Donald Newcombe (June 14, 1926 – February 19, 2019), nicknamed "Newk", was an American Major League Baseball right-handed starting pitcher and left-handed batter who played for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1949–51 and 1954–58), Cincinnati Reds (1958–60) and Cleveland Indians (1960).
Newcombe was the first outstanding black pitcher in major league history. A 6'4", 225-pound fireball thrower, he is also the only baseball player to have won the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards.
After played one season with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, Newcombe signed with the Dodgers, debuting for Brooklyn on May 20, 1949. He immediately helped the Dodgers to the league pennant as he earned 17 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 the All-Star team, along with his 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. He also tied with Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves for the league in strikeouts in 1951.
After two years of military duty during the Korean War, Newcombe suffered a disappointing comeback season in 1954, going 9-8 with a 4.55 ERA, but returned to form the next year by finishing second in the NL in both wins and ERA, with marks of 20-5 and 3.20, as the Dodgers' "Boys of Summer" finally won the World Series. He had an even greater 1956 season, with marks of 27-7, 139 strikeouts, and a 3.06 ERA, 5 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 single best pitcher in both major leagues (teammate Sal Maglie was 2nd in both voting categories).
Following the Dodgers' move to Los Angeles, Newcombe got off to a slow 0-6 start in 1958 before being traded to the Reds for four players in midseason. He posted a record of 24-21 with Cincinnati until they sold his contract to Cleveland in mid-1960. He finished with a 2-3 mark in Cleveland before being released to end his major league career. Newcombe was invited to spring training for a tryout by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but did not make the opening day 28-man roster. Newcombe acknowledges that alcoholism played a significant role in the decline of his career.
In his 10-year major league career, Newcombe registered a record of 149-90, with 1129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA, 136 complete games and 24 shutouts in 2154 innings pitched. In addition to his pitching abilities, Newcombe was a dangerous hitter as well. He batted .271 (the 9th-best average in history among pitchers), with 15 home runs, 108 runs batted in, 238 hits, 33 doubles, 3 triples, 94 runs scored and 8 stolen bases. In 1955, he had the 2nd highest slugging average in the National League (2nd to Willie Mays) for all players with 100 or more times at-bat.
On May 28 in baseball, 1962, Don Newcombe signed with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese League, becoming the second American player, after Wally Kaname Yonamine, to play professional baseball in Japan. Newcombe ppalyed primarily as an outfielder (sore arm). Larry Doby, who finished his major league career in 1959, also played in Japan that year.
Newcombe has maintained sobriety since 1967 and rejoined the Dodger organization in the 1970s. He served as the Dodgers' director of community affairs. In that role, he has helped numerous other people in their own battles against substance abuse.
I'm standing here with the man (Newcombe) 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.
- — Maury Wills, former Dodger great, on Newcombe's role in helping Wills regain sobriety after Wills' substance abuse problems in the 1980's.
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
Newcombe died on the morning of February 19, 2019, at the age of 92, following a long illness. His death was announced by the Dodgers' Twitter account.
- Rookie of the Year (1949)
- National League MVP (1956)
- First MLB Cy Young Award (1956)
- 4-time All-Star (1949–51, 1955)
- Led league in shutouts (5, 1949)
- Led league in strikeouts (164, 1951) (tied with Warren Spahn)
- Led league in wins (1956)
- Won 20 games three times (20, 1951,1955; 27, 1956) (won 19 games in 1950)
- Twice led league in winning percentage (1955–56)
- 3-time hit 2 home runs in a game (April 14, May 30, 1955; September 19, 1956)
- Only NL pitcher of the 1950s to steal home (May 26, 1955)
- 2nd highest NL slugging verage (as batter) in 1955 in NL with 100+ abs (behind Willie Mays).
- Statistics at Baseball Reference
- Dodgers to celebrate Japanese American Community Night
|National League Rookie of the Year|
|National League Most Valuable Player|
|Cy Young Award|