During the 1950s decade Carl Erskine, the right-handed starting pitcher who played his entire career for the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers, pitched two of the league’s seven no hitters. Erskine’s gems came on June 19, 1952 against the Chicago Cubs and on May 12, 1956 against the New York Giants.
For curious historians, the others were Vern Bickford, 8-11-1950, Boston Braves over the Dodgers, 7-0; Cliff Chambers, 5-6-1951, Pittsburgh Pirates over the Braves, 3-0; Jim Wilson, 6-12-1954, Milwaukee Braves over the Philadelphia Phillies, 2-0; “Sad” Sam Jones, 5-12-1955, Chicago Cubs over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-0 and Sal Maglie, 9-25-1956, Dodgers over the Phillies, 5-0.
Erskine also pitched nine innings of no hit ball during his 1952 World Series win over the New York Yankees. In what must be one of the most unusual pitching performances of all time, on October 5 1952 Erskine held the Yankees hitless for nine of his eleven inning 6-5 complete game five win.
In the fourth inning, Mickey Mantle reached first base on a bunt single. Then in the fifth, the Yankees erupted for five runs on four more hits including a three run home run by Johnny Mize. From then on, the Yankees got nothing.
Recounting game five to Roger Kahn, The Boys of Summer author, he said:
I had first class stuff, not much pain. The curve was sharp. We go into the fifth inning ahead by four runs. Do you remember the date? It was October 5. That was my fifth wedding anniversary. My control slips. A walk, some hits. Mize rips me. I am behind 5-4 and here comes Dressen.
I’m thinking, Oh no. I got good stuff. I look at Dressen coming closer and I think, the numbers are against me: October 5, my fifth wedding anniversary, the fifth inning and I have just given the Yankees five runs. Five must be my unlucky number. Charlie says to give him the ball.
You weren’t allowed to talk when he came out. He was afraid you might argue with him into leaving you in, and you had to wait on the mound for the next pitcher, so you wish him luck. Now Charlie has the ball. I’m through. The five runs have done me in. Suddenly Dressen says, ‘Isn’t this your anniversary? Are you gonna take Betty out and celebrate tonight?’
Describing the situation, Erskine recalled:
I can’t believe it. There’s 70,000 people watching, as many as in all of Anderson, Indiana and he’s asking what I’m doing that night! I tell him yes, I was planning to take Betty someplace quiet. To which Dressen replies, ‘Well, then see if you can get this game over before it gets dark!’
With that, Dressen handed the ball back and Erskine who proceeded to get the next 19 batters out, the Dodgers won in 11, he took Betty out to dinner and they celebrated his first World Series victory.
Erskine was one of many Boys of Summer whose careers peaked in Brooklyn but who, by the time they reached Los Angeles, had little left in their tanks. Nevertheless, Erskine had the wonderful opportunity to play on the great Dodgers teams with his mates Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and Carl Furillo. More than half the starting line- up is in the Hall of Fame.
“Oisk,” as he was known in Brooklyn, did himself proud. During his 12 season career (six of them pennant winning) from 1948 to 1959, Erskine posted a 122-78 mark with a .621 winning percentage and added two more victories in the 1952 and 1953 World Series—his best two years. In 1952, Erskine went 14-6 (2.70 ERA) and in 1953, 20-6 (3.54)
Erskine has led a admirable post-playing life. His fourth child Jimmy was born with Downs Syndrome; Erskine is active in the Special Olympics and volunteers at his local Hopewell Center for the developmentally disabled. He’s a member of the Baseball Advisory Committee dedicated to helping former players with financial and medical needs.
To commemorate Erskine’s accomplishments both as a Dodger and as a citizen, a 6-foot bronze statue of the pitcher stands in front of the Carl D. Erskine Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Center in his native Anderson, Indiana. Also, Erskine donated part of his land to the Anderson Community School System to build a new school, appropriately named Erskine Elementary.
Erskine has written two autobiographical books: Tales from the Dodgers’ Dugout: Extra Innings and What I Learned from Jackie Robinson. In Brooklyn, fans can meet on Erskine Street, dedicated in 2002.