Don Newcombe

Dodger Great Don Newcombe Dies at 92


By David A. Avila

Another link to baseball’s Brooklyn Dodger lore and color barrier cracking crew passed away as Don “Newk” Newcombe died at age 92 on Tuesday.

Newcombe was the first Black pitcher to win 20 games and win the Cy Young Award feats he accomplished in different baseball seasons.

For many years after retirement, the hat-wearing pitching great would greet members of the media and Dodger fans every season in Los Angeles. He was one of the few to play for both the Brooklyn and Los Angeles franchises and served as an ambassador for the organization till he died.

Born on June 14, 1926, in Madison New Jersey, the tall and sturdy looking Newcombe followed the path led by Black baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson two years earlier. He became the first Black pitcher for the Dodger organization and was signed by then general manager Branch Rickey while playing for the Newark Eagles of the Negro League.

“I was at the right place at the right time,” said Newcombe to “I don’t know where I’d be without the Negro Leagues.”

Newcombe debuted for the Dodgers on May 20, 1949, and became a primary factor for the team winning the pennant that year as he won 17 games. He also led the National League in shutouts including 32 consecutive shutout innings. He would be named the N.L. Rookie of the Year and the first ever chosen.

During the Korean War the Dodger hurler was drafted into the military and served in 1952 and 1953. Upon his return he was not as effective in 1954, but bounced back big in 1955 with 20 wins to become the first Black pitcher to win that many. In 1956 he was even better as he grabbed 27 wins including 18 complete games to win the Cy Young Award and Most Valuable Player.

He moved to Los Angeles with the team in 1958 but was not as effective. He finished his Major League career in 1960. In a 10-year career his record was 149-90 with 1,129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA. Four times he was selected to the All Stars.

Many who visited the Dodgers over the decades would see Newcombe dressed to the Ts’ with a fashionable hat standing in front of the home dugout. He was a teammate of Tommy Lasorda and both welcomed visitors to the Dodgers.

Ron Darling the former New York Met pitching great remembers those visits to Dodger stadium well and meeting the pitcher known as Newk.

“He was always the sharpest dressed man and would come and shake my hand with those huge pitcher’s hands,” said Darling on MLB network. “What a lot of people don’t know is he was an amazing hitter. He hit .350 one year.”

Newcombe had a career .271 batting average and hit 15 homers. He was often used as a pinch hitter.

As a regular baseball writer I myself spoke to Newcombe on many occasions. One of the questions I asked was about his confrontations with Willie Mays and also playing along with Jackie Robinson.

“Jackie was a heck of a player and our leader,” said Newcombe of Robinson. “Nobody played harder than Jackie.”

Nobody pitched as hard as Newcombe either. He was blue link to the Dodgers colorful and groundbreaking past that is now almost gone except for a few.

Newcombe died today Feb. 19, 2019 at age 92.