A letter arrived the other morning from Carl Erskine, a winning pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers in years long ago. He had the deep intelligence to have a friendship with Jackie Robinson, and watched as Jackie broke down social barriers. Later when his fourth child, Jimmy, was born with Down syndrome, he applied what he learned from Jackie — in 1960 the world was no more ready for Jimmy than it had been for Jackie.
Betty and Carl Erskine nursed and raised a baby in a world of medical people dealing with the dangerous wreckage of Down syndrome: the heart defects, development delayed by an extra chromosome, infants so much slower getting to a place where they can survive and be happy. Sadly, some children still cannot be educated. At one time the medical world officially called kids wrestling with this condition “Mongolian.” Sometimes they called them Mongolian idiots. What a name! Thought up by a real civilized society! Beautiful.
Carl Erskine had been a 20-game winner as a pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He and his wife lived in Bay Ridge. When his career ended they went back to their home in Anderson, Ind. He became president of the local bank. They lived in about the darkest days of Down syndrome, which struck millions and killed some babies. This disease was terrifying in the ’60s and ’70s, and remains so today.
Erskine saw Jimmy a short time after his birth but did not get a good look at the baby that day. The next morning he clearly saw the face of Down syndrome. The doctors at a children’s institution said the child should be left. They called it a hopeless condition.
That’s when Betty Erskine announced: I have had this child for nine months and I am taking him home with me.
As Carl Erskine and his wife got more reports on their baby, they saw what was in front of them — a long, long road. When he was 2, they had him in bright clothes and took him to any restaurant they went into, often on Sunday nights. The daily attention continued through the weeks and ran into months and years.
Then Erskine took him to a local pool and worked with him until one afternoon the kid swam across the pool. He was not to stop. With Erskine he then tried baseball. It worked. This took father and son to Dodgers spring training camp at Vero Beach in Florida — and the son taking great belly slides. Erskine always was with him through the years, and Jimmy improved and got his first job, setting up tables at Applebee’s in Anderson. He was elated to start off each day. Here, too, one day ran into another and soon you had a happy 50-year-old Jimmy going into work for, what are we up to now, 11 years? Here's a statistic on Carl Erskine’s career: In 1953 he had a 20-6 record and struck out 14 Yankees in a World Series game. That was a great win. Although it was not nearly as big as the one he sees when Jimmy Erskine goes happily to work every day.