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 Indianapolis Indians

Indians Statement on the Passing of Carl Erskine

April 16, 2024 - International League (IL)
Indianapolis Indians News Release

The Indianapolis Indians are deeply saddened by the passing of Anderson, Ind. native and former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger Carl Erskine. He was 97 years old.

Erskine spent 12 seasons in the major leagues from 1948-59 and died a baseball legend as one of the greatest ballplayers ever from the state of Indiana. In his rookie season, Erskine befriended Jackie Robinson, just one year after Robinson broke baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947. Erskine amassed 122 wins in 335 career big-league games (216 starts) and was a 20-game winner for Brooklyn in 1953. The right-hander pitched in five World Series (1949, '52-53, '55-56) - all against the New York Yankees - and struck out a then-record 14 batters in Game 3 of the 1953 Fall Classic. He also started in the Dodgers' first game upon moving to Los Angeles in 1958.

Erskine's childhood experiences laid the foundation for his close relationship with Robinson, with their friendship lasting through Robinson's final season in 1956 and in the many years to follow. During Erskine's youth in Anderson, he was not only a star on the diamond but on the basketball court, where he befriended "Jumpin" Johnny Wilson, who was Black. Wilson and Erskine developed an unbreakable bond, and they carried Anderson High School to the IHSAA boys' basketball state semifinals in 1944. Their lifelong friendship spanned 80 years.

In addition to his commitment to racial equality, Erskine was passionate about helping those with intellectual disabilities. His son Jimmy, who passed away in November 2023, was born with Down syndrome. Erskine was Jimmy's biggest fan, and he devoted his time away from baseball to raising awareness for Special Olympics of Indiana. Erskine's 1955 World Series ring was second in his household to Jimmy's gold medals won at the Special Olympics. In 2023 Erskine received the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award for his charitable contributions and work with Special Olympics.

Erskine frequented Victory Field in recent years to meet fans, sign autographs, play the national anthem with his harmonica and most powerfully, share stories of his upbringing, the relationships he developed with Wilson and Robinson, and memories with Jimmy. Erskine was recently documented in 2022 by Ted Green in the film "The Best We've Got."

Randy Lewandowski, Indianapolis Indians president and CEO, issued the following statement:

"Carl Erskine was a great baseball player, but he was a better person. His commitment to racial equality, human rights and raising awareness for those with intellectual disabilities go far beyond his contributions to the Dodgers' success in the 1940s and '50s. Carl and I connected over our ties to Anderson College/University, and his positive impact in Anderson and the state of Indiana spreads far and wide. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Erskine family, including his wife, Betty, his sons, Danny and Gary, and daughter, Susan. We will miss him dearly."

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