NEW YORK – Steal Signals. Knock on a trash can. Defeat the Dodgers in October.
Sounds very familiar to Carl Erskine.
“If they return with penalties for the Astros by 2017,” he said on Wednesday, “I want them to go back to 1951 to help us.”
The old Brooklyn pitcher laughed. Type of.
The 93-year-old Erskine vividly remembered what had been the biggest scandal in baseball history so far this week.
After 13½ games in mid-August, Jackie Robinson and the Dodgers seemed determined. That was until rookie Willie Mays and the New York Giants flew back, fueled by an incredible late home game at the Polo Grounds, and forced a best-of-three playoff for the National League pennant.
Erskine warmed up in Game 3 in the Brooklyn bullpen when Bobby Thomson competed for the famous “Shot Heard ‘Round the World”, a three-run Homer ninth ahead of Ralph Branca, who brought the Giants 5-4 Victory.
Half a century later, a huge secret was revealed: the Giants had put on binoculars and buzzer systems at the end of July to steal the signals from the catchers and give their opponents a tip.
“We thought something was going on, we were suspicious, but we couldn’t prove anything,” said Erskine of his home in Anderson, Indiana. “I remember Ralph saying to me,” I bet these dirty birds are cheating. “
Herman Franks, a former Dodger who had become a Giants coach, was stationed in the home club house above the 483-foot mark in midfield (147.2 meters from the home sign). From a darkened window he peered for catchers with a telescope and passed the signs on.
When a buzzer sounded in the New Yorker Bullpen – at that time still cheap in the game, in the middle of the field – a Giants player, who could wiggle with a white towel, signaled what kind of field was approaching.
“A batsman wouldn’t even have to move his head,” said Erskine. “It was just over the pitcher’s left shoulder. Put your eyes at about 2 o’clock and you’ll see.”
A few years after the scheme became known, Erskine saw an obituary for Franks.
“I emailed Ralph and said to him,” Old giants never die, they just steal, “said Erskine.
Erskine, popularly known as “Oisk” by Brooklyn fans of “The Boys of Summer”, made his major league debut in 1948 and spent every 12 years of his career with the Dodgers, ending in Los Angeles. The right-hander was between 16 and 12 in 1951 and went from 122 to 78 in the overall ranking with two no-hitters. He attended the World Series five times.
Erskine said he had read about the Astros’ scam, stealing signs from a video feed in midfield and throwing a trash can to alert players to the upcoming pitch. Houston ended 2017 by beating the Dodgers in the World Series.
“You mean, in this high-tech world, they had to fall back on it?” He said, giggling. “In the Commissioner’s eyes, it is probably a lot of junk that he wished he had never happened.”
Not that Erskine and the Dodgers didn’t try it in their time.
“In my day, television was still new in the early 1950s. We had a television in our club house in Ebbets Field and when the opposing catcher, trainer or manager went to the hill we tried to read our lips to see what he said about the pitcher, ”said Erskine.
“Just fish for something. Pretty spotty results, ”he said. “But I think it was a tentative decision for what will come later.”