In the Life of Jackie Robinson: Don Newcombe

An overpowering right-hander, Don Newcombe was one of the key players on the storied post-World War II Brooklyn Dodgers championship teams. Affectionately known as "Big Newk," he was the first great African American pitcher in the majors and was the ace of a Dodgers staff. He is still the only player in league history to hold the amazing distinction of winning the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Cy Young award.

Growing up in New Jersey, Newcombe didn't even start playing baseball until the age of 13.  At 18, he joined the Newark Eagles of the Negro League.  In 1945, Newcombe pitched an exhibition game in Ebbetts Field, throwing just two innings. However it was enough to impress a Dodgers scout who was attending the game.   Thinking he was going to be signed by the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers of the US Negro Baseball League, Newcombe and two of his fellow teammates were transferred to the Dodgers giving him $750 in guaranteed money and a $1,500 signing bonus.  They were sent to the minors.  The two teammates: catcher Roy Campanella and shortstop Jackie Robinson.

Newcombe would go on to dominate the minors pitching for the Nashua Dodgers in Class B New England League.  He would go 14-4 in 1946 and 19-6 the next year.  In 1948, with higher level Montreal, he was 17-6. He started the year with Montreal in 1949, but was quickly brought up to Brooklyn to play for the Dodgers.

"My first day in the majors was May 17, 1949," Newcombe said. "Jackie hadn't been through the worst of it yet by that time. Not in two years. You don't end 150 years of hate in this country in two years. We weren't always welcome in this game, not only by baseball but by the fans. Most of the fans were pretty nice people, but some of them weren't.  Roy and I elected Jackie to be the leader between the three of us. Whatever Jackie said to do, we did. We followed Jackie."

And in doing so, Big Newk lived up to the hype going 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA as a rookie and he was awarded the Rookie of the Year award. He followed his rookie campaign by going 19-11 in 1950 and 20-9 in 1951, and was rewarded with making the All-Star game for the third time in as many years.  However in 1952 and 1953, he would have to miss the next two seasons as he was called upon to serve in the military in World War II.  He rebounded in the Dodgers dream season in 1955 by going 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA leading the Dodgers to their first World Series title in franchise history.  In 1956 he was even better, going 27-7, with a 3.06 ERA. Newcombe would take home the Cy Young and the National League Most Valuable Player awards.



Back to top