Monday, December 13, 2010

Carl Erskine honed curveball in Cuban League

Dec. 13: On this day in 1926, former Dodgers pitcher Carl Erskine was born in Anderson, Ind.

Erskine, who pitched 12 seasons for the Dodgers between 1948-49, pitched one season for Cienfuegos in the Cuban League 1947-48, going 9-7 with a 2.94 ERA.

In Tales from the Dodgers Dugout, Erskine (far right) wrote about his experience in Cuba, where as a 20-year-old fresh off his first minor-league season he worked on changing the grip on his curveball but "could not get much velocity on the pitch, so in tight situations I would revert back to my old curveball."

Then in a start against Almendares, Erskine took a 3-0 shutout into the ninth inning. Given that in the Cuban League at that time a shutout meant a $25 bonus, he faced a decision when the leadoff man tripled to open the ninth:

Do I stay with my new curveball or go back to my old reliable pitch to save the shutout? I was torn. ... I wanted the shutout, but I wanted long-term success too. Finally, I said to myself, 'No, I am not giving in. I'm sticking with my new curveball.' I retired the next three batters ... Yes, I got the shutout and the $25, but I received much more than that. I matured as a pitcher and that experience did wonders for my self-confidence.

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