When we think of the great Brooklyn Dodgers teams of the 1950s, immediately the names of Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Pee Wee Reese come to mind.
The true diehards and history buffs can surely rattle off the whole roster. For most, though, it takes being stuck in traffic on the Belt Parkway for a reminder of a talented pitcher on “Dem Bums.”
When you reach Exit 15, the large “Erskine Street” sign greets you in Starrett City. Carl Erskine was, of course, an integral part of the Dodgers’ success in the ’50s and was beloved by Brooklynites throughout the borough.
Now 92 years old, Erskine resides with his wife, Betty, 90, in Anderson, Ind. A walking encyclopedia of baseball stories, Erskine still thoroughly enjoys reminiscing about the good old days playing ball at Ebbets Field in Crown Heights.
Erskine pitched parts of 12 seasons for the Dodgers from 1948 to 1959, making five World Series appearances along the way. He won 20 games in 1953 and was named an All-Star in 1954. He finished his career with a record of 122-78 – a .610 winning percentage – as both a starter and a reliever.
For the past few years, Erskine has developed a friendship with Patrick Tarpey, a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise, Prospect Lefferts Gardens – located just three blocks from where Ebbets Field once stood. Tarpey’s grandfather was John J. Tarpey, the former fiscal director of Catholic Charities of New York and a lifelong Brooklyn Dodgers fan.
John Tarpey, a parishioner at St. Lucy-St. Patrick, Fort Greene, instilled in his grandson a love of baseball and an even greater love of the Dodgers.
“The stories that he (John) would pass down to me, I would just absorb them like a sponge,” said Tarpey, 53. “I’m a big baseball guy. I love baseball.”
Tarpey’s interest in the Dodgers led him to track down Erskine through the mail, writing about how his grandfather loved the Dodgers and attended games often at Ebbets Field, including the World Series. The two sent letters back and forth to each other and occasionally spoke on the telephone. Tarpey was enthralled by the countless stories Erskine shared.
Like the time he struck out Mickey Mantle and Joe Collins four times each in Game Three of the 1953 World Series against the Yankees, setting a since-broken record of 14 strikeouts in a World Series game.
Or how he pitched two no-hitters at Ebbets Field, making him the only pitcher in baseball history to pitch multiple no-hitters at 1720 Bedford Ave.
Or the great memories of the 1955 World Series, when the Dodgers finally came through against the mighty New York Yankees.
A Day to Remember
Last May, Tarpey along with Erskine’s close friend Jim Denny visited the former Dodger in Indiana on a day when the local Little League would be naming their field complex in Erskine’s honor. The day began with another hours-long conversation about baseball in Erskine’s living room.
“I felt like I had my grandfather next to me when I was talking to him (Erskine),” Tarpey said.
The trio then departed for the facility. Little did Erskine know that there was a surprise in store.
“As we turned the corner, there were all these people with Brooklyn Dodger hats, and Carl knew something was up,” Tarpey said.
Erskine just thought he’d be attending a game, but instead the entire town of Anderson showed up to give their support. It was a hot day so Tarpey needed a hat, but all he had with him was a Mets hat.
“Carl, all I have is this Mets hat. Should I put on a Dodger hat?” Tarpey said. “He (Erskine) said, ‘No Patrick, leave that Mets hat on. The Mets are the grandsons of the Brooklyn Dodgers.’”
Erskine was overjoyed to see all the Brooklyn Dodger hats in his hometown, and Tarpey was ecstatic to share in such a memorable experience. For all his years of donating to charitable causes – like the Special Olympics – and dedicating himself to those less fortunate, Erskine has served as a shining example of a devoted Christian on and off the baseball field.
“Carl has lived a life caring for others and is a remarkable man,” Tarpey said. “Carl in my eyes is an example of how Jesus wants us to live life caring for others. I am proud to know Carl Erskine.”
So the next time traffic backs up around Exit 15 on the Belt Parkway – which it probably already has – remember the great Carl Erskine and how today’s Mets are truly direct descendants of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“Dem Bums” continue to live on in Brooklyn, in Anderson, Ind., and in the hearts and minds of all those who remember the glory days of Brooklyn baseball.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.