Newcombe, Wills honored for efforts
Former Dodgers have pair of bridges named after them
DOWNEY, Ca -- A bridge can have different meaning to each individual. For some it's something you cross to physically get from one place to another. For Don Newcombe and Maury Wills, two former baseball greats who fell into the deep pit of alcohol and drug abuse and found their way out to lead not just productive; but exemplary lives -- their bridge was an emotional one to cross -- and the pair was rewarded for their efforts by having two bridges at the Los Amigos Country Club dedicated in their honor."I have families who have trouble with their children and after finding out how involved Maury and Don have been in programs helping families, I thought it would be wonderful to take these brand new bridges and dedicate it to the people who have had trouble with drugs and alcohol," said Los Amigos President Don Duffin. "I feel it is crossing over from a bad life to a good life." So fittingly the dedication of each plaque has the same inscription: "To honor his contributions not only to baseball, but to the thousands he has helped cross over from darkness to sobriety." Both Newcombe and Wills play golf regularly at Los Amigos and are deeply moved by the country club's gesture. "I'm glad to be anywhere when I think about my life back then," said Newcombe, who placed his hands on his young son's head 39 years ago and swore he would never have another drink after alcoholism derailed a brilliant pitching career with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. "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." "Just being here with Don Newcombe makes me feel great," said Wills, the 1962 National League Most Valuable Player for the Dodgers, whose life slid into a deep hole of drug and alcohol abuse in the early 1980's and who will be clean and sober 17 years this August. "I'm standing here with the man who saved my life. He was a channel for God's love for me because 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." Newcombe, who has been the Dodgers' director of community affairs for over thirty years and is still the only player in baseball history to have won the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Awards, is very proud of what Wills has done to help others. "Maury is doing so well now -- I know he cares more about what he is doing now than a lot of the things he did in baseball," said Newcombe. "He has six people now that he takes care of as their sponsor -- six people. Imagine what that means now to people who have alcoholism when they hear this." It's also fitting that the two would receive this honor in the month of February, which is also Black History Month. Newcombe, who served as a trail blazer along with fellow Dodger greats Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella as the first group of black stars in Major League Baseball, looks back with pride in collective contributions he and his friends made to the game. "Sixty years ago this month Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe made history in this country," said Newcombe, referring to the fact that he and his future Dodger teammates started playing in the Minor Leagues. "Robinson in Montreal and Campanella and Newcombe in Nashua, one of the Dodgers' lower Minor League affiliates. We made changes that went on for so long that black men couldn't play Major League Baseball in the so-called All-American sports pastime. Now all that has changed after 60 years. I'm the only one left from that team who is still here to talk about it, and to remind people that 60 years ago, it was not like this and what we had to go through to get what it is like today." "I will always have a great appreciation for Don Newcombe, for Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Joe Black, Dan Bankhead and Sam Jethroe," said Wills, who serves as a bunting and baserunning coach for the Dodgers. "I remember all those players -- I looked up to them. When I came along, even though they set the tone and made it possible for me to get into organized baseball -- I was still confronted with a lot of the things that they went through -- but it was softened much more for me by them." So for these two men the bridges that have been dedicated to them are well deserved and an honor they don't take lightly. "We paid our tolls to cross that bridge," said Newcombe. "And we will keep on having others pay their toll because it's a great world on the other side of that bridge if they give it a chance."
Ben Platt is a national correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.