Don Newcombe: An Up-and-Down Story

Bleacher Report Senior Writer IOctober 16, 2008

Don Newcombe was the first great African American pitcher in the majors. He was the ace of a great Dodgers staff. He was the only player to ever win Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Cy Young.

Newcombe grew up in New Jersey and didn't even start playing baseball until 13. At 18, he joined the Newark Eagles, a Negro League team. In 1945, Newcombe pitched an exhibition game in Ebbetts Field. He threw just two innings, but a Dodgers scout was interested in him.

The Dodgers gave him $750 in guaranteed money and a $1,500 signing bonus.

He thought he was going to sign with a Negro League team. Instead, Newcombe and some of his fellow teammates were and transferred to the Dodgers. They were sent to the minors.

Two of those teammates included Jackie Robinson and catcher Roy Campanella. Newcombe and Campanella went to Nashua of Class B. The two gelled right away as one of the best batteries in baseball. Newcombe went 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.

Newcombe lived up to the hype by 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, he was rewarded with his third All-Star game. He had reached an All-star Game in as many seasons as he played in the majors.

Newcombe didn't even play in 1952 and 1953. He was with the military, serving his country in World War II.

He rebounded in the Dodgers dream season in 1955 by going 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA. He pitched even better in 1956. He was 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA. Not only did he win a Cy Young, he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

Note: Newcombe won the first Cy Young Award in baseball history.

But things went sour after that.

The Dodgers traded him to Boston in 1958 and in 1960 he was sold to the Cleveland Indians.

He was 34 and his career was already over.

Not to mention, he was also battling alcoholism.

Newcombe returned to baseball in 1962 and spent a year in the Japanese League. Not many knew he was easily the best hitting pitcher ever. He had a .271 career batting average and set a record by hitting seven homers in 1955. Sadly, he was still an alcoholic and overstayed his welcome in Japan.

Newcombe migrated back to the United States and was obviously upset. He had difficulty keeping a job, almost killed himself, and nearly drowned his son in a pool. Newcombe dug deep within his soul and decided to never drink again, thus changing his life forever.

By the end of the 1990s, he was counseling players on the Dodgers about drugs and alcohol.

Despite all of sins he committed, I like Newcombe. He quit alcoholism after being afflicted for almost 20 years. That takes commitment and courage. Now, he has found it in himself to help other people who are going through the struggle he went through as a player.