• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn
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 (1949–51 and 1954–58), Cincinnati Reds (1958–60), and Cleveland Indians (1960).

“Don Newcombe”, second from right, at the 1949 All-Star Game with, from left, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby and Jackie Robinson.

 

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 accomplished the feat. In 1949, he became the first black pitcher to start a World Series game. In 1951, Newcombe was the first black pitcher to win twenty games in one season. 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.

An excellent hitter among pitchers, Newcombe compiled a career batting average of .271 with 15 home runs and was used as a pinch hitter, a rarity for pitchers.

Don Newcombe, the first MLB player to win the Rookie of the Year, MVP and Cy Young awards and one of the Dodgers’ links to their days in Brooklyn, died Tuesday morning after a lengthy illness, the team announced.

He was 92.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • LinkedIn

“Don Newcombe”, second from right, at the 1949 All-Star Game with, from left, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby and Jackie Robinson.

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

Newcombe attended Jefferson High School in Elizabeth. The school did not have a baseball team, so Newcombe played semiprofessional baseball while attending high school.

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. He continued to play for Nashua in 1947 before being promoted to the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League in 1948.

Newcombe debuted for Brooklyn on May 20, 1949, becoming the third African American pitcher in the major leagues, after Dan Bankhead and Satchel Paige. 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. 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. 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. In 1950, he won 19 games, and 20 the following season, also leading the league in strikeouts in 1951. 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.

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. Newcombe had a difficult time in the 1956 World Series. He was the losing pitcher in Game 7, and he could as Yogi Berra, who hit three home runs off him in the series, hit two of them in Game 7. The Yankees and Johnny Kucks won 9–0.

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. 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.

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).

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. 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.

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.

Personal life

Newcombe was married three times. His first wife was Freddie Cross, whom he married in 1945 and divorced in 1960. A week after his divorce to Cross, 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 from his marriages.

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. In his personal and professional life, he helped numerous other people including military personnel via USO and Dodgers teammate Maury Wills in their own battles against substance abuse.

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.

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

– Barack Obama, April 19, 2010.

“Don Newcombe’s presence and life established him as a role model for major leaguers across the country,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said in a statement from the team. “He was a constant presence at Dodger Stadium and players always gravitated to him for his endless advice and leadership. The Dodgers meant everything to him and we are all fortunate he was part of our lives.”

The New Jersey native made his MLB debut in 1949 with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who signed him after he spent one year in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles. He was named the NL Rookie of the Year after going 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA and a league-high five shutouts.

Newcombe pitched for the Dodgers from 1949-51 and again from 1954-58. He missed two seasons while serving a two-year military stint during the Korean War.

Along with Brooklyn teammates Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Newcombe was among the first African Americans to play in the majors.

Known simply as “Newk,” he went 149-90 with 1,129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA over a 10-year MLB career. He was a four-time All-Star and pitched in three World Series.

Newcombe went 20-5 in 1955, leading the league in winning percentage. It was his second 20-win season after going 20-9 in 1951, when he led the league with 164 strikeouts.

He started Game 1 of the 1955 World Series against the Yankees, who won the opener 6-5, but lost to the Dodgers in seven games, triggering a celebration across the borough of Brooklyn that lasted for weeks.

Ironically, his best season was a year in which he was not selected as an All-Star.

Newcombe claimed both the MVP and Cy Young awards in 1956 when he went 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA over 268 innings to help the Dodgers return to the World Series, where they fell to the Yankees in seven games.

Newcombe was one of baseball’s best-hitting pitchers. His .271 career batting average is ninth-best among pitchers in MLB history. Newcombe had 238 hits in 878 at-bats with 15 home runs, 108 RBIs, 33 doubles, three triples, 94 runs scored and even had eight stolen bases.

Newcombe, who spent two-plus seasons with the Reds, finished his MLB career with the Indians in 1960. He signed with the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball for the 1962 season and was a teammate of former Indians outfielder Larry Doby, the first black player in the American League.

Newcombe, who served as special adviser to the chairman since 2009, was regularly seen at Dodger Stadium in a suit and fedora.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, two sons and a daughter and a stepson as well as two grandchildren.