A made-for-PBS documentary profiling a former baseball pitcher, The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story spotlights a man who witnessed, and helped positively shape, some of the most pivotal events in baseball history. And this is perhaps not the most notable thing about his life.
A native of Anderson, Ind. often referred to as “the gentleman from Indiana,” Erskine pitched two no-hitters, gave up the “Shot Heard Round the World” to Bobby Thomson, was an all-star and played on World Series-winning teams, and played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and saw the team move to Los Angeles. He was teammates with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Gil Hodges and Pee Wee Reese, and faced players like Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial. After retiring, Erskine delivered baseball commentary with the likes of Jack Buck.
Erskine’s support was instrumental in Robinson’s successful integration into the team at a time when many thought Black and white athletes should not play sports together, and having teammates who supported team president Branch Rickey’s decision to integrate his team (and Major League Baseball) was pivotal in its success.
Erskine’s relationship with Robinson parallels a story from Erskine’s childhood, when he went out on a limb to help Johnny Wilson, a Black peer, get on his high school basketball team at a time when Black athletes were not allowed to — a decision that helped propel their team to the state championship game. Wilson went on to become a Harlem Globetrotter.
Longtime ESPN commentator Charley Steiner narrates, his still-booming voice smoothly chronicling Erskine’s glory on and off the field, and others like announcers Bob Costas and Vin Scully, and Indiana legend and Basketball Hall of Famer Bobby “Slick” Leonard, offer commentary on Erskine’s life and athletic career.
But it was once his baseball career was over that Erskine’s true legacy to community and in changing minds and elevating values became clear. His son Jimmy was born with Down’s syndrome, and in a time when such a diagnosis could bring shame and burden upon a family socially and financially, Erskine and his wife, Betty, used it as a stepping stone to change cultural attitudes, become advocates for those with disabilities, refuse to treat their son differently, and work to establish the Special Olympics.
The Best We’ve Got is a relatively standard documentary that fetes a local luminary. It’s relatively quiet and low-key, with no lascivious drama or unearthed skeletons in the closet. It’s just a look at a man who made a difference in his community (whether that community was located in Indiana, New York or California) and lived a humble life despite the extraordinary things he witnessed, participated in and perpetuated.
The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story will screen during the 31st Heartland International Film Festival at:
- 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Toby Theater at Newfields, 4000 N. Michigan Road, in Indianapolis
- 7:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 10, at Living Room Theatres, 745 E. 9th St., Suite 810, in Indianapolis
- 7:15 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Landmark Glendale 12, 6102 N. Rural St., in Indianapolis
Writer, producer and director Ted Green is scheduled to be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A on Saturday, Oct. 8 and Monday, Oct. 10.
The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story will also be available to stream online from noon Thursday, Oct. 6 through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 16 (all times Eastern) through Heartland’s virtual platform.
Tickets are available at heartlandfilm.org/festival.