This is Part 4 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.
Carl Erskine and Roy Campanella were battery mates for Campanella’s entire ten-year career with the Brooklyn Dodgers. If anyone should know a thing or two about how Campanella handled the pitching staff, it’s Erskine.
Campanella wasn’t exactly a rookie when he joined the Dodgers; he had been playing nine years in the Negro Leagues, learning from Hall of Famer Raleigh “Biz” Mackey. It is of little surprise then that Campanella skillfully handled his pitching staff.
“What Campy did more than anything else with the pitching staff,” Erskine said, “was how he made you pace yourself. Pitchers are always overanxious, especially if you have a bad pitch or you throw a home run or something. You want the ball back, you want to go again; he wouldn’t let you do that, he made you stay within yourself.”
Although Campanella should have worn a sign saying, “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” because he threw out 51% of would-be base stealers during his career, it was mental approach to the game that set him apart from other receivers at the time.
“His savvy … that’s something you can’t describe; he just had a feel for the game,” he said.
Erskine described how Campanella’s helped to mold on one of the mainstays of Brooklyn’s rotation, Don Newcombe.
“Campy … was great at the mind game,” Erskine said, “what to throw, when to throw it. … He was an easy personality. He helped [Don] Newcombe a lot because Newk was a little volatile and he was one of the early blacks. He had to face a lot of the indignities, same as Jackie [Robinson] did. He wasn’t handling that as well as Jackie probably, so Campy was a real soothing influence on Newcombe.”
Campanella’s ability to handle the pitchers was so esteemed, that the coaching staff let Roy be their guiding light.
“The manager would basically say to the pitching staff … ‘If you shake Campy off, you better have a good reason. He’s been around, he knows what to do; you kinda follow Roy.’ So Roy used to say to the young pitchers. ‘Now you young pitchers, you just throw what ‘Ol Campy calls and I’ll make you a winner!’” Erskine recalled.
Sometimes, Campanella would lead them down a path that didn’t always lead to victory.
“So I’d lose a game and I’d bring him a box score,” he said. “His locker was right next to mine. I’d say, ‘Hey Campy, look at this! It says Erskine losing pitcher. Shouldn’t that say Campanella, losing catcher?'” asked Erskine. Campanella ever quick-witted replied, “Well you would always shake me off!”
Special thanks also goes to the promoters of JP Sports’ East Coast National Show for accomodating us during Mr. Erskine’s appearance.