Don Newcombe, Dodgers pitcher who made his big league debut in St. Louis, dead at age 92

Courtesy: Harry How/Getty Images

ST. LOUIS- The baseball world marked the passing of a pioneer Tuesday with the death of former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, after what the organization called a lengthy illness.

Newcombe was among the first wave of black players to reach the majors and integrate the game in the late 1940s. He made his big league debut on May 20, 1949, in St. Louis, just two years after teammate Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier. It was an inauspicious one; Newcombe came out of the bullpen and gave up three runs on four hits in one third of an inning during a 6-2 loss to the Cardinals. But there wouldn’t be many other outings like that in his rookie campaign. Newcombe went 17-8 and captured the Rookie of the Year award in the process. He would later become the first player to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards.  His career was cut short by alcoholism, but Newcombe spent much of the rest of his life helping others with substance abuse problems.

“Don Newcombe was a big man in every way,” longtime broadcaster Vin Scully told MLB.com. “He had a big trophy case. Don was admired by Dr. Martin Luther King and he was a big champion in the fight for equality along with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. The former 27-game winner was an even bigger winner when he overcame his battle with alcoholism and helped others whenever he could. He truly was a big man on and off the field and he will be missed by all.”

In 2009, in a column ahead of Barack Obama’s inauguration as the nation’s first black president, New York Times columnist George Vecsey talked to Newcombe about the struggles from that time of early integration, when Newcombe recalled black fans not being allowed inside certain sections of Sportsmans Park until the Dodgers protested and the fans were let in.

“You made money for the Cardinals,” Vecsey said.

“We just wanted them to watch us play, not stand out in the streets with radios,” Newcombe answered.

 

 

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