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The Christophers: Baseball Legend Models Love of God and Neighbor

Tony Rossi,

Director of Communications


Carl Erskine may not be a household name anymore, but he deserves to be. During the 1940s and 50s, he helped the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only World Series against their crosstown rivals, the Yankees. But Carl’s legacy exceeds anything he accomplished on the field. Long before the word “inclusion” became a mainstay in our national conversations, Carl modeled an attitude of welcoming to others who were different from him throughout his childhood, as a teammate of Jackie Robinson, and as the father of a child with Down syndrome. His story is now being told in the Christopher Award-winning documentary “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story.” Filmmaker Ted Green joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” to talk about Erskine’s remarkable life.

Carl’s earliest memory was visiting the site of a lynching. He was four years old in 1930 when his father took him to Marion, Indiana, to see the aftermath of what had happened the day before. The elder Erskine’s goal was to demonstrate to his son that this was “hate at its worst.” Thankfully, Carl’s parents lived their Christian faith in a way that was courageously enlightened for the times. They taught him to love God and love his neighbor—and they included people of all colors in their definition of “neighbor.”

A defining incident occurred when Carl was 10 years old. He was playing buckets one day in an alley in his neighborhood when Johnny Wilson, a nine-year-old African American child, saw him and watched shyly from the side. Carl walked up to Johnny, held his ball out, and asked, “Do you want to play?” Ted observed, “It seems like the simplest thing in the world,” but it flew in the face of the prevailing worldview that white and black kids should stay apart. Carl and Johnny went on to become great friends, and Johnny was welcomed into the Erskine’s home many times.

Fast forward to 1948. Carl became a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers and a teammate of Jackie Robinson, who had broken Major League Baseball’s color barrier just one year earlier. Robinson faced racism from many people, but he and Carl became fast friends. In fact, Jackie was amazed at how naturally Carl accepted him and his family. For instance, on a day when he wasn’t pitching, Carl walked over to a section of Ebbets Field that was fenced off for the players’ families. Fans were nearby too, reaching through the fence to get autographs.

“Carl steps out there, and he notices an [African American] woman and her young son standing all by themselves and nobody is talking to them,” said Ted. “Carl walks up, starts a conversation with Rachel Robinson, roughs up Jackie Robinson, Jr’s hair. The next day, Jackie made a point to approach him and say, ‘Carl, I just wanna thank you for what you did yesterday…You went out of your way to make Rachel and Jackie Jr. feel accepted in front of all those people. That means a lot.’ And Carl is befuddled. [He said], ‘That’s the most natural thing in the world.’”

Ted added, “Carl shows how easy it can be if you put decency first, if you put others before you. In fact…I believe that Carl is the perfect embodiment of what’s etched onto Jackie Robinson’s tombstone: a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

In my next column, we’ll look at how Carl Erskine created a more welcoming country for children with Down syndrome.


For free copies of the Christopher News Note WALKING IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail:

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