It was a sunny late spring day in Naples, FL when walking with my wife Tara we came upon a gentleman riding his bike. He stopped to say hello and of course the topic of baseball came up. He mentioned he was friends with a famous ballplayer in Anderson, IN. He asked if I ever heard the name Carl Erskine. I said I saw him play in the 1950s. For those of you who never have heard of him, Carl pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers and LA. Dodgers from 1948 to 1959. For his 12-season career, he posted a 122-78 (.610) record with 981 strikeouts and a 4.00 ERA in 1718 innings pitched. His prime years were from 1952 through 1957 when he appeared in 11 World Series games (1949-52-53-55-56) and made the NL All-Star team in 1954. He pitched 2 no-hitters, one in 1952 and one in 1956. ANYONE who remembers the Brooklyn Dodgers remembers Carl Erskine, the right-hander with the overhand curveball, who in 1953 had a 20-6 record striking out 14 Yankees in a World Series game.
I will refer to the gentleman I met that day as Mr. W. Mr. W. told me he had a book written by his friend Carl Erskine that I should read. He hopped on his bicycle,went home and retrieved the book and gave it to me. In the inside flap was a note from Carl Erskine to him stating how much he appreciated the years they spent together. Mr. W. told me how and why they connected up with each other. After retiring from baseball, Carl Erskine returned to his home in Anderson, IN. In 1960 his wife Betty gave birth to their 4th child a son named Jimmy, born with Down’s syndrome. What brought these 2 men together was Mr. W. also has a mentally challenged son. The 2 men worked together to set up programs including swimming, bowling and even baseball for all the mentally challenged children in Anderson, IN. Today, in Naples, FL Mr. W. continues helping with programs for mentally challenged children. With the book in my hand I bid farewell to Mr. W.
I decided to do more research on Carl Erskine and Jimmy. What follows comes from Carl Erskine’s book titled “What I Learned from Jackie Robinson.” He compared the treatment Jackie Robinson received from society with what mentally challenged children had to endure in 1960. Jackie and Carl were teammates from 1948 until 1956 with the Dodgers. Over the years as Robinson’s teammate, Erskine learned, as he wrote, “that life is all about making life better for the next generation.” And, in the most important of Robinson’s lessons for Erskine, that next generation would include his and his wife Betty’s fourth child, Jimmy. “America had some of the same social attitudes toward people with disabilities as it had toward race relations,” Erskine wrote. “Jackie made people look beyond race, inside their own souls, inside the depths of what made them human, and see the light.” “I often felt,” Erskine wrote, “Jackie came into my life to teach me how to channel energy and anger toward what was happening around me with Jimmy and society’s non-acceptance of Down syndrome and other birth defects. I had played with Jackie for 9 seasons, living side by side with him in the clubhouse and on the road. Today I have a 44-year relationship with my son Jimmy.”
Jimmy has worked for Applebee’s for over 8 years and the manager told Carl that the place runs better when Jimmy is there. Jimmy was predestined to be institutionalized. But, thanks to loving parents, today is living a productive life. Because of examples like Jimmy more and more businesses are hiring mentally challenged people. As was true of Jackie Robinson people like Jimmy Erskine are responsible for creating a more loving and caring society. Erskine wrote, “Jackie and Jimmy, two of my best buddies, changed the face of America.