Newcombe grateful to pioneers
Dodgers right-hander gives credit to Robinson, Doby
LOS ANGELES -- Don Newcombe wasn't the first pitcher to advance from the Negro Leagues to the Major Leagues.
Just the best.
In October 1945, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to sign with a Major League organization, and Newcombe followed him through the door the next year, signing the same day as batterymate Roy Campanella.
"Newk" played three seasons in the minors and was promoted to Brooklyn after the 1949 season started. He compiled a 17-8 record in 4 1/2 months and was named Rookie of the Year.
He won 19 and 20 games the following two seasons, and was durable enough to nearly win both ends of a doubleheader against Philadelphia in 1950, throwing a 2-0 shutout in the opener and allowing only two runs in seven innings in the nightcap loss. In 1951 he left with a 4-2 lead in the ninth inning of the playoff game that ended with Bobby Thomson's "Shot Heard 'Round the World" that gave the Giants the NL pennant.
He missed the next two years while serving during the Korean War, but returned with two overpowering seasons.
Newcombe went 20-5 for the World Series champion "Boys of Summer" in 1955, allowing only 38 walks in 234 innings, and was just as good with the bat, hitting .359 (.381 as a pinch-hitter).
Then he got even better. In 1956, Newcombe went 27-7 en route to winning the Cy Young Award and being named the National League's Most Valuable Player.
Newcombe threw hard and with uncanny control, he could field his position and he hit like an outfielder. His on-the-field credentials take on even greater meaning considering the challenges that the former Negro League players faced while baseball integrated. Newcombe said there was no question that it was time for the game to change.
"It had to come about," said Newcombe, at 78 still the Dodgers' director of community relations. "If a black man pays his taxes, if he can fight and die for his country, he should be able to get a chance to play Major League Baseball."
Newcombe said the sport's integration never would have happened without the courage of Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, but Newcombe also praised then-Commissioner Happy Chandler.
"As the story goes, Mr. Rickey went to talk to Mr. Chandler, and they were on the front porch, and Rickey said it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it, and Mr. Chandler said, 'Let's do it,' " said Newcombe.
Newcombe said that Larry Doby, who immediately followed Robinson to the Major Leagues, is overlooked as a trailblazer, and that he himself doesn't care about getting any credit.
"I'm proud of my blackness, proud to be a black man who made a contribution," he said. "But it doesn't matter to me how they describe me as long as they gave me a chance. I had a chance to help change the history of this country and be part of what great men like Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and Larry Doby did."
Newcombe knows that the pioneers of his era paved the way for the African Americans who followed, from Willie Mays and Monte Irvin to Barry Bonds.
"They don't have to thank us," he said. "We get our thanks, we get recognized as great players and great men. Nobody can take any of that away from us. Jackie and Roy and I played 10 years together. We won five Most Valuable Player awards, two Rookie of the Year awards, one Cy Young. If Jackie and Roy had pitched, they would have won some of those, too."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.