Heart of a champion: Film explores impact Erskine had on his community

People called him “the best we’ve got.”

Carl Erskine was a champion. The Anderson native was a star pitcher with the “Boys of Summer,” playing with the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers. He won a World Series, threw two no-hitters and was inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.

But impact on the world stretched well beyond his time on the diamond. His work for people with disabilities has touched countless people’s lives.

Documentary filmmaker Ted Green wanted to tell that story, too.

“I like to tell a comprehensive story. I wanted this to be his legacy story. A lot of people go into this thinking it’s a baseball story, and there’s great footage of that,” Green said. “But then, people start learning about this other side of Carl, and what he’s done for human rights.”

“The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” is the most recent production by Green, known for documentaries about subjects such as the Crispus Attucks High School basketball team and Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor and human rights advocate. The film will be shown at the Historic Artcraft Theatre on Nov. 15.

“It’s just such an inspirational, feel-good story. It almost seems too good to be true. But it is true, and it’s playing out every day in Anderson, Indiana,” Green said.

Erskine played baseball most of his early life, learning the game as a child. After enlisting in the U.S. Navy towards the end of World War II, he was discovered by scouts for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and signed to their minor league teams.

His major league debut came in 1948. Just a year earlier, Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in the league, and as teammates, Erskine had a front-row seat to how he was treated. The experience would shape the rest of Erskine’s life.

“To have Jackie Robinson, on tape, say that no Dodger understood more what was going on racially than Carl did, that’s pretty powerful,” Green said.

Over his big-league career, Erskine was an integral part of the Dodgers’ rotation. He pitched in five World Series, winning the 1955 championship over the New York Yankees. In 1953, he led the National League with 20 wins. He was an All-Star in 1954.

A photograph of the 1952 Brooklyn Dodgers, including Carl Erskine, an Anderson native, champion baseball player and tireless supporter of people with disabilities, after they won the National League championship. The film “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story” will be screened on Nov. 15 at the Historic Artcraft Theatre.

After retiring in 1959 and returning to Indiana, Erskine started his own insurance business. He went on to become president and director at Star Financial Bank, while also coaching the Anderson University baseball team for 12 years. He is a member of that school’s athletic hall of fame.

He and his wife, Betty, also became champions for their son Jimmy, who was born with Down syndrome. They worked tirelessly to change the way people looked at those with disabilities.

“According to the people who, going all the way back to the Arc of Indiana and Special Olympics Indiana, Carl and Betty Erskine really were the most important people in that sea change here in the Hoosier State. And they’re still at it,” Green said.

The journey to making a film about Erskine came about a decade ago. Green was meeting with Slick Leonard, the Indiana Hoosier basketball great, to discuss the possibility of doing a documentary on his life. According to Green, Leonard response was, “Boy, you’re doing a film on the wrong guy. The guy you want is up in Anderson.”

Though Green ended up making a film about Leonard, he never forgot about Erskine.

“After starting doing pretty much doing strictly sports film, I’d come to focus on celebrating the triumph of the human spirit, off the court more so than on it,” he said. “Doing the films on Crispus Attucks and Eva Kor, I wondered where to go from there. Then I remembered what Slick said.”

As Green researched Erskine and his life, he was struck by all he had done away from baseball.

“There is so much vitriol and discord right now. I believe that we are at a low point in my 55 years in terms of basic civility. Amid that, all of the sudden I’m learning about this guy who helped move mountains through the opposite of that through grace, through humility, through leadership. Just being a darn good guy,” he said.

Filmmaker Ted Green, left, poses with Carl, Jimmy and Betty Erskine. Green’s film, “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story,” tells the story of Carl Erskine, an Anderson native, champion baseball player and tireless supporter of people with disabilities. The film will be screened on Nov. 15 at the Historic Artcraft Theatre.

A mutual friend introduced Green to Erskine, who agreed to do the film. The documentary would certainly feature Erkine’s baseball achievements, but also weave in his time with Robinson, as well as his support for people with intellectual disabilities.

In his research, Green learned how appalling treatment of people with those disabilities had been in Indiana and across the country. Erskine stood up against prevailing attitudes.

“A lot of parents come up to me, and they have a special needs child. They say they didn’t realize how much they owe to the Erskines for everything they did, so that their child could live the way he or she does now,” Green said. “That’s moving stuff.”

“The Best We’ve Got” weaves together footage of Erskine’s early life, baseball career and professional life with interviews from luminaries such as sportscaster Bob Costas, longtime voice of the Dodgers Vin Scully, former governor Mitch Daniels and Tim Shriver, chair of the board of Special Olympics International.

Filmmaker Ted Green, left, interviews sportscaster Bob Costas during filming of “The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story.” Green’s film, which tells the story of Erskine, an Anderson native, champion baseball player and tireless supporter of people with disabilities, will be screened on Nov. 15 at the Historic Artcraft Theatre.

“I heard the same three things from everybody anything for Carl. He left that big of an impression on people,” Green said. “Carl is beloved.”

The finished version of “The Best We’ve Got” debuted in Erskine’s hometown of Anderson on Aug. 11. The sold-out screening of the documentary, at the historic Paramount Theatre, drew many of those who contributed to the film.

Sitting front row were Carl and Betty Erskine.

“You could feel the love for them from what felt like their entire hometown,” Green said.

Since then, the documentary has been shown throughout Indiana. It was part of this year’s Heartland International Film Festival, and has been broadcast multiple times on PBS channels around the state.

To screen it at the Artcraft Theatre will be a special event.

“One of the neat things is doing screenings at these old, old theaters, these community gems. And the Artcraft is right at the top of that list,” Green said.


”The Best We’ve Got: The Carl Erskine Story”

What: A screening of the documentary about Erskine, an Anderson native, champion baseball player and tireless supporter of people with disabilities.

When: 7 p.m. Nov. 15

Where: Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin

Tickets: $10

Information: historicartcrafttheatre.org