A few weeks ago, when the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 6 of the World Series, 94-year-old Carl Erskine sat on his couch in Anderson and savored the moment. It had been 32 years since the Dodgers were last victorious in the October Classic, but 65 years since the Hoosier-born pitcher sat in the dugout at Yankee Stadium and watched fellow teammate Johnny Podres defeat the Yankees in Game 7. It was the first time the Dodgers had won the series — ever.
Da Bums, as they were called when the team was in Brooklyn, had faced the Yankees in what seemed like a hundred previous World Series games (four, actually) and lost every time. I called Carl after last week’s game. He was a childhood hero of mine and now a friend.
In addition to Carl, only Roger Craig and Sandy Koufax are still around from that iconic Dodgers team, which included Jackie Robinson.
“The survivors are all pitchers,” observed Carl, who added, “but we must include Vince Scully.”
Now 92, Scully was the Dodgers’ announcer for 67 years and was, according to Carl, “a true poet,” an observation about Scully’s unmatched ability to paint a picture of what was happening on the field, both on TV and radio. Scully once had the temerity to remain silent for 38 seconds while the crowd savored and cheered the end of a Sandy Koufax perfect game.
Things have changed in baseball. As fans, we may be a little overwhelmed by some of the statistics managers are supplied with (what’s this guy’s batting average on a 3-2 count with men on base with two out in the 7th inning against a left-handed pitcher? Yeah, computers can do stuff like that).
Carl remembers that the Dodgers had one of the first statisticians back in the ’50s, a guy who kept track of every pitch and at-bat with a variety of symbols he jotted down in his notebook. With no computer to feed the figures into, the data wasn’t quite so detailed.
“Of course, a lot of this was intuitive, info we simply absorbed from playing and watching the game,” Carl said.
Carl likes to drop names, especially the name of one guy who seldom dropped anything: New York Giants center fielder Willie Mays. Willie once told Carl that he knew every pitch Carl was about to throw because the Giants had a telescope in the center-field stands picking up the signs from the catcher, then transmitting them to batters by waving a small white flag.
Here’s a sign I picked up: Carl Erskine still enjoys the game and he also relishes every moment with Betty, his wife of 73 years. Now, there’s a record that’s hard to beat!