This is Part 1 of a series of interviews with Brooklyn Dodger great Carl Erskine about his experiences playing with the storied franchise. Erskine appeared recently in New York on behalf of the Bob Feller Museum and was kind enough to grant us access to produce this series of vignettes regarding his career.
Nineteen-fifty-five was a banner season in Brooklyn. The Dodgers finally won the pennant, proclaiming themselves bums no more. Johnny Podres shut down the heralded Yankees in Game 7, rightfully placing the champagne on the Brooklyn side of the dugout. Roy Campanella edged out teammate Duke Snider for National League MVP honors. The Dodgers, for once, were the sole kings of New York.
For pitcher Carl Erskine, 1955 holds a more special distinction in his heart. Every pitcher has dreams of swinging the lumber like their mighty counterparts. The Dodger lineup was filled with many who could send the ball out of the park in a heartbeat. One June evening that season in Ebbets Field, a well placed fastball allowed him for a night to roll up his sleeves and take one leisurely stroll around the bases.
On the mound was the intimidating “Toothpick” Sam Jones, who earned the nickname because he pitched with a toothpick in his mouth. Known for his deadly curveball, he led the National League in strikeouts during three different seasons.
Just the mention of his name immediately evoked memories of Jones’ hammering curve-ball. “Oh nasty, oh nasty! Oh it was one of the toughest!” exclaimed Erskine. To illustrate how great Jones’ pitch was, he relayed a story about a matchup against the aforementioned Campanella. “Well his curveball was big and it broke late. I could remember Campy one game in Chicago. Campy hit in a squat [as Erskine demonstrates Campanella’s stance] and Campy goes down, and he sits down! Strike! You don’t see that in the big leagues. His curve ball was big and it was nasty.”
In the bottom of the 5th inning, Erskine stepped to the plate with one out. “Sam Jones, he could throw hard; [that’s] probably why I hit it out. We had a 6-0 lead at the time [it was actually 1-0, the Dodgers ended up winning 7-0], so it wasn’t like an important run or anything,” said Erskine. Luckily for him, his first [and only] round-tripper had witnesses. “I had some friends I left tickets for right behind the dugout. So I had plenty of witnesses back in my hometown [to say], ‘Yes he did.’”
So frustrated was Jones for giving up a long ball to the opposing pitcher, Erskine said he did the unthinkable, he got rid of his trademark toothpick! “What he did that night, when I hit that home run, he threw away his toothpick. As I’m going to first base, he throws it down on the mound.”
Special thanks also goes to the promoters of JP Sports’ East Coast National Show for accomodating us during Mr. Erskine’s appearance.