Don Newcombe

File:Don Newcombe 1955.png

Don Newcombe in 1955 with the Brooklyn Dodgers (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

“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.” ~ Don Newcombe

Don Newcombe passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. The Dodgers’ pitcher played an important role in the integration of baseball. Along with Roy Campanella, he played for the first racially integrated team in the United States – the 1946 Nashua Dodgers – and became the third African American pitcher in Major League Baseball when he made his MLB debut in May 1949.

Newcombe pitched for the Newark Eagles in 1944 and 1945 before signing with the Dodgers in 1945. He spent the 1946 season with the Class B Nashua Dodgers. According to Wikipedia, the Dodgers chose Nashua, New Hampshire, as the location for its Class B minor league team given its large French Canadian population (who, it was assumed, would be more accepting of Black players) and its “racially progressive newspaper.” (Meanwhile, Jackie Robinson spent the 1946 season with the Dodgers triple-A team in Montreal, Canada.)

Newcombe spent two seasons in Nashua and one in Montreal before making his debut with the Dodgers in 1949, becoming the third African American pitcher in the majors. Dan Bankhead and Satchel Paige preceded him in 1947 and 1948, respectively. Newcombe won Rookie of the Year with a 19-11 record and followed that with a 20-9 season in 1951.

Newcombe missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons while in the Army during the Korean War, but returned to the Dodgers in 1954. He was traded to the Reds in 1958 and to the Indians in mid-1960. He was released at the end of the year. In 1962, he played for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, primarily as an outfielder and first baseman. Newcombe returned to the Dodgers as their Director of Community Affairs in the late 1970s, and later was named special advisor to the chairman of team.

Although he battled alcoholism during and after his playing career, he became sober in 1967. In 1980, he established the Dodger Drug and Alcoholic Awareness Program and later became a consultant for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He also served as the director for special projects for the New Beginning Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program and worked with veterans dealing with substance abuse through the USO.

Yesterday, Stan Kasten, president of the Dodgers, noted: “’Don Newcombe’s presence and life established him as a role model for major leaguers across the country. 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.”

Thank you for your service and rest in peace, Mr. Newcombe.

~ baseballrebecca