Former Major League Baseball pitcher Carl Erskine recalled his years on the diamond with legend Jackie Robinson Thursday night at Hillel.
The former Brooklyn Dodger was the first of three speakers the sociology department and Jackie Robinson Society will sponsor through next month.
The All Star pitcher described Robinson as a “real gentleman, very refined and very intense,” with whom he had “a rich and wonderful friendship.”
Robinson played for the Brooklyn team, which later moved to Los Angeles, from 1947 to 1956, winning a Rookie of the Year title and helping the team to six pennants and one World Series title. Erskine joined the team in 1948 and retired with Robinson.
GW sociology professor Richard Zamoff described the struggle for Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers to gain acceptance and respect from other teams and the public.
“A national team became a national issue,” he said.
Erskine said bigotry was not as much of a problem during play as it was off the field. Robinson stayed at a separate hotel from the rest of the team and received death threats before games.
But Robinson never retaliated against these acts of racism, Erksine said.
“The best thing (Robinson) did was control himself,” he said.
Erskine credited Robinson for the integration of major league baseball.
“(Robinson) felt as though he represented his whole race and all of the segregated society,” he said. “He felt obligated to never be satisfied that only he made it.”
The team, Erskine said, was quick to accept Robinson. Erskine said the clubhouse racism had been “overdramatized,” mostly by the media, when asked if some players did not accept an integrated baseball team.
Erskine said teammates Dixie Walker and Bobby Braegan rejected the idea of an integrated team, but Erskine reminded the audience that these two players were raised in the deep South in a then-segregated society. Erskine also said Walker and Braegan later admitted that their views were wrong.
Erskine credited the idea to integrate the Dodgers to Branch Ricky, manager and owner of the team. He also praised Happy Chandler, the commissioner of baseball at the time, for allowing Ricky to integrate the team.
Robinson’s intensity made him a great player, Erskine said.
“He excited crowds,” Erskine said. “He brought a new energy to the game.”