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First person: Dodgers’ Carl Erskine remembers Jackie Robinson



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Jackie Robinson made his main league debut 75 years in the past Friday. He died 50 years in the past, and few followers alive at present can say they noticed Robinson play.

Carl Erskine noticed him play every single day. Robinson made his debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Erskine adopted in 1948, and the 2 remained teammates till Robinson retired after the 1956 season. When the Dodgers moved west in 1958, Erskine was the beginning — and profitable — pitcher within the workforce’s first sport in Los Angeles.

Dodgers common supervisor Department Rickey had warned Robinson he must flip the opposite cheek at each flip if he had been to succeed at breaking baseball’s colour barrier and proving a Black man might endure within the main leagues. Robinson turned endurance into excellence, and in the end into a spot within the Corridor of Fame.

Erskine shared a clubhouse with Robinson then and shares his reminiscences with Los Angeles Occasions readers now. Erskine, 95, spoke with Occasions baseball columnist Invoice Shaikin from his house in Anderson, Ind.

First up: the primary time he met Robinson.

I used to be within the minor leagues on the time. The massive membership, the actual Dodgers, got here via to play us in an exhibition sport. After the sport was over, Jackie came to visit to our aspect of the sphere and mentioned, ‘The place’s Erskine?’ I went out and shook fingers with Jackie. I had by no means met him earlier than. He mentioned, ‘Younger man, you’re not going to be within the minor leagues very lengthy with the way in which you throw.’ That was a giant enhance for me. Positive sufficient, by midseason, I had gained 15 video games, they usually known as me as much as the Dodgers.

I joined them in Pittsburgh, and the primary man to my locker was Jackie. He mentioned, ‘I informed you you couldn’t miss.’ We struck up a great friendship.

In Brooklyn, I got here out of the clubhouse at some point, and there was an space the place wives and relations might wait. Once I got here out of the clubhouse, Rachel and little Jackie (Robinson’s son) had been there. I simply walked over, the pure factor to do, and talked with them for a couple of minutes. The following day, Jackie mentioned he wished to thank me for what I did. I mentioned, ‘I didn’t pitch yesterday.’ He mentioned, ‘No, you walked over to speak, out in entrance of the gang, to speak with Jackie and Rachel.’ I used to be virtually embarrassed. I mentioned, ‘Jackie, don’t thank me for that. Shake my hand for a well-pitched sport.’ That was a pure factor for me to do. However he was impressed by that.

I had a whole lot of good buddies rising up, Black children in my neighborhood, and I by no means had any downside in any respect with that. Jackie requested me at some point, ‘How come you don’t have any downside with this black and white factor?’ I mentioned, ‘My greatest pal rising up, from 10 years previous on, was Johnny Wilson, a Black younger man in my neighborhood. In order that by no means was a difficulty with me, and it by no means can be.’ (Wilson grew as much as play for the Harlem Globetrotters.)

Brooklyn Dodgers players after a workout at Ebbets Field in New York in 1954.

Brooklyn Dodgers gamers, from left, Jim Gilliam, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Jackie Robinson, supervisor Walter Alston, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodgers, Carl Furillo, Billy Cox and Carl Erskine are proven after a exercise at Ebbets Discipline in New York in 1954.

(Jacob Harris / Related Press)

There have been some early experiences the place the motels would say, ‘We don’t serve Black friends.’ In a single occasion, Mr. Rickey mentioned, ‘Can he keep in my room with me?’ And that’s how they bought by. As soon as Jackie bought established within the league, most of that stuff went away.

In baseball, a whole lot of nasty stuff comes out of the opposite dugout. And, once you’re on the highway, from the followers within the stands.

Jackie took a whole lot of warmth, however he dealt with it very properly. I knew Robin Roberts of the Phillies. I had pitched in opposition to him many occasions, and I bought to be good pals with him off the sphere. He mentioned, ‘I informed our workforce, we’ve been getting on Jackie, and it’s killing us. Let’s get off him, as a result of the extra we get on him, the extra he beats us.’ That was the way in which Jackie was. All the warmth that he took simply energized him. He took it out on the bases.

He had a dignity about him. As robust as he was, and as fierce a participant as he was, he needed to make a promise to Mr. Rickey that he would by no means combat. I by no means noticed Jackie combat within the clubhouse, on the sphere, in a restaurant, anyplace. He promised Mr. Rickey he would by no means combat and, to my information, historical past can file that he by no means did. He was true to his phrase.

All of us on the workforce watched how Jackie dealt with himself, in some very tight spots generally. He was very clever, very properly spoken. He dealt with it. He took the sting off it. After which folks started to appreciate, this man is a category individual, and he’s an incredible participant. Any resentment sort of light away after they bought to know Jackie and watch him play.

Carl Erskine pitches for the Brooklyn Dodgers against the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the 1952 World Series.

Carl Erskine pitches for the Brooklyn Dodgers in opposition to the New York Yankees in Sport 5 of the 1952 World Sequence.

(Related Press)

I by no means noticed Jackie backhand a ball. He at all times was capable of get in entrance of the ball, even on a ball up the center, enjoying second base. The ball can be hit to his proper, and he would at all times have the ability to get in entrance of the ball and make the play.

Jackie was so fast along with his fingers and toes. That’s why he was a terrific baserunner. He was fast, and also you’ve bought to separate that from being quick.

He saved my no-hitter. He made a play at third base, a ball hit by Willie Mays, that was to the left of him at third base. It could have been a base hit with virtually anyone there, however Jackie was so fast, and he stabbed that ball. It was hit fairly a methods to his left, and he turned it into a straightforward out.

Our nation was really black and white. That’s the way in which it was. It was a really distinct cultural divide. So with what Jackie did, folks noticed what a gentleman he was, and the way clever he was, and the way thrilling he was as a participant. He broke down a lot of social limitations that had been ingrained in our society for a few centuries.

He didn’t push arduous, however he stood his floor. He dealt with the press very properly. He was a thinker. So he was conscious he was having fairly an influence on the sport of baseball, not solely as a participant however as a Black particular person.

I believe Jackie would have been actually happy {that a} Black participant turned a supervisor. I believe he’d say it is a good begin, however there’s loads of room left for development.

I admired Jackie. He didn’t need to shrink back from anyone. He dealt with himself so properly, with the press and with the followers. He was really a Corridor of Famer.

I at all times thought it was attention-grabbing that, when Jackie went into the Corridor of Fame, it was very symbolic. The Corridor of Fame plaques are all the identical colour. They’re all bronze. That’s a symbolic message from the Corridor of Fame.