Don Newcombe

Donald Newcombe (June 14, 1926 – February 19, 2019), nicknamed "Newk", was an American professional baseball pitcher in Negro league and Major League Baseball who played for the Newark Eagles (1944–45), Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1949–1951 and 1954–58), Cincinnati Reds (1958–1960), and Cleveland Indians (1960).

Don Newcombe
Newcombe in 1955
Born: (1926-06-14)June 14, 1926
Madison, New Jersey
Died: February 19, 2019(2019-02-19) (aged 92)
Los Angeles, California
Batted: Left
Threw: Right
Professional debut
NgL: 1944, for the Newark Eagles
MLB: May 20, 1949, for the Brooklyn Dodgers
NPB: June 23, 1962, for the Chunichi Dragons
Last appearance
MLB: October 1, 1960, for the Cleveland Indians
NPB: October 9, 1962, for the Chunichi Dragons
MLB statistics
Win–loss record153–96
Earned run average3.54
NPB statistics
Batting average.262
Home runs12
Runs batted in43
Negro leagues
Major League Baseball
Nippon Professional Baseball
Career highlights and awards

Newcombe was the first pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Cy Young Awards during his career. This distinction would not be achieved again until 2011, when Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander, who was Rookie of the Year in 2006, won the Cy Young and MVP awards. In 1949, he became the first black pitcher to start a World Series game. In 1951, Newcombe was the first black pitcher to win 20 games in one season.[1] In 1956, the inaugural year of the Cy Young Award, he became the first pitcher to win the National League MVP and the Cy Young in the same season.[2]

Newcombe was an excellent hitting pitcher who compiled a career batting average of .271 with 15 home runs and was used as a pinch hitter, a rarity for pitchers.[3]

Early life

Newcombe was born in Madison, New Jersey, on June 14, 1926, and was raised in Elizabeth.[4] He had three brothers and a sister. His father worked as a chauffeur.[5]

Newcombe attended Jefferson High School in Elizabeth. The school did not have a baseball team, so Newcombe played semi-professional baseball while attending high school.[5]


After playing briefly with the Newark Eagles in the Negro National League in 1944 and 1945, Newcombe signed with the Dodgers. With catcher Roy Campanella, Newcombe played for the first racially integrated baseball team based in the United States in the 20th century, the 1946 Nashua Dodgers of the New England League.[6] He continued to play for Nashua in 1947 before being promoted to the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League in 1948.[5]

Newcombe debuted for Brooklyn on May 20, 1949, becoming the third African American pitcher in the major leagues, after Dan Bankhead and Satchel Paige.[5] Effa Manley, business manager for the Eagles, agreed to let the Dodgers' Branch Rickey sign Newcombe to a contract. Manley was not compensated for the release of Newcombe.[7]:p.288 He immediately helped the Dodgers to the league pennant as he earned seventeen victories, led the league in shutouts, and pitched 32 consecutive scoreless innings.[8] He was also among the first four black players to be named to an All-Star team, along with teammates Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and the Indians' Larry Doby. Newcombe was named Rookie of the Year by both The Sporting News and the Baseball Writers' Association of America.[5] In 1950, he won 19 games, and 20 the following season, also leading the league in strikeouts in 1951.[9] In the memorable playoff game between the Dodgers and the Giants at the end of the 1951 season, Newcombe was relieved by Ralph Branca in the bottom of the ninth inning when Clyde Sukeforth instructed manager Chuck Dressen to bring in Branca. Branca then surrendered the walk-off home run to Bobby Thomson to give the Giants the pennant.[10]

After two years of mandatory military duty during the Korean War, Newcombe suffered a disappointing season in 1954, going 9–8 with a 4.55 earned run average, but returned to form the next year by finishing second in the NL in both wins and earned run average, with marks of 20–5 and 3.20, as the Dodgers won their first World Series in franchise history. He had an even greater 1956 season, with marks of 27–7, 139 strikeouts, and a 3.06 ERA, five shutouts and 18 complete games, leading the league in winning percentage for the second year in a row. He was named the National League's MVP, and was awarded the first-ever Cy Young Award, then given to the best pitcher in the combined major leagues. He was the only player to win MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards until Justin Verlander accomplished the feat in 2011.[11] Newcombe had a difficult time in the 1956 World Series.[12] He was the losing pitcher in Game 7. Berra, who hit three home runs off of him in the series, hit two of them in Game 7. The Yankees and Johnny Kucks won 9–0.[5]

Following the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, Newcombe got off to an 0–6 start in 1958 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Steve Bilko, Johnny Klippstein, and two players to be named later during the season.[5] He posted a record of 24–21 with Cincinnati until his contract was sold to Cleveland in mid-1960. He finished with a 2–3 mark in Cleveland before being released to end his major league career. Newcombe acknowledged that alcoholism played a significant role in the decline of his career.[13]

On May 28, 1962, Newcombe signed with the Chunichi Dragons of Nippon Professional Baseball's Central League. Newcombe played one season in Japan, splitting time as an outfielder and a first baseman, only pitching in one game. In 81 games, he hit .262 with 12 home runs and 43 runs batted in (RBIs).[14]

