Thursday, September 15, 2011

Carl Erskine talks sign stealing and the 1951 Giants and Dodgers rivalry

Carl Erskine was one ill-placed curveball from possibly changing the fate of the 1951 playoff between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.

When manager Charlie Dressen checked with his coach Clyde Sukeforth on the status of both Erskine and Ralph Branca to relieve a tiring Don Newcombe, Sukeforth replied, “He [Erskine] just bounced his curveball.” A few pitches later, Bobby Thomson stepped up to the plate and blasted the infamous home run off of Ralph Branca that became widely known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

This is Part 5 of a series of interviews with Brooklyn Dodger great Carl Erskine about his experiences playing with the storied franchise. Erskine appeared recently in New York on behalf of the Bob Feller Museum and was kind enough to grant us access to produce this series of vignettes regarding his career.

Much speculation has developed as to whether the Giants were using a sign-stealing system that gave Thomson advanced knowledge of Branca’s inside fastball. Author Joshua Prager drew an admission from the late Giants third-string catcher Sal Yvars in his book, The Echoing Green, that the Giants were indeed relaying pitch information to their hitters. Thomson, however, until the day he died, vehemently denied that he had any knowledge of Branca’s offerings.

Erskine, who has often discussed his recollections of that fateful October day in 1951, didn’t seem to have ill feelings about the issue of sign-stealing 60 years later.

“Well, if you go to that year, ’51, there is no rule that I know of about using a telescope or a set of binoculars to steal signs,” he said. “It’s always assumed that ethically you steal them on the field, second base, or if the catcher is a little sloppy so that the first base can see, or some mannerism that the catcher does every time he calls a curveball his elbow goes out. Other than the ethics involved of mechanically stealing, baseball didn’t have any rule against it.”

That’s not to say that Erskine didn’t have his suspicions about it taking place across the league.

“We used to think Chicago, with that scoreboard in Wrigley Field, where they used to hang the numbers, there are big openings,” he said. “Those guys probably stole signs from the scoreboard; nobody ever checked it.”

Special thanks also goes to the promoters of JP Sports' East Coast National Show for accommodating us during Mr. Erskine's appearance.


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