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Remembering Carl Erskine

Carl Erskine was one of those people who are unforgettable in every encounter.  I first met him in the mid-1980s on a balmy June afternoon at a "Welcome Back to Brooklyn" event organized by the late Marty Adler, a junior high school principal at a school near where Ebbets Field used to stand. 


I was in the early years of hosting WBAI Pacifica's rare regular sports show, "Seventh Inning Stretch", and Marty Adler was my kind of guy. He loved baseball to the fullest and on his own dime he founded a Brooklyn Dodger Hall of Fame. The shrine was open to opponents of the Dodgers too so as an oldtime New York Giant fan I felt very welcome in his company.


Erskine was being honored that day and the lifelong resident of Anderson, Indiana located about 40 miles northeast of Indianapolis, told the crowd that he and his wife Betty still called for advice the Brooklyn pediatrician who cared for his children in Brooklyn. 


So it brought great sadness when I learned that Erskine, the last of the Brooklyn Dodger "Boys of Summer" immortalized by Roger Kahn in the book of the same name, died on Tuesday April 16 at the age of 97.  He won 122 games in his career and pitched two no-hitters at Ebbets Field. In the 1953 World Series, he won an 11-inning complete game against the Yankees, setting a WS record at the time of 14 strikeouts.


During the 1959 season, the Dodgers' second year in LA, Erskine retired at the age of 32 because of a nagging shoulder injury that the cursory baseball medical treatment of the day couldn't address.  When I was working on my Branch Rickey biography, I learned from Carl that Rickey tried to enlist him for the Continental League, Rickey's abortive attempt at a third league (which in retrospect would have been a great idea if it had succeeded).  


Erskine turned down the offer, eager to return to his home town. But he remained a lifelong admirer of the man who explained the connections between baseball and religion like no other.  When he was in a jam on the mound, Erskine remembered Rickey telling him that the stitches on the baseball are like your belief in God that runs through your life.


Back in Anderson, Erskine made his mark in both the insurance and banking businesses while also for a time coaching baseball at Anderson College, now Anderson University.  When one of his children Jimmy was born with Down syndrome, Carl, his wife Betty, and their other children welcomed him as their own.  They became leaders in the movement to support all children born with handicaps.  Their efforts turned Indiana from one of the worst states in aiding the afflicted to one of the most progressive ones. 


Jimmy Erskine became a functioning member of society, holding a job at Applebee's and competing in many events in the Special Olympics.  Last fall, he died at the age of 63.  Betty and the rest of the family survive.  


My last encounter with Carl Erskine was in 2011 when I was on a panel in Indianapolis discussing a production of "Jackie and Me," based on Dan Gutman's realistic fantasy about a youngster who gets to play with one of his heroes.  I will never forget seeing Erskine's genuine tears when watching a scene where Jackie Robinson gets to play as an equal on the same field as Babe Ruth. 


I am glad that Carl Erskine got to enjoy the acclaim last year when he was given the Buck O'Neil award from the Baseball Hall of Fame for service to baseball. I'm also happy that Carl got to share some of the acclaim brought to Ted Green's marvelous documentary, "The Best We've Got: The Carl Erskine Story," which is now widely available on DVD.   


There is a consoling thought I often turn to in times of sorrow:  "No voice is ever fully lost."  Just a couple of hours after I learned the sad news about Carl's passing, I ran into a neighbor of mine while we were both walking in Riverside Park near where I live. 


My friend is not a baseball fan but a retired classical cellist.  He is 93 and needs a walker but mentally he remains very sharp.  He told me he was

the child of two missionaries from the Church of God and traveled to Kenya at an early age and then when spent high school in Whittier CA (Richard Nixon's home town). I asked him where he was born.  He replied, "Anderson, Indiana." Cue "Twilight Zone" music.


These last few days have seen many notable baseball passings.  Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, 92, passed away on Apr 15 iin St. Louis where he won the 1982 World Series as Cardinals manager. I remember watching on TV in the latle 1950s when Herzog, chasing a hard-hit liner, ran into the low right field wall at the original Yankee Stadium. 


The injury hastened the end to his playing career but he found his niche as scout and player developer for the Mets and then as successful pennant-winning manager for the Royals and the Cardinals.


RHP Jim McAndrew, a contributor to the 1969 Miracle Mets, died on Mar 14 at the age of 80 in Scottsdale, AZ.

RHP Pat Zachry, who became a Met in the infamous Tom Seaver trade of 1977, died on Apr 4 at the age of 71 in Austin, TX. 