In his ten-year major league career, Newcombe registered a record of 149–90, with 1,129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA, 136 complete games and 24 shutouts in 2,154 innings pitched. In addition to his pitching abilities, Newcombe was a dangerous hitter, hitting seven home runs in the 1955 season.[15] He batted .271 (ninth-best average in history among pitchers), with 15 home runs, 108 RBIs, 238 hits, 33 doubles, three triples, 94 runs scored and eight stolen bases.[16]

Life after retirement

Newcombe in 2009

Newcombe rejoined the Dodger organization in the late 1970s and served as the team's Director of Community Affairs. In March 2009, he was named special adviser to the chairman of the team.[17]

Newcombe was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary's Shrine of the Eternals in 2016[18] and into the initial class of "Legends of Dodger Baseball" in 2019.[19]

Personal life

Newcombe was married three times. His first wife was Freddie Green, whom he married in 1945 and divorced in 1960. A week after his divorce from Green, he married Billie Roberts, a marriage which lasted until they divorced in 1994. Newcombe's third wife, Karen Kroner, survived him. Newcombe had three children, Don Jr., Kelley Roxanne, and Brett Anthony from his marriages.[5][20]

Newcombe dealt with alcoholism in the 1950s and 1960s, describing himself as "a stupefied, wife-abusing, child-frightening, falling-down drunk". His alcoholism became so severe that, in 1965, he pawned his World Series ring in order to afford alcohol. He quit drinking in 1966, when his wife threatened to leave him.[5] In his personal and professional life, he helped numerous other people including military personnel and Dodgers teammate Maury Wills in their own battles against substance abuse.[21]

At a fundraising event for Senator Barbara Boxer, President Barack Obama referred to Newcombe (who was attending the event) as "someone who helped... America become what it is.[22]

I would not be here if it were not for Jackie and it were not for Don Newcombe.

- Barack Obama, April 19, 2010.

Newcombe died on the morning of February 19, 2019, at the age of 92, following a long illness. His death was announced on the Dodgers' Twitter account. He's interred at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Los Angeles.[23]

See also


  1. Great Baseball Feats, Facts and Figures, 2008 Edition, p.198, David Nemec and Scott Flatow, A Signet Book, Penguin Group, New York, ISBN 978-0-451-22363-0
  2. Great Baseball Feats, Facts and Figures, 2008 Edition, p.152, David Nemec and Scott Flatow, A Signet Book, Penguin Group, New York, ISBN 978-0-451-22363-0
  3. Michael Seidel (March 1, 2002). Streak: Joe Dimaggio and the Summer Of '41. U of Nebraska Press. pp. 126–. ISBN 0-8032-9293-7.
  4. Young, A. S. Doc. "Don Newcombe: Baseball great wins fight against alcoholism", Ebony, April 1976, pp. 54-62. Accessed March 12, 2011.
  5. "Don Newcombe - Society for American Baseball Research". Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  6. "Holman Stadium Hosted First Interracial Team". NPR. June 16, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  7. Simons, William M. (October 2, 2015). Alvin L. Hall (ed.). The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2000. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 978-0786411207.
  8. Mitchell, Houston. "The 20 greatest Dodgers of all time, No. 17: Don Newcombe". Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  9. Rick Swaine (June 8, 2009). The Integration of Major League Baseball: A Team by Team History. McFarland. pp. 238–. ISBN 978-0-7864-5334-4.
  10. "Ralph Branca, Who Gave Up 'Shot Heard Round the World,' Dies at 90 - The New York Times". Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  11. "Don Newcombe Awards." Baseball Almanac.
  12. Society for American Baseball Research
  13. Scannell, Nancy (May 22, 1977). "Newcombe's Biggest Victory Was Over the Bottle". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  14. "Don Newcombe," Accessed March 15, 2015.
  15. "1955 Brooklyn Dodgers Statistics". January 1, 1970. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  16. Omnisport Updated at 2:24 p.m. ET Updated at 2:24 p.m. ET. "Don Newcombe, star pitcher linked to Dodgers' Brooklyn past, dies at 92 | MLB". Sporting News. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  17. "Don Newcombe named Special Advisor to the Chairman". March 23, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  18. "Shrine of the Eternals – Inductees". Baseball Reliquary. Retrieved 2019-08-14.
  19. "Maury Wills named to 'Legends of Dodger Baseball'". April 13, 2022. Retrieved April 17, 2022.
  20. Marino, David. "Don Newcombe, pitching star who later led programs to treat substance abuse, dies at 92". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  21. Hudson, Maryann (January 31, 1990). "For Wills, Basepaths Led to His Own Private Hell : Baseball: After battling drugs and depression, the former Dodger shortstop finally feels part of a team--and important as an individual". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
  22. Obama, Barack (April 19, 2010), Remarks by the President at fundraising event for Senator Boxer and the DNC, retrieved September 12, 2017
  23. Perry, Dayn. "Don Newcombe, former Dodgers great and inaugural Cy Young Award winner, dead at 92". CBS Sports. Retrieved February 19, 2019.

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Joe Hatten
Carl Erskine
Brooklyn Dodgers Opening Day
Starting pitcher

Succeeded by
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