RIP, Don Newcombe

Don Newcombe
1926~2019

The great Don Newcombe is gone. Dead at age 92, the baseball world has once more surrendered, one more time, one of the last great figures of that 1946-57 period in which the Brooklyn Dodgers, more than any other MLB club, steamed over the color line that barred identified blacks ~ or negroid coloreds ~ from playing professional baseball with so-called identified whites.

Jackie Robinson, of course, broke the professional white baseball color line in 1946 as a Dodger prospect and player for their farm club, the Montreal Royals. He then broke it again at the major league level for the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers. Then came guys like catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe to make the Dodger commitment to superior pay for superior talent ~ regardless of color ~ the bell of fairness that would ring for everyone over ignorance, prejudice, and racist hate.

Don Newcombe also was one of my special heroes for the way he could just take over a game whenever he started out by just blowing away the first three batters he faced. As a 15-year-old, I even got to see him do his magic in person one time ~ and even if it happened in a not too serious game ~ I shall treasure the memory and thank my dad for it ~ forever.

Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, who was in the military at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio in 1953, was spending a lot of his time pitching for the site’s semi-pro level baseball team. I was 15 when my one chance to see Newcombe pitch came up. We lived in Houston, of course, but this opportunity was about to arise in the most unlikely place I could think of, given the added fact that it was not going to be in our big city home town.

It happened like this:

One day, dad read in his US Mail subscription to the Beeville Bee-Picayune (That’s the newspaper started by his father and my grandfather) that the Brooke Field San Antonio club was coming down to our original home town with plans to pitch Newcombe against the Beeville Blue Jays at the Bee County Fair Grounds Park on the following Sunday.

To make it short, that set us in motion on a family trip to Grandmother McCurdy’s house on the 180-miles one-way trip to Beeville, driving southwest from Houston to Beeville for the game down US Highway 59. Dad, my 11 year old brother John and I went to see the game on Sunday afternoon. Mom and our nearly 2-year old baby sister, Margie, stayed with Grandmother McCurdy while we were busy with baseball stuff.

As for the game, it was more like a keg party that only once-in-a-while broke into some kind of serious baseball game. And it was always Newk’s team that supplied the “serious” part of any offensive explosion. The more the game wore on that day under the simmering hot South Texas sun, the more players on both sides started beer-quenching their thirsts and best abilities for the game of baseball.

By the middle innings, Brooke Medical held a commanding double digit lead over Beeville’s double-aught nothing-doing total in runs or hits scored. In the four or five innings that Newcombe worked from the mound, I cannot remember the Blue Jays so much as coming up with a loud foul off “Newk”. A couple of Beeville boys took some hard rib plunks ~ and maybe one walked. The rest of them haplessly struck out.  ~ Then mid-way into the game, Newk took himself out of “the game”, but he remained in the lineup in right field ~ just in case.

The final score escapes memory. Brooke had close to 20 runs; Beeville had a couple of 8th or 9th inning “mercy” runs off somebody not named Newcombe. And the separate two-team beer party joined together as one happy-in-shared dehydration mob. The younger Beeville players seemed to gather around Don Newcombe post-game like little ducks ~ just soaking up advice too from the big league giant as he laughed and pointed out things to each of them as they did a post-game “shoot-the-shot” with each other ~ (or something like that.)

Don Newcombe could have destroyed a lot of Beeville baseball hopefuls that day, but he chose not to do so. I left there at game’s end with more respect for him than ever. I was too young to see whatever problems he might later have with alcohol, but that’s how addictions work. ~ I don’t think Newk saw them coming his way either, but that seems to be the way substance addictions take control. By the time you realize you have an addiction, it already has you.

Fortunately for the great Don Newcombe, his eventual recovery from his later problems with alcohol would be a gift that passed him on to those he also mentored as something like a “life crisis lessons teacher” ~ and his actions in the world in this regard stood taller as a triumph ~ and far greater than all the good stuff he ever did on the mound as one of the great hard ball throwing pitchers in baseball history.

Rest in Love and Peace, Don Newcombe!

Here’s the obituary link, plus another link about his time in San Antonio:

https://www.sbsun.com/2019/02/19/dodgers-great-don-newcombe-dies-at-92/

https://www.expressnews.com/150years/military-sports/article/Breaking-racial-barriers-in-S-A-6285452.php

 

******************************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Responses to “RIP, Don Newcombe”

  1. bobcopus Says:

    Great story Bill. I truly enjoyed it.

  2. Bob Dorrill Says:

    I’m one of the few people who saw Don Newcombe pitch for the “Jersey City” Dodgers when the Brooklyns traveled across the Hudson River to play a few games in Jersey City in 1957. I don’t remember the score but Don Newcombe was just as intimidating getting off the bus and walking into Roosevelt Stadium as he was on the mound.

  3. Rick B. Says:

    Nice article on Newk, Bill, but I wanted to add a comment about how he and three other players get short shrift for their accomplishments in 1946 because of Jackie Robinson’s outstanding performance at the top level of the minors.

    Most everyone knows that Robinson won the batting title and led Montreal to victory in the Little World Series. However, Johnny Wright – who started out at Montreal with Jackie – and Roy Partlow also were pioneers in breaking the color barrier at the minor-league level and helped lead Three Rivers to the Canadian-American League championship.

    Newcombe and Roy Campanella played for the Nashua Dodgers in 1946, helping to lead that team to the New England League championship. Nashua finished in 2nd place but beat the 1st-place Lynn Red Sox in the finals of the league playoffs.

    That’s three future major-league MVPs the Dodgers had in the minors in 1946. And two guys who won 12 (Wright) and 10 (Partlow) for another championship team, yet never got a second chance with any team in organized baseball, which just helps to show how measured and slow the overall process of integration was.

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