Jackie Robinson’s potent bat and Carl Erskine’s sore right arm led the Dodgers to a 1-0 win in 10 innings against the Boston Braves on September 20, 1952. Brooklyn took a five-game lead in the National League pennant chase with seven games to play.
Erskine, “who has been complaining about his pitching elbow for the past two weeks,”1 hurled his fourth shutout of the season in front of 6,038 fans at Braves Field. He gave up just three hits, walked two, and struck out seven. Robinson collected four straight hits – half the Brooklyn total – including the game winner. The Brooklyn Eagle’s Harold C. Burr wrote that “Robinson took over the Dodger attack this afternoon.”2
This was the second of a three-game series between the teams. Brooklyn scored twice in the eighth inning and took the opener, 4-2. Roy Campanella smacked a double against starter Max Surkont to lead off the frame and advanced to third on Gil Hodges’ sacrifice. Carl Furillo popped out, and Rocky Nelson reached on an intentional walk. With Bobby Morgan at bat, Surkont unfurled an ill-timed wild pitch that allowed Campanella to rumble home and give Brooklyn the lead. Morgan subsequently worked a walk to put runners on first and second. Pee Wee Reese singled Nelson home to provide the Dodgers with an insurance run. Joe Black pitched a scoreless ninth and notched a save. Jim Hughes earned the win in relief of starter Preacher Roe.
Brooklyn lifted its won-lost record to 92-54 as it pushed toward a pennant. The Dodgers were trying to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1949. They fell two games short in 1950 against the Whiz Kids of Philadelphia. The following year, in one of the most epic collapses in baseball history, Brooklyn blew a 13½-game lead against their archrivals, the New York Giants. Bobby Thomson hit his famous, and pennant-winning, shot heard ’round the world home run off Ralph Branca in the third game of a playoff series at the Polo Grounds. In the spring of 1952, Robinson said to reporters, “I think every player on the team will be putting out a little more this year because he feels that we let the fans down in bad finishes the two previous years.”3
This was Robinson’s sixth season in Brooklyn. The 1949 Most Valuable Player in the National League put together a big year in 1951 with his .338 batting average, 19 home runs, and 88 RBIs. He stole 25 bases and scored 106 runs. Robinson entered the game against the Braves with a .301 mark and a .433 on-base percentage.
The Dodgers were a hard-hitting bunch. They had led the National League in scoring for the past three years and were tops again in 1952. Erskine was the team’s best starting pitcher. The right-hander from Anderson, Indiana, entered the game against Boston with a 13-6 won-lost record and a 2.91 ERA despite missing some action due to that sore arm. The 25-year-old of slight frame (5-feet-10, 165 pounds) liked to throw big-breaking overhand curveballs.
“Oisk,” as Brooklyn fans called Erskine, had faced Boston three times thus far in 1952 and was 2-0 with a no-decision. The Braves were struggling and entered the day in seventh place with a 63-83 mark. Manager Charlie Grimm, who took over for Tommy Holmes on May 31, sent Warren Spahn to the mound. A four-time 20-game winner, Spahn was 14-17 in 1952. The left-hander from Buffalo, New York, had lost all four decisions against Brooklyn.
Robinson recorded his first hit in the fourth inning, a single to left field with one out. He was thrown out at second base by Sid Gordon trying to stretch the base hit into a double. Campanella ended the frame by striking out.
With two outs in the sixth, Robinson ripped a double but was left stranded. Spahn gave Campy a free pass, and Andy Pafko lifted an inning-ending fly ball to Sam Jethroe in center field. Erskine, meanwhile, was humming along. He had given up just one hit, a bunt single to Jack Daniels, in the third.
Erskine “ran into his only sweat of the game” in the seventh inning.4 Jethroe led off the frame by slicing a single to left and advanced to second base on Logan’s sacrifice. Eddie Mathews flied out to Furillo in right field, but Cooper and Gordon walked to load the bases. According to Dick Young in the Daily News, “Erskine was pitching to both sluggers carefully and just missing the outside corner.”5 Oisk went to 3-and-2 on Earl Torgeson and then hurled a fastball that headed for the outside corner. Umpire Bill Jackson gave the borderline call to Erskine, which infuriated Torgeson. “Well, you should have heard what Torgeson bawled,” Young wrote. “He charged at the rookie ump like a madman. He screamed. He elbowed the ump.”6 He also remained in the game, much to Furillo’s surprise. “Torgy overstepped his bounds in the argument,” Furillo said. “He should have been put out of the game.”7
Robinson knocked his third straight hit, and second single, with one out in the top of the eighth. Campanella, though, hit into an inning-ending double play. The game remained scoreless going into the ninth. Both pitchers retired the opposition in order in that late frame. The duel headed into extra innings.
