Los Angeles Dodgers: Don Newcombe deserves ultimate honor

371617 03: Former Dodger Don Newcome was on-hand to unveil "The legends of Baseball Stamps" at Dodgers Stadium, in Los Angeles, Ca., June 26th, 2000. (Photo by Dan Callister/ Newsmakers)
371617 03: Former Dodger Don Newcome was on-hand to unveil "The legends of Baseball Stamps" at Dodgers Stadium, in Los Angeles, Ca., June 26th, 2000. (Photo by Dan Callister/ Newsmakers) /

This passed week the Los Angeles Dodgers lost a legend and part of the family with the passing of former pitcher Don Newcombe.

The 92-year-old Don Newcombe was considered the first prominent African American pitcher in the majors, he was the first player player in Major League Baseball to win the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and CY Young in his career, eight of which were with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Newcombe signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946, just a year after Jackie Robinson signed with the team. After two years in the minor leagues Newcombe debuted for the Dodgers in May of 1949.

As the staff ace of the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers, Newcombe played with the team from 1949-1956, going 123-66 with 931 strikeouts and 111 completed games. Newcombe was a three time 20-game winner and part of four World Series teams including the 1955 World Series the first one won by the Dodgers.

Newcombe lost two full seasons to military service in 1952 and 1953 missing out on two other chances to play in the World Series. Newcombe’s career was marred by his problems with alcohol and he was traded away to the Cincinnati Reds during the 1958 season after going 7-19 over his last 34 starts with the Dodgers.

Newcombe would trudge along until the 1960 season with the Reds and Cleveland Indians his last few seasons being hampered by arm ailments and his alcoholism. Newcombe would get just 26 more wins away from the Dodgers finishing his career with 149.

Newcombe’s alcoholism was in part due to the pressure he faced not only as the Dodgers ace pitcher but also for his part in carrying the burden of having to deal with racism and prejudice’s of his day.

In the age before bullpens Newcombe was criticized for his inability to finish big games despite his tremendous workload. Newcombe was criticized for failing to finish game three of the 1951 playoff tiebreaker between the Dodgers and Giants that the team lost costing them the pennant. Alcohol was his refuge.

Newcombe’s alcoholism would get worst in retirement until 1966 when he finally stopped thanks to help from Alcoholics Anonymous. Despite never pitching in Los Angeles Newcombe, remained affiliated with the Los Angeles Dodgers Dodgers until his death.

It was Newcombe who helped former Dodgers pitcher Bob Welch in his fight against alcoholism and Newcombe would council other professional baseball players in combating substance abuse. With the Dodgers Newcombe remained a community ambassador and could be found in attendance at most games.

Newcombe was to be honored along with Steve Garvey and Fernando Valenzuela as “Dodgers Legends,” but it’s time the Dodgers forego their own silly rules and retire Newcombe’s 36 jersey. They should do it regardless if he is ever honored by the Baseball Hall of Fame not just for his playing career but also because of his contributions to Civil Rights and in combating substance abuse.

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Don Newcombe deserves more than “Legend” status he should be immortalized by seeing his number in the same place as his teammates in the fight against racism Jackie Robinson and Roy Camapanella.