A Lesson Learned from Carl Erskine – A Baseball Great and Indiana Hero
Carl raised his hand at the podium and paused to look at his professional Baseball World Series Championship Ring, then shifted his gaze over the podium and into the crowd gathered before him. He softly states, “I love this ring, the ring I received when my team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, won the World Series back in 1955.” He looks around the room and makes eye contact with each individual that is hanging on his every word. “But, I have to ask myself, so what?” He smiles, “We were professional athletes, we were some of the best athletes in the world, we had a team filled with future hall-of-famers, and we were supposed to win!”
Carl drops his hand, and reaches into his suit pocket and slowly pulls out an award from his suit jacket. It was a small medallion hanging from a red, white, and blue ribbon. “This is the medal, my son Jimmy won, at the Special Olympics.” Carl drops his head and looks down at the podium reflecting on his own statement. He looks back up at his audience, “Jimmy came in last that day in his event, the 50 meter dash. He received a standing ovation as he crossed the finish line and he loved every minute of it!” Carl looks intently at his audience and sighs. “My World Series Championship ring or Jimmy’s medal he received after overcoming all obstacles and competing with honor and joy at the Special Olympics, in spite of his limited abilities. Which is more significant?” Carl raises Jimmy’s award and let it dangle next to his clutched fist with the World Series ring facing the crowd. “You be the judge.”
Carl smiles at the audience as he slowly places Jimmy’s award back into his suit pocket. He gingerly places his hands on the outside edges of the podium and looks intently at his audience. “As I reach the twilight of my life and reflect back on all my experiences, I have come to one conclusion, one basic question we all must eventually answer.” Carl raises his hand and points at the crowd of business professionals. “What have we done with what we were given?”
That was how my friend Carl Erskine ended his speech delivered last spring at a conference of municipal leaders that had gathered in Indianapolis. I was on the planning committee for that conference and Carl had agreed to come and speak to our group on the last day of our meetings as a favor to me. I watched Carl stick around for over an hour, after the meeting, and autograph baseballs, hats, shirts, and books that he authored. He intently listened to each person that had waited in line to speak with him. He posed for pictures and did it all with a smile and grace. Carl was a hit at our conference and he impacted and touched every person that had the privilege to hear him speak.
I grew up in Anderson, Indiana, a small city just north of Indianapolis. I spent my formidable years attending a First Baptist Church a few blocks from my home. Carl also attended that church and that is where we became friends. He often approached me with a gracious smile and would ask how I was doing or congratulate me on a race that I had competed in that week. He was always kind, gentle and serving. He loved his wife, adored his children, and served the Church. He would write me notes of encouragement while I was off at West Point and write to me while I was serving overseas in Bosnia. Even today, I receive notes of encouragement from my friend, Carl.
I could list several traits about Carl that I admire and many life lessons I learned from him while observing him during my formidable years, but really there is one trait about Carl that I admire most. Humility, I can truly say that I have never met anyone as humble as Carl. Growing up, attending the First Baptist Church, I had no idea Carl was a famed pitcher for the Brooklyn and L.A. Dodgers until much later in my life. I had no clue that Carl played with and pitched against some of baseball’s greatest legends like Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and Tommy Lasorda until someone told me. At First Baptist Church, he was just Carl, a nice man that took the time to take an interest in me and add value to my life and to our church.
Carl, at 86 years of age, touched the lives of everyone at our conference that day he spoke to us. He received a standing ovation after his speech and I saw people wiping the tears from their eyes when Carl was finished with his remarks. What a life Carl has lived and what an impact he has made in this world. The way Carl has lived his life and served his community and represents his hometown of Anderson inspires me. I think we should all reflect on Carl’s life and ask ourselves, “What are we doing with what we were given?”