600 innings collectively before I was finally called up to Brooklyn. I won two games in relief and then my first start was in a drizzling rain against the Cubs and I pulled a muscle in my shoulder in the seventh inning. But I finished the game. So I was 3-0, then I beat the Phillies twice. I was 5-0 but I had done a lot of damage to my shoulder. But as a rookie I didn’t want to say anything because they would have sent me right back down to the minors. But I had a lot of trouble after that. We didn’t have any off-season therapy or anything back then. But fortunately, I learned how to overcome that injury and I went on to pitch 12 seasons in the big leagues.Peter Trunk: You struck out 14 batters in the 1953 World Series and pitched two no-hitters, but you also pitched a one-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds. The Dodgers won the game 10-0 and the only hit you gave up was a Gus Bell bunt single Carl Erskine: Yeah it was the second game of a doubleheader and I was getting everybody out and Gus Bell was a left handed power hitter. He had good running speed but I would classify him as a power hitter and the last man you would expect to try and lay down a bunt. But he was trying to break up the no-hitter and get something started.So he bunted the ball down the third base line. Now I was a pretty good fielder and I was off the mound quick and Roy Campanella was a very agile catcher and he got out there quickly too, but we glanced at each other, just a glance, like who’s gonna take it and Campy grabbed it but Bell being a good runner, beat it out. And every time I would see Gus Bell after that he’d laugh and say, ‘Hey Carl, how’d you like that line drive I hit to break up your no-hitter?’I had a couple of other no-hitters that I pitched going into the seventh inning. In fact the last complete game I pitched in the big leagues, was in 1958. We had moved to Los Angeles by then and we were playing in Philly. At that time Roy Campanella was in a New York Hospital because he had had a terrible accident and broken his neck and suffered spinal damage and I had gone to see him the day before I was scheduled to pitch. They had him laying face down and I was so emotional talking to Roy. They had the television set up with a mirror so he could watch the games and he said he would be watching me pitch the next game. Well I went back to Philly and I couldn’t get the image of Campy out of my mind. I had pitched to him for 10 years, probably 1,000 – 1,200 innings. And it was late in my career, my arm was tired, I didn’t really have a lot of really good stuff left but that night, thanks to Roy’s inspiration, I had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning but with two outs in the seventh, Philly’s Chuck Essegian hit a ground ball single past third base to break up the no-hitter. But we won 2-1 and it was the last complete game of my career. And I think my ability that night was limited but I was so inspired knowing that Campy was watching.I always appreciated that I got to play in New York. It’s the biggest and brightest stage in the world, there’s no place like it and to have a career in New York, I’ve been forever grateful But then when 9/11 happened and all the Brooklyn firefighters were the first responders and then when the towers collapsed killed almost 400 firemen, almost all of them from Brooklyn, it was a devastating feeling for me to think about the firehouses in Brooklyn. So there’s a chaplain for our sheriff’s office here in Anderson but he’s a Brooklyn kid and he was going back to counsel the first responders in Brooklyn. He called me and asked if I still had any copies of my book “Tales from the Dodger’s Dugout,” that he could bring along and so I gave him all that I had. And he gave them out to some of the people he spoke to.So years later I was going to make an appearance at a Brooklyn Cyclone game and one of the firemen got a hold of me and said, when you come back here, don’t get a cab or a driver, we got ya! You call us, we’ll take you wherever you want to go. So I called them and they took me all around Brooklyn to see when we used to live and where Ebbets Field was, I’ve got this wonderful connection with the firemen and police officers and the people of Brooklyn. And I’m forever grateful. I get up every morning and my first words are of thanksgiving and praise that the Good Lord led me to playing in New York and being a part of the Boys of Summer and I want to tell all my friends in New York, I love all of you, even the Giants and Yankee fans!

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