Baseball Legend Don Newcombe Dies At 92
Newcombe helped integrate baseball and broke his sport's records during his 10-year career.
February 19, 2019 at 9:32 pm
Baseball great Don Newcombe has passed away at the age of 92.
NBC News reports Newcombe, who helped integrate Major League Baseball alongside his Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, died after battling an illness.
Newcombe was a star of the Negro Leagues and burst onto the MLB scene in 1949 as a pitcher for the Dodgers. He was one of three men Dodgers president Branch Rickey considered when deciding who would be the first Black player in the majors, according to the Los Angeles Times.
While Rickey picked Robinson to integrate the sport, audiences weren’t overly receptive of Newcombe when he put on his Dodgers uniform two years later. He faced the same death threats and abuse Robinson was forced to endure.
Newcombe quieted his critics on the mound, where he struck batters out left and right with his renowned fastball. In his very first year, he took his team to the World Series and became the first Black pitcher ever to start in a World Series game.
That feat helped Newcombe to win Rookie of the Year; he followed that honor up with Most Valuable Player and Cy Young trophies, becoming the first player of any background to earn all three awards.
The player wasn’t just known for his pitching ability, but also his stamina. In 1950, he famously shut out Philadelphia, then retook the mound the same day to pitch the second game of a doubleheader. Newcombe won that second game, too.
The Dodgers clubhouse relied on Newcombe’s batting ability, as well. He hit better than .300 in 40 percent of his seasons, retired with a batting record of .271 and, to this day, holds the National League record for most home runs hit by a pitcher in a single season.
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Despite all of this, Newcombe said of his retirement, “What I have done after my baseball career … means more to me than all the things I did in baseball.”
The star player didn’t necessarily retire by choice.
“In 1956, I was the best player in baseball,” Newcombe said. “Four years later, I was out of the major leagues, and it must have been the drinking.”
Newcombe started drinking early; his father would give him a beer as a child after his games in the neighborhood, and he continued drinking during his Negro Leagues and MLB days.
At first, he mostly drank beer, but as time went on, he increasingly drank hard alcohol. He’d later say he especially relied on it when he had to travel by plane, as flying didn’t sit well with him.
“Sometimes, I'd come to the park hungover,” Newcombe said. “The only time I didn't drink was the night before I was supposed to pitch.”
Seven years after leaving the game he loved, the pitcher enrolled himself in Alcoholics Anonymous. He got sober and was hired by the Dodgers in the 1970s as the team’s community affairs director.
In that role, Newcombe worked hard to make sure players and members of the larger community got help with their substance abuse struggles. Maury Wills, who played for the Dodgers in the early 1960s, credits Newcombe with saving his life through this work.
“[Newcombe] was a channel for God's love,” Wills said. “He chased me all over Los Angeles, trying to help me. And I just couldn't understand that, but he persevered, he wouldn't give in, and my life is wonderful today because of Don Newcombe.”
A spokesperson for the Dodgers said Newcombe’s funeral is currently being arranged. His wife and three children survive him.
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