Don Newcombe, one of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers history and one of the franchise's final links to Brooklyn and the days of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, died Tuesday after a lengthy illness. He was 92."Mentor at first, friend at the end, missed by anyone who got to know
Don Newcombe, one of the greatest pitchers in Dodgers history and one of the franchise's final links to Brooklyn and the days of Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, died Tuesday after a lengthy illness. He was 92.
"Mentor at first, friend at the end, missed by anyone who got to know him," said former teammate and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
Newcombe was Major League Baseball's first Cy Young Award winner, earning the award in its inaugural season, when it encompassed both leagues, in 1956. He was also the National League's Most Valuable Player that year, the NL Rookie of the Year in 1949 and a four-time All-Star.
"Don Newcombe was a big man in every way," said Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. "He had a big trophy case. Don was admired by Dr. Martin Luther King and he was a big champion in the fight for equality along with Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. The former 27-game winner was an even bigger winner when he overcame his battle with alcoholism and helped others whenever he could. He truly was a big man on and off the field and he will be missed by all."
"Don Newcombe's presence and life established him as a role model for Major Leaguers across the country," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. "He was a constant presence at Dodger Stadium, and players always gravitated to him for his endless advice and leadership. The Dodgers meant everything to him, and we are all fortunate he was a part of our lives."
Born in Madison, N.J., on June 14, 1926, Newcombe pitched 10 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1949-60, missing two years for military service. He won 149 games in his career, with a 3.56 ERA and 1,129 strikeouts. He went 112-48 for Brooklyn over the six seasons he was active from 1949-56.
The right-hander played eight of his seasons as a Dodger -- including winning a World Series ring in 1955 -- and was with the team for its final years in Brooklyn and its first in Los Angeles. He also played for the Reds and Indians before retiring.
Before that, he played in the Negro Leagues and broke the Minor League color barrier when he, Robinson and Campanella signed with the Dodgers. Newcombe was about to start his 62nd season in the organization, which included heading the community-relations department. Since 2009, he was a special advisor to the chairman.
"I lost a great friend and mentor, the Dodgers lost a great Dodger," said Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' first African-American manager. "The game of baseball lost a pioneer, a person who helped break color barriers. Just the stories he told about what he went through as an African-American baseball player, being with Jackie, really resonated with me. His legacy, I take it upon myself to keep that legacy going. My prayers are with Karen and his family."
No current Dodger had a tighter relationship with Newcombe than closer Kenley Jansen, who spoke to Newcombe six days ago.
"I kind of accept it today that he's gone, compared to when I talked to him on the phone and he was in and out -- that was a reality check," said Jansen. "To see