Jerry Grote, the great defensive catcher on the 1969 Mets who also played on three World Series LA Dodger teams, died on Apr 7 at the age of 81 in Austin TX.


I close with John Ruskin's immortal comment:  "There is no wealth but life." As always, I remind you:   "Take it easy but take it!" and "Stay positive, test negative." 

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"You Don't Win A Pennant in April But You Sure Can Dig A Big Hole," NYC-area College Baseball Notes, & "The Breaking Point" on TCM Apr 14

Happy April, dear readers.  I can now focus again on baseball with the college basketball season over. Kudos to Connecticut, the men's winner over Purdue for a second straight title and huzzahs to undefeated South Carolina copping the women's title over Caitlin Clark's Iowa. In a fascinating development that was driven in large part by Clark's popularity, the women's championship drew far better TV ratings than the men's game. 


And now onto to baseball.  It always helps to get off to a good start and rise comfortably above .500 to have a cushion for the inevitable losing streak

that occurs in the long long season. 


One of the most pleasant surprises in the first handful of 2024 games comes from Pittsburgh where the Pirates are tied with the Yankees for the best record in baseball at 9-2 (after games of Mon Apr 8). They just won a weekend series against my Orioles thanks to two walkoff victories.


In the Sa Apr 6 Pirate victory, another truism about baseball came true: Beware The Traded Player In First Games With New Team. Catcher Joey Bart, once the number two draft pick in the nation for the San Francisco Giants, hit a two-run HR in his first AB as a starter for Pittsburgh.  Bart followed that with a double and even had a chance to win the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the 10th inning but struck out.  


Not to worry. The young and improved Buccos won it in the 11th on a single by their budding young star shortstop O'Neill Cruz that scored the ghost runner - the Manfred man - from second base. (Cruz, incidentally, is named for former Yankee right fielder and current Yankee color man Paul O'Neill). Writing with tongue firmly in cheek, I suggest that perhaps freed from the pressures of the Bay area and its BART public transit system (Bay Area Transit System), Joey Bart may find more success in Pittsburgh where the Pirates have used TWELVE catchers in the last two seasons and still haven't decided on a regular. 


There are 153 games left in the Orioles regular season so the Prince of Paranoia yours truly will not agonize over the back-to-back walkoff losses.  The Sunday game was marked by brilliant defense by the Baltimore outfield and a wonderful relay throw by Jorge Mateo, new to playing second base, that cut down a Pirate run at the plate. 


But with regular Baltimore closer Craig Kimbrel unavailable after working two games in a row, setup man Yennier Cano couldn't hold a 2-1 lead in bottom of the 9th. In a very dramatic ending with two outs and the bases loaded, the winning runs were scored on DH Edward Olivares' hot smash up the middle that Bird shortstop Gunnar Henderson snared with a diving stop behind the second base bag.


Last year's American League Rookie of the Year tagged second base with his glove but threw wildly to first and the tying and winning runs scored. 

Running towards second from first base, beefy Rowdy Tellez, not exactly known for his swiftness, made a very smart decision by not sliding into second but came in standing up.


MLB has been enforcing obstruction rules against runners who slide too aggressively and Tellez's decision forced Henderson into a difficult angle for his throw to first. Head down after his error, Henderson almost broke into tears, another example of his zealous intensity - perhaps overzealous - which makes him easy to root for.


A loss is a loss and the Orioles have slipped to 5-4 as they prepare for Boston's home opener on Tu Apr 9.  After pounding the Los Angeles Angels in the first two games of the season, Baltimore bats have gone very cold. 


Some impatient fans are already howling for the immediate callup of some of the sluggers at Triple-A Norfolk who are pounding the ball at record rates. I say it is too early to panic.  The pitching has been excellent and the defense often spectacular, but the bats of such veterans as outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins and third baseman-second baseman Ramon Urias do need to awaken soon.   


The Mets started the season losing 5 games in a row at home before salvaging the second game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers in walkoff fashion.  Going on the road has been a tonic because after winning a weekend series in Cincinnati, they held on to beat the Atlanta Braves, 8-7, on M night April 8.  Brandon Nimmo had 2 HRs and 5 RBI, a career offensive night for the leadoff man.


April 8 marked the 50th anniversary of Hank Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's career HR record of 715 and the Mets SNY cablecast team did themselves proud.  Before the game they ran a lengthy excerpt of Kevin Burkhardt's interview in 2014 of Al Downing who threw the fateful home run pitch. 


