July 23, 2005 / Sports / Brooklyn Cyclones / The Play’s the Thing

Welcome home to ‘Oisk’ & da ‘bums

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Brooklyn Papers Cyclones Coverage JULY 23, 2005 ISSUE

Welcome home to ‘Oisk’ & da ‘bums

This Saturday, July 23, the Cyclones are holding a celebration to commemorate the Brooklyn Dodgers’ 1955 championship, and Carl Erskine, Clem Labine, and Ed Roebuck, three pitchers from that club, are scheduled to be at Keyspan Park.

Back in ’55, the Dodgers entered the World Series having previously lost five times to the crosstown-rival New York Yankees, and the team was getting old. Fans and players wondered if the core of the team, which had been together since the late 1940s, would ever get another chance.

The 1955 Series went to seven games, with the deciding game played at Yankee Stadium. Sandy Amoros made a game-saving catch in left field, Johnny Podres pitched a shutout, and Brooklyn won 2-0.

A mainstay for the Dodgers was starter and right-hander Carl Erskine. He accumulated a big-league record of 128-78, pitched two no-hitters, and once held the record for strikeouts in a World Series game, fanning 14 Yankees in 1953.

In a telephone interview last week from Anderson, Ind., his boyhood hometown where he still resides, Erskine, affectionately called “Oisk” by fans, talked about his years in Brooklyn, the 1955 Dodgers and his return to the borough.

“I was called up to the Dodgers from Fort Worth, Texas, at age 21, and I didn’t have enough money to live in a hotel,”said Erskine, “There was a YMCA in Brooklyn, the Hanson Place Y, and I got a room. I stayed there the first season and I was 5-0, and I often thought when I got in a slump that I ought to go back and stay at the Y.”

Erskine later lived in Brooklyn in Bay Ridge, at Lafayette Walk, and he was with the Dodgers when they lost the pennant on the last day of the season three times, including 1951 to the Giants. Erskine played for Brooklyn in World Series defeats to the Yankees in 1949, 1952 and 1953.

While Brooklyn exploded in spontaneous joy at the moment of the 1955 World Series win, the scene in the Dodger clubhouse minutes later was a little different.

“The moment we went into the clubhouse after celebrating on the field, this great team — the team of [Gil] Hodges and [Pee Wee] Reese and [Duke] Snider, and [Roy] Campanella, and [Jackie] Robinson and [Carl] Furillo — this great team was in a moment or two of deep, serious reflection before the champagne popped, that we had finally gained a world’s championship for our fans. This team felt bad that we didn’t win [before], but we felt worse that we didn’t win [in Ebbets Field] for our fans in Brooklyn who had waited forever.”

Erskine and his family still keeps up with people he met while playing with the Dodgers. He e-mails Philip Steiner, the son of Morris Steiner, the family pediatrician during their stay in Brooklyn, and he corresponds with members of his fan club, who were teenagers during his time here.

“We still have lots of close connections in Brooklyn. That’s my second home,” said Erskine.

The former pitcher will sign copies of his recent book, “What I Learned from Jackie,” on his visit to Keyspan Park.

“There is a rush of emotion, because even though it’s a different setting — we’re not going back to Ebbets Field, we’re not going to see our neighbors, probably — we’ll be shaking hands with many young fans. But to go back to Brooklyn where there is still baseball being played professionally — that’s a thrill. I said once when I came back to see the Cyclones, that I feel like the grandfather to these young kids, who are all gifted players.”

When Erskine arrives at Keyspan Park, he’ll see the pedestal of the forthcoming statue of Robinson and Reese that will commemorate the moment in May, 1947, on the infield Cincinnati when Reese, from Kentucky, put his arm around Robinson, who was the target of verbal abuse from some Cincinnati players and fans, and the recipient of hate mail, including death threats.

“I thought that [the statue] was a very appropriate way to affix in time a moment when America changed, when we began to accept people on the value of who they were — and that was a signal moment in American history. ”

Erskine notes, however, that those changes in baseball did not come all at once.

“Now, it didn’t all happen in that moment, but it signified that that’s when the change was put in place. When Jackie put his civvies on, he was still a black man in America in the 1940s and early 1950s.

“It took seven years for all the hotels to accept the black players on the Dodgers. So that statue is a significant piece of history if people will read the history and know what it meant.”

Branch Rickey, the Dodger executive, signed Robinson, and also signed most of the other players that formed the nucleus of those great Dodger teams of the late 1940s and the 1950s.

Rickey sought men of character and he found them. Year after year, the Dodgers of the post-World War II era were in the pennant race, winning in 1947, 1949, 1953, 1955 and 1956.

But 1955 was special — the year they won it all.

Carl Erskine, Clem Labine (who pitched in four games in that series, winning Game Four and saving Game Five), and reliever Ed Roebuck will be at Keyspan Saturday night to greet fans, new and old.

New fans could learn something about those 1955 champions, and old fans will never forget.

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