A lifetime in sports has delivered a lifetime of incredible experiences and multiple blessings, among them the opportunity to meet—and write about—extraordinary people.
On the short list of my all-time favorites would be Carl Erskine and his wife, Betty.
Carl, from Anderson, made his name as a pitching great for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers. He threw two no-hitters, won 122 games, set the then-World Series record with 14 strikeouts in a game against the New York Yankees and played on a World Series champion team.
Growing up, that’s the Carl Erskine I knew from his baseball card. The Carl Erskine I came to know as a man later in life is so much more.
It was Special Olympics that brought us together: me, as a board member of Special Olympics Indiana, and Carl—and Betty—as parents of Jimmy, a longtime Special Olympics athlete.
So it came to pass that on a fine spring day 17 months ago Carl, Special Olympics Indiana CEO Michael Furnish, SOIN board chairman Phil Bounsall and I gathered at a Zionsville restaurant to discuss an idea Carl had.
He wanted to write a book—rather, he wanted me to write a book—about two of the experiences that had profoundly shaped his life. One was his baseball playing career alongside his beloved teammate Jackie Robinson, who broke the Major League color barrier in 1947. The other was the impact—and opportunity—Special Olympics had created for his son, Jimmy.
Carl already had written a book about his late, trailblazing friend in “What I Learned From Jackie Robinson”. But this would be different, and even more personal.
Carl had a working title, “The Parallel,” because he saw a clear parallel between societal acceptance of blacks—with Robinson leading the way—and societal acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities, with Special Olympics at the forefront and Jimmy as a beneficiary.
Carl, passionate as ever, his blue eyes sparkling, spent more than an hour talking about the concepts behind the parallel. At the end of the lunch, I told him, “Carl, this is your story to write, not mine.”
He agreed. But with Carl’s prodding, I said I would write the forward and help with the editing. He took it the rest of the way, even enlisting, at his own expense, a publisher in his hometown of Anderson.
The result is a short-but-sweet 64-page treasure (my forward notwithstanding) of Carl’s insights and recollections, photos included, called, “The Parallel: Witnessing Two of the Greatest Social Changes in My Lifetime”.
The book will be launched during the Nov. 8-10 International Law Enforcement Torch Relay conference, when hundreds of public safety officers from around the world gather in Indianapolis. LETR serves as a major Special Olympics fundraiser.
“Jackie and Jimmy—my two best buddies—live out a simple truth that we are all equal and that the dignity of the individual is paramount in a healthy world,” Carl writes.
Carl is not looking to make a dime from the book. He would, however, like Special Olympics Indiana to benefit. In return for a donation, anyone wanting to purchase the book can do so by going to www.soindiana.org and clicking on the “donor” button.
Again, once you get past the forward, it’s a terrific, inspiring read.
If there is a cause around nobler than Special Olympics, I haven’t found it. If there is a man alive nobler than our friend, Carl Erskine, I haven’t met him. The stories of Jackie and Jimmy will lift your spirits, but also your sights, about the kind of person we should all strive to be.
—Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels
By the way, Jimmy is 52, works at Applebee’s in Anderson … and still competes in Special Olympics. He also has the best parents any son could have.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.