Erskine remembered as a humble and gracious hero

Apr. 16—ANDERSON — Carl Erskine, who passed away early Tuesday as Major League Baseball was running down the curtain on a day honoring his teammate and friend Jackie Robinson, will be remembered nationally as a Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger legend, a champion of civil rights and a leader for inclusion of children with special needs.

But around Anderson, he is known as a humble and gracious hero.

He often attended Anderson High School events, including performing the national anthem at baseball games on his harmonica. Anderson athletic director Steve Schindler also said his fondest memory of Erskine involves the harmonica but has nothing to do with sports.

"The thing that I remember before I was the AD, I worked at the rehab center that is named after Carl," Schindler said. "We would invite him to our Christmas parties, and he would come and play his harmonica for us during our lunch hour."

Erskine will be forever connected to 1946 Mr. Basketball "Jumpin'" Johnny Wilson as their lifelong friendship helped bridge racial divides that were still very prevalent in 20th-century Indiana. Although Wilson passed away in 2019 at the age of 91, the families will always be connected.

John Wilson Jr. believes his father greeted Erskine upon his entry into Heaven and the pair immediately headed to a nearby basketball court or golf course to catch up.

"I got pretty emotional when I heard about it," Wilson Jr. said. "My thought was, 'Those guys will be together again.'"

It was Erskine's devotion to racial equality that earned him national recognition, most recently as the 2023 recipient of the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Buck O'Neil Award. Wilson's son recalled a story of the two winning a baseball tournament in Anderson. The trophy, however, was withheld because Wilson participated in the segregated tournament.

That never sat well with Erskine.

It was a belief that continued with the Dodgers when Erskine befriended Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947.

"He talked about what a wonderful athlete Robinson was and how he was able to transcend that racism," former Anderson and Daleville baseball coach Terry Turner said. "My interaction, through my dad, was the relationship that those two had.

"It goes beyond anybody's imagination that two kids — one white and one Black — in the 1930s in the state of Indiana could have a friendship that was pretty visible. That part of their story is great."

His reach was not limited to baseball. Erskine was instrumental in the decision for his college alma mater to be the training camp home of the Colts, who had just arrived in Indianapolis from Baltimore in the early 1980s.

Colts owner Jim Irsay took to Twitter and shared his remembrance of Erskine on Tuesday afternoon.

"Carl called when we arrived in Indy and convinced me to make Anderson College (now University) our training camp," Irsay tweeted. "An amazing gentleman who loved his home town."

Turner, who revered Erskine, was devastated upon learning Tuesday afternoon of Erskine's passing.

"He was an icon from Anderson, a tremendous athlete," Turner said. "You expect someone like that will live forever."

Turner frequently invited Erskine to speak to his baseball team and was always struck by the former Dodger's humility and grace.

He recalled the ceremony retiring Erskine's number at Anderson High School and that Erskine could not remember what number he wore in high school. The decision was made to retire 17, his uniform number with the Dodgers.

"He told me once, 'God gifted me with the ability to throw a baseball, but other than that I'm just like everyone else,'" Turner said. "I asked if I could have an autographed baseball and he asked me why. Just such humility."

Contact Rob Hunt at or 765-640-4886.