Newcombe Looks Back on Amazing Career|
by: Patrick Hickey, Jr. | Senior Writer - NY Sports Day | Tuesday, July 31, 2007
BROOKLYN, NY - Seeing Moises Alou in a Cyclones uniform may have been a pleasant surprise for some of the fans at Keyspan Park on July 22, but most of them had their eyes set on seeing former Cy Young award winner and Brooklyn great Don Newcombe throw out the first ceremonial pitch before the Mets Single-A affiliate took on the Tri-City Valley Cats.
Firing a strike to the backstop at age 81, looking very similar to the way he did nearly 50 years ago, it’s obvious that Newcombe still loves the game of baseball and loved every second of his time in Brooklyn during his career, making his appearance at Keyspan even more special.
“It’s like being away for a long time and coming home,” said Newcombe, who also had his number 36 honored with a plaque outside the press box after he threw out the first pitch. “I haven’t been to this area in a very long time and I’m very happy to be here today. I just wish they would have had a ballpark like this when I was in the minor leagues. That would have been pretty inspirational.”
Getting his start in the Negro leagues as an 18-year old, Newcombe played with some phenomenal players that never got the chance to break into the big leagues. Looking back, Newcombe admits it would have been great to see some of the Negro league stars get a chance to prove themselves, but is happy nonetheless that he got his shot and was able to play in the bigs for 10 seasons and rack up 149 wins, a MVP award, a Cy Young award over the course of his All-Star career.
“The Negro leagues were great because it was the only place where I could play at first because I was a black man,” said Newcombe, who was also arguably the best hitting pitcher in baseball history, hitting .271 for his career, including a .359 season with seven home runs in 1955. “We got a great start playing against guys like Josh Gibson, Buck O’Neil, Cool Papa Bell and some of those other guys. It was a great experience. Those guys were great ballplayers and I wish they would have gotten the chance. Luckily, somebody got that chance and it was Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby and Don Newcombe. ”
In addition to watching some of the great Negro leaguers during the early stages of his career, Newcombe was able to see everyone from Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle and a myriad of other superstars during his career, thus getting the best of both leagues and a history lesson in the game that no one else has been privy to.
However, despite all the great players he’s seen and played with during his career, Newcombe believes he will always have a special place in his heart for the late Jackie Robinson, who challenged him on the field like no other player had before and helped him realize how special he was to be in the major leagues in the late 40’s, when there were only a handful of black players in the game at the time.
“He was a great man; Jackie was the greatest to be around on and off the field. He was an inspiration to me; he taught me to be a winner,” said Newcombe. “One day he told me to take my uniform off and go home if I didn’t want to pitch today and if I didn’t like what he had to say, we could go into the clubhouse and settle it. I wasn’t about to go into the clubhouse and settle anything with Jackie Robinson. Being around a person with an attitude and a work ethic like that made me a winner. I’ll never forget that man for as long as I live.”
Being an ambassador for African-Americans in the big leagues is something that Newcombe will always cherish, but Newcombe is also very proud of the time he spent in Japan, playing a season with the Chunichi Dragons in 1962. Feeling that he had to continue to extinguish adversity in the game all over the globe, Newcombe feels that the ethnic and cultural barrier needed to be broken there and is proud of what he did in the Far East.
“I enjoyed my time in Japan,” said Newcombe. “I was the first former Major leaguer to play in Japan and I really had a good time there. It needed to be done and I did it. I had a pretty good year that year too. I wanted to come back the next year, but they never called me when I went back home.”
However, despite all of the other great things Newcombe did in his career, his biggest accomplishment was winning both the Cy Young award and the MVP in the same season in 1956, something he feels that he not only earned, but something he fought for after not making the All-Star team that season.
“I was 9-5 in 1956 and didn’t make the All-Star team. It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to know that I went 18-2 during the second half the year; I don’t think anyone in baseball has ever done that before,” said Newcombe. “And the two games I did lose, I lost 1-0 and 2-0. Don Newcombe must have been a pretty good pitcher in 1956; they had to give me something. ”
Regardless of all the accolades in his career however, Newcombe believes his greatest accomplishment is still being remembered by the fans in Brooklyn after being off the field for so long.
“The fans here were so special,” said Newcombe. “They were a lot like the fans that are here today, loud, but supportive. Those people were proud to be Dodgers fans, they were true blue. Seeing so many people here today makes me proud of what I did when I played.”