This is a tale of two pitchers — Carl Erskine and Grady Hinchman — two gentlemen from the central Indiana town of Anderson who came to Brooklyn and wound up competing against Yankees, one in numerous World Series and the other, two generations later, in the New York-Penn League playoff race.
Erskine, 79, came out of Anderson High School and a World War II stint in the Navy to rocket through the Brooklyn Dodger farm system, making the big club in 1948. In a career lasting more than a decade, the 5-foot-10 right-hander won 122 games, pitched two no-hitters, helped the Dodgers win their only Brooklyn World Championship in 1955, and once held the World Series single-game strikeout record when he fanned 14 Yankees in the 1953 Series.
Hinchman, 25, is a 5-foot-9 inch lefty who was born in Anderson but lives three-quarters of a mile up the road in neighboring Pendleton. He pitched briefly for the Cyclones last season, and this year, he’s 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 19 relief appearances for Brooklyn.
Let’s have the pitchers describe Anderson, a town of 59,734.
“There’s lots of corn around, and flat land,” said Hinchman.
“It’s a Midwestern town,” Erskine said in a phone interview this week. “It has a courthouse near the town square, and a life that’s a little slower than the rest of the world, but some of that is changing.”
Hinchman and Erskine have an Anderson connection that goes back to Hinchman’s great-uncle, William Ogden.
“Bill Ogden was a small infielder who played high school baseball with me,” recalled Erskine, who still lives in his hometown.
In another connection, Hinchman recalls Erskine speaking at several youth team banquets.
Not only do these hurlers come from the same town, but they also have Bay Ridge in common.
Erskine lived in Bay Ridge during the Dodgers’ season, not too far away from the hotel where Hinchman stays with the Cyclones.
While both pitchers love the Brooklyn fans, they also know their cruel side.
Hinchman recalled a rough outing in his first game at Keyspan last season, having just been promoted from the Gulf Coast League.
“When the inning was over, I was booed and some fan yelled, ‘Go back to the Gulf Coast League,’ ” he said.
Hinchman learned from the experience.
“They’re such passionate fans in Brooklyn. They want to see you do well, and if you don’t, they want to toughen you up by booing.”
Erskine echoed Hinchman’s comments.
“You’ve never been booed ’til you’ve been booed in Brooklyn,” said the gentleman affectionately called “Oisk” by the Brooklyn faithful.
“But it’s because of love. You can always be tougher on the ones you love, and Brooklyn fans love their teams, so they’re tough.”
Both hurlers are considered as small, but used it to their advantage.
“I never considered myself as small,” said Erskine. “A pitcher’s size doesn’t count anyway. It’s deception and location that matter.”
Hinchman also denies that his size is a handicap.
“I use it as motivation,” says the left-hander. “When people judge me as too small, that only makes me want to prove them wrong.”
Erskine experienced the Dodger-Yankee “Subway Series” rivalry, while Hinchman is experiencing the Brooklyn-Staten Island cross-Narrows rivalry.
“The fans across the water hate the Brooklyn team,” said Hinchman. “And the Brooklyn fans hate the team across the water, too. That’s the way it is. But the rivalry helps us — it makes the games more exciting for the players.”
But Brooklyn baseball for Erskine wasn’t just about rivalry — it was also about friendship among teammates.
“Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Rube Walker and I lived near each other in Bay Ridge. In the off season, they all visited me in Anderson,” said Erskine.
“And when we used to go by train to St. Louis, the train would stop in my hometown.
“Gene Hermanski was the guy on the team who used to make us laugh, and when the train was getting close to Anderson he used to act like the conductor and announce, ‘Anderson is the next stop. Get ready to jump off because the train won’t actually stop.’ ”
Erskine may have left his in-season home in Brooklyn, but his name lives on in the borough’s Erskine Street, named after him.
Hinchman has no street named for him, but he’s a favorite with Cyclones fans, and he’s hoping his journey from Anderson to Brooklyn can continue for just 15 more hard miles — the distance to Shea Stadium and the major leagues.