Burkhardt, a graduate of William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey who used to do commentary on Mets telecasts and now is the top voice on Fox Sports NFL football coverage, asked probing questions of the classy Downing, a former 20-game winner for the Yankees and their first African-American pitcher.  He finished his fine career with a 123-107 W-L record and 3.22 ERA and later became a broadcaster himself. 


Born in Trenton, NJ a year and a day before me, June 28, 1941, Downing made it clear how much he treasured his friendship with Aaron and how much his stoic poise in the face of hatred meant to not only black people in the U.S. but all decent people of any color. Downing recently appeared as an insightful talking head in moving Yogi Berra documentary, "It Ain't Over". 


During the game, Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez invited Dusty Baker into the SNY booth for his remembrances of being on-deck on the night that Aaron broke Ruth's record. Dusty is one of the great raconteurs in the sport and he described how his locker and teammate Ralph Garr's locker were on each side of Aaron.  Hank never talked about the hate mail he got for daring to break Babe Ruth's record, but they could see his concerned reaction to the venomous bigoted words.   


Thank you SNY for making it a broadcast that made me feel proud to be both a passionate baseball fan and a concerned citizen that sees the larger good that baseball has done for American society in its pioneering role in racial desegregation. The cherry on the sundae last night was the Mets narrowly holding on to their come-from-behind 8-7 victory.    


On the college baseball front, I am happy to report that my alma mater Columbia is riding a 8-game Ivy League winning streak into Homecoming weekend against Yale this weekend April 13-14. At 8-1, the Lions are 2 games up on Cornell (6-3) and 3 ahead of defending champ Penn (5-4)   


Columbia's 2014 Ivy League champions will be honored between games of the Sat Apr 13 twinbill with first game starting at 1130P and second game approximately at 3p.  The single game will be Su Apr 14 at noon.  There is no charge for the games played at Satow Stadium/Robertson Field in the Baker Field complex, north of Broadway/218th Street. 


BTW After sweeping Dartmouth this past weekend in Hanover, NH, Columbia coach Brett Boretti has become the winningest coach in school history, 351 and counting.


St. John's is on a roll, too - 3-0 in the Big East, 22-5-1 overall. 

After playing the April 12-14 weekend at UConn in Storrs (605P, 205P, 105p), the Red Storm host Columbia

in a non-league game on Tu Apr 16 at 330p at Kaiser Stadium in Queens not far from Union Turnpike.

They host Butler of Indianapolis the weekend of Apr 19-21 (6P, 3P, 1P)

The Big Ten's Rutgers come in for non-league game on Tu Apr 23 at 3P


Rutgers is enduring a 5-game losing streak and is 1-5 in Big Ten though 19-12 overall.

Tu Apr 9 they head to Seton Hall at Shepard Stadium/Carroll Field at 4p in South Orange NJ in a non-league game.

Weekend of Apr 12-14 Nebraska comes in to Bainton Field in Piscataway at 6P, 3P, 1P

Tu Apr 16 3P Monmouth (from Long Branch NJ) comes to Bainton Field.

Tu Apr 23 6P St John's visits. 


Seton Hall is 1-2 in Big East and 17-14 overall but pitcher Ryan Reich nearly threw a no-hitter at Georgetown on Sa Apr 6.   


Division III NYU (3-5 in Univ. Ath. Assn., 16-8 overall) returns to the Staten Island Hospital Stadium near the ferry on the weekend of Apr 19-21 to play a top rated Case Western Reserve team from Cleveland (7-1, 21-6).  Fri at 4p, Sa doubleheader 12N & approx. 3p, Su 11A.   


And before I wrap up this first April post, here is word of a special Noir Alley ahead on Sat midnight/repeated on Sun 10A April 14:

"The Breaking Point" (1950) John Garfield's last commercial film for Warner Brothers. His testimony before the Red-baiting Hollywood committee

led Warners to cease promoting this film which is a classic and extremely worth seeing. 


Directed by Michael "Casablanca" Curtiz, based on the Ernest Hemingway story "To Have and To Have Not".

Screenplay by Ranald McDougall who wrote "Mildred Pierce" and later Harry Belafonte's fascinating exploration of race in a nuclear-destroyed NYC,

"The World, Flesh, and the Devil" (1959). 

Co-starring Patricia Neal as a femme fatale to end femme fatales.

With other fine actors Wallace Ford, Juano Hernandez, Phyllis Thaxter.

The intro and outro will feature commentary by Noir Alley creator Eddie Muller and the late Robert Osborne.


That's all for now.  Always remember:  Stay positive, test negative, and take it easy but take it.   





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