Kiwanian Carl “Oisk” Erskine talks about Branch Rickey.
I was a skinny kid from the west side of Anderson, Indiana, and there was no way in my wildest fantasy that I’d ever pitch in the major leagues. The first inkling was in East Chicago when I was 16 years old, and we played a bunch of burly kids from Hammond (Indiana). I think I struck out 20 or 21 in that game, and two gentlemen came over, well dressed and wanted to talk to me. They were scouts for the Chicago Cubs. I couldn’t believe it.
Later they sent me a letter and offered me a contract. I just finished my sophomore year in high school, and I couldn’t quit school, so I passed up the chance. Then I graduated from high school and got drafted in the (U.S.) Navy.
While I was in the Navy and stationed at Boston Navy yard, I pitched for a semi-pro team in Boston, and the guy that ran that team took me to see the Boston Braves. They took me out to Braves field, and I threw batting practice. The Braves said, “Oh gosh, we want you back.” Now the Braves want to sign me.
There was a scout in Indianapolis named Stanley Feezle. He was a Big 10 (Conference) official and also had a wholesale sporting goods business, but he was a part-time scout. So, he was the one trailing me and Jack Rector and sending the reports in about us.
The Dodgers had invited us to a weeklong visit to Ebbets Field, and they paid our expenses and treated us like royalty. So, they put the hook in me real fast. I didn’t want to play for the Braves. I wanted to play for the Dodgers.
I called Mr. Rickey, who had scouted me, and said, “Hey, the Braves are putting the heat on me to sign. I don’t want to sign with the Braves.” He said, “Don’t do anything. Sit tight.”
So, Mr. Rickey sent for my mother and dad, because you had to be 21 in those days to sign a contract, and I was 19. Mr. Rickey had paid me a bonus, which was unheard of in those days. He gave me $3,500 because the Braves had offered me some money.
After three weeks, I got discharged from the Navy, and I went to Danville, Illinois, the Three-I League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League), to start my pro career. But I was only there a month because it was the end of the season.
I came home and got a call from the commissioner of baseball, “Happy” Chandler, in Cincinnati (Ohio). He said, “I want you in my office with your father next Tuesday at 10 o’clock.”
The commissioner of baseball, what?
I went there, and he said, “Son, I’m going to declare you a free agent, because the Dodgers signed you before you were out of the Navy. You cannot sign a player who still has obligation to the military, only after you are discharged.” So, he gave me my free agency.
Now, two or three clubs offered me bonuses, but I still wanted to play for the Dodgers, so I said to Mr. Rickey, “If you give me another $5,000, I’ll sign with the Dodgers.” I didn’t want to play for anybody else, and $5,000 was more money than my dad made working in the Delco Remy plant all year long. He made probably $3,500.
I ended up getting two bonuses from Branch Rickey!
I was pitching in New York on a Saturday game of the week. I pitched a no-hitter against the Giants, and Dizzy Dean and Buddy Blattner, the broadcasters, had me on for an interview after the game.
Dizzy Dean was off the wall, not a conventional baseball broadcaster. He said, “Who signed you son?” I said, “Branch Rickey.”
“Oh, the cheapest man who ever lived. I played for him in St. Louis. Cheap, cheap, cheap,” said Dean.
I said, “Well, actually Mr. Rickey gave me two bonuses” … and I told him the story. Dean turned to the camera, and he said, “Folks, this young man deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, not because he pitched two no-hitters, but because he got two bonuses out of Branch Rickey.”
Carl Erskine was one of the former Brooklyn Dodgers profiled in Roger Kahn’s book “The Boys of Summer.” At the conclusion of his career, Erskine returned to his hometown, established a career in banking and joined the Kiwanis Club of Anderson.