Billy Cox led off Brooklyn’s half of the 10th inning by singling to left field. He made it to second after Erskine put down a sacrifice bunt. Spahn walked Furillo to set up a possible game-ending double play. Reese followed by hitting a line drive straight to Daniels in right field. Robinson stepped to the plate. The second baseman lined a single to left field, scoring Cox for the game’s only run. Pafko flied out to Sam Jethroe in center field to end the frame. Erskine allowed a one-out single to Sid Gordon in the bottom of the 10th but got Torgeson to hit into a game-ending double play.
According to the Boston Globe, “Robinson smashed all four hits viciously.”8 It was his first four-hit game of the season. He had 15 three-hit games. Robinson told reporters, “It was exceptional for me to hit Spahn that way. I’ve never hit him very hard and very few have, for that matter. That’s the first time all season I have hit four balls well in the same game.”9
Clif Keane wrote that Erskine pitched a “grand game” and that “there must have been some confusion over which arm bothered him.”10 Dick Young decided that “Erskine’s sore arm isn’t as sore as it’s cracked up to be.”11 The pitcher improved his won-lost record to 14-6 and dropped his ERA to 2.77. Just a few months earlier, on June 19 against the Cubs, Erskine threw the first of his two career no-hitters. “This was by far his best game since his no-hitter,” wrote Young.12 Just 10 days earlier, he wrote, “Erskine was scratching himself off as useless for the remainder of Brooklyn’s pennant drive.”13
Brooklyn manager Chuck Dressen said, “Who says Erskine has a sore arm? He was throwing bullets out there today. Man, he had something.” The Dodgers beat Spahn and the Braves on Dressen’s 58th birthday. “That was my real birthday present,” the skipper said. “This victory means more to me than all the presents I received.”14
The Dodgers made a habit out of beating the Braves in 1952. The teams played 18 games, and Brooklyn won 16 of them. According to Young, “They say, in some slightly prejudiced headquarters, that Brooklyn beats the Humpty-dumpty teams.” But the Dodgers were now 5-0 against Spahn. “And, he’s no humpty.”15
Brooklyn won the next day, 8-2, and swept the series. Campanella, Furillo, and Black all drove home two runs. Robinson collected two more base hits and walked twice. Brooklyn ended the year 96-57 and earned its third pennant in six years. Robinson batted .308 with 19 home runs and 75 RBIs. He stole 24 bases and scored 104 runs. The All-Star, though, could not bring a championship to the borough. The Yankees knocked off the Dodgers in a seven-game World Series. Robinson batted just .174 (4-for-23) against New York pitching. He hit a home run and scored four times. The Yankees won two games by two runs and another by one run. “We came so close,” Robinson said. “We had so many opportunities.”16
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author accessed Retrosheet.org, Baseball-Reference.com, and SABR.org.
1 Associated Press, “Dodgers Near Flag; Lead Giants by 5 with 7 Games Left,” Binghamton (New York) Press and Sun-Bulletin, September 21, 1952: 39.
2 Harold C. Burr, “Dodgers Win in 10th, 1-0, Lead by 5,” Brooklyn Eagle, September 21, 1952: 24.
3 Roscoe McGowen, “Brooks ‘To Put Out a Little More This Year,’ Says Jackie,” The Sporting News, February 20, 1952: 11.
4 Dick Young, “Dodgers Shade Braves, 1-0 in 10; Erskine Gives 3 Hits,” New York Daily News, September 21, 1952: 325.
7 Bob Holbrook, “Erskine ‘Better Than in No-Hit Win,’” Boston Globe, September 21, 1952: 58.
8 Clif Keane, “Dodgers Stretch Lead to Five Games,” Boston Globe, September 21, 1952. 58.
16 Will Grimsley (Associated Press), “‘They Didn’t Miss Joe DiMaggio – Mantle Killed Us,’ Says Robby,” Elmira (New York) Advertiser, October 8, 1952.