Newcombe made immediate impact in majors
Won 17 games as a rookie
and became first black pitcher to notch 20 victories in major
February 15, 2007 | Lindsey Frazier
NY: A pioneer in every sense of the word, former
Brooklyn Dodgers� hurler Don Newcombe�s 10-year Major League career
was marked by one first after another.
In 1956, right-hander Don Newcombe
won 27 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
(National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
Not only is he widely regarded as the first great African American
pitcher, he was also the first black pitcher to win 20 games -- a feat
he accomplished three times -- and the only player to win the Rookie of
the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. In fact, the Cy
Young honor came in 1956, the first year the award was introduced.
Newcombe, now 80 years old, is one of 27 former Major League players
on the 2007 Hall of Fame Veteran�s Committee ballot. In the 2005
Veterans election, he garnered 10 percent of the vote. In the 2003
election, Newcombe received 13.6 percent of the vote. A candidate must
receive 75 percent of the vote to gain election. Results of the 2007
Veterans Committee election will be announced on Feb. 27 and the
Induction Ceremony will take place on July 29 in Cooperstown.
Newcombe -- known as a quiet man who kept to himself but was infamous
for being a prankster in the clubhouse -- began his baseball career in
the Negro Leagues, playing for Effa
Manley and the Newark Eagles not far from his
hometown of Madison, New Jersey.
After a year in the Negro Leagues, he made his big league debut with
the Dodgers in 1949. Newcombe posted a 17-8 record and 32 consecutive
scoreless innings that season, which earned him the Rookie of the Year
Award and helped Brooklyn win the National League pennant. That same
year, he was named an All-Star along with his teammates Jackie Robinson
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing 240 pounds, Newcombe was a threatening
image to opposing batters.
�He was a very big guy,� said baseball historian and author Ray
Zardetto, who has chronicled Newcombe�s career. �This was at a time
when there weren�t a lot of big pitchers. He had a very intimidating
look about him on the mound. He wasn�t a real fireballer. He was a
more of a control pitcher. His fastball, however, Stan Musial called it
the most frightening pitch he ever had to face.�
Newcombe didn�t show any signs of a sophomore slump as he posted 19
wins in 1950 and his first of three 20-win seasons the following year.
At 30 years old, Newcombe�s career reached its pinnacle in 1956
when he finished with 27-7 record in addition to 139 strikeouts, a 3.06
ERA, five shutouts and 18 complete games. His strong season earned him
both the Cy Young Award (which was then awarded to just one player in
all of baseball) and the MVP Award.
The next year, his career quickly unraveled due to an arm injury and
his battle with alcohol, which he has publicly admitted contributed to
the demise of his career.
Newcombe went 0-6 for the Dodgers to begin the 1957 season after the
club made its cross-country move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles before he
was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for four players halfway through the
summer. He ended his career with the Cleveland Indians in 1960.
�In 1956, I was the best player in baseball,� Newcombe has said.
�Four years later I was out of the major leagues and it must have been
the drinking. When you�re young, you can handle it but the older you
get, the more it bothers you.�
If he had one shortcoming as a pitcher, it was his inability to win
big games and his lack of success in the postseason. Newcombe was 1-2
with an 8.59 ERA over the course of five starts in three trips to the
Newcombe wasn�t just an intimidating presence on the mound,
however, as he also knew how to handle a bat. He hit .271 in 878
lifetime at-bats and compared favorably to many of the position players
of his time. Newcombe hit over .300 five times in his career and in
1955, he hit .359 with seven home runs.
While he was one of the first great black pitchers in baseball,
Newcombe has said that he hopes to be remembered for his efforts off the
field in addition to his playing career.
�I�m glad to be anywhere when I think about my life back then.
What I have done after my baseball career and being able to help people
with their lives and getting their lives back on track and they become
human beings again -- means more to me than all the things I did in
baseball,� Newcombe said.
Newcombe has helped other former big leaguers overcome their
addictions as well. He has been sober since 1967 and returned to the
Dodgers as a part of the front office in the 1970�s.
�I�m standing here with the man who saved my life,� said former
Dodger Maury Wills. �He was a channel for God�s love for me because
he chased me all over Los Angeles trying to help me and I just couldn't
understand that -- but he persevered -- he wouldn�t give in and my
life is wonderful today because of Don Newcombe.�
Today, Newcombe remains active as the director of the Dodgers�
community relations department, a job he has held for more than 30
years. In August 2006, the team honored Newcombe and his memorable 1956
�Don Newcombe�s contributions to the Dodger organization, the Los
Angeles community and the game of baseball are incalculable,� said
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. �His Dodger roots trace all the way back
to Brooklyn and we are honored to have him as part of our team. His
legacy as one of the greatest pitchers in the game endures today.�
�Sixty years ago this month Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don
Newcombe made history in this country,� Newcombe said at the event.
�We made changes that went on for so long that black men couldn�t
play Major League Baseball in the so-called All-American sports pastime.
Now all that has changed after 60 years. I�m the only one left from
that team who is still here to talk about it, and to remind people that
60 years ago, it was not like this and what we had to go through to get
what it is like today.�
Lindsey Frazier is an associate reporter for MLB.com.
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