In the classic baseball novel “The Boys of Summer,” Carl Erskine was referred to as a philosopher, a poet, an “existential man.” New York sportswriters called him “the gentleman from Indiana.” Fred Claire, former Dodgers general manager, said no one’s life story is more worthy of being told. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, in giving Carl the state’s highest honor, the Sachem Award, said simply: “He’s the best we’ve got.”
Now 95, Carl Erskine is the last man standing of those Brooklyn Dodgers’ fabled “Boys of Summer.” And does he have a story to tell.
A story of the Golden Age of Baseball, playing in five Subway Series, setting the Series strikeout record, throwing two no-hitters, taking Pullmans from town to town with Pee Wee and Campy and Duke, leaving Ebbets Field and pitching the Dodgers’ very first game in Los Angeles.
But that’s only the beginning. Carl played a seminal role in two of the great human-rights movements of the past century, first as a teammate and close friend of Jackie Robinson, then as a pioneer in the fight for people with special needs. Carl and his wife Betty raised their Down syndrome son Jimmy at home when there was no schooling or services. They started grass-roots programs, pushed for legislation that ultimately abolished prison-like institutions and is leading to full societal integration. Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver would fly Carl around the country to give his call to action. And Jimmy’s annual trips to Dodgertown left indelible memories: Closing fantasy camp with the final at-bat, circling the bases and sliding into home, getting hugs from his dad and Tommy Lasorda. Bringing tears to the eyes of all present.
“Without the Carl Erskines of the world,” said Tim Shriver, Eunice’s son and CEO of Special Olympics International, “we would never know the real power of sport.”
There is not a better man alive than Carl Daniel Erskine. Through unpublished home movies dating to the 1930s, classic archival baseball footage and more than 40 interviews, including with Shriver, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, Slick Leonard, Mitch Daniels and experts in the evolution of special-needs treatment, filmmaker Ted Green captures Carl’s inspirational, beautifully American story for posterity.