ASST. SPORTS EDITOR
It was a sad day in the city of Los Angeles when Dodger pitcher legend Don Newcombe passed away on the morning of Feb. 19, 2019 at the age of 92. Newcombe had been battling an unannounced “lengthy illness.”
Newcombe broke into Major League Baseball (MLB) after pitching two years from 1944 – 45 in the Negro League with the Newark Eagles. He then was scouted by the Dodger Organization. Newcombe played two years with the Nashua Dodgers in B Baseball from 1946 – 47 and was called up to play with the Montreal Royals in 1948 in Triple-A Baseball. In 1949, Newcombe finally made his big break and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the middle of the season, after having a stellar 2.56 Earn Run Average (ERA) at the beginning of the season in Triple-A.
Newcombe entered the League at the same time as another African American ballplayer, Roy Campanella, a catcher for the Dodger Organization. This was two years after Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby came into the League. He was a large part of the movement for other African-American players to break into the league and was one of the first African-American pitchers in the MLB. In 1949, Newcombe made a name for himself as he was named the National League (NL) Rookie of the Year and helped the Dodgers win the NL pennant. That year, he had a record of 17 wins and eight loses with a 3.17 ERA, pitched 32 consecutive scoreless innings, and he led the league in shutouts. That same year, he and his Dodger teammates, Robinson and Campanella, along with Doby were the first four African-American players to appear in an all-star game. Newcombe went on to be named an all-star three more times throughout his career.
Newcombe paused his baseball career during the 1952 and 1953 seasons to fight in the Korean War. Newcombe later said in an interview: “I served my country. I was going to fight for my country and my flag if I was asked. I didn’t dodge bullets, but I’m proud of my contribution.”
Newcombe returned to help the Dodgers win their first World Series over the New York Yankees in 1955. Newcombe only pitched Game 1 of the series, as he lost 5 – 6 with an ERA of 9.53. Throughout the regular season, Newcombe had a 20 – 5 record and a 3.20 ERA. Newcombe came back the next year with one of the best performances of his career as he would win both the NL Cy Young Award for pitchers and NL Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, making him the first player to win the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year Award. He quickly earned himself the nickname the “Black Ace” as he was Brooklyn’s best pitcher as well as the best African-American pitchers in the MLB at the time. He had a 3.06 ERA and led the league with 27 wins when he won the two awards that year. He also led the Dodgers to another NL pennant, but the Dodgers lost the World Series to the Yankees in seven games as Newcombe lost in Game 7 of the contest.
Newcombe never hit anything close to his 1956 season, and he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds the next year after having a 0 – 6 record to start the year with the Dodgers. Newcombe would later join the Cleveland Indians in 1960 and ended his career in Japan with the Chunichi Dragons in 1962.
Many had a lot to say about the loss of the Dodger legend. Former Dodger pitcher legend Sandy Koufax said, “Don was a mentor at first, a friend at the end, he will be missed by anyone who got to know him.” Dodger pitcher Clayton Kershaw spoke about how Newcombe played a part of in today’s league saying, “anytime you lose somebody that you know is a sad thing. But he lived a pretty incredible life, [had a] great story, [and] a pioneer for a lot of different things in baseball. Just getting to know him over the years, great man, and he’ll be missed, for sure.” Kershaw also spoke about how Newcombe had love for the Dodger Organization, “The Dodger uniform meant a lot to him. Before he got older and traveling was tough, he used to speak to us every Spring training. You could just tell what it meant to him.” Players not only respected him but so did managers did as well. “Don Newcombe had a ton of talent and he was a great competitor,” said Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda in a statement. “He was a helluva player, and he was one of the best hitting pitchers I have ever seen.”
Don Newcombe, the last of the four pioneers of baseball for minorities, will be missed by many, not only in L.A., but throughout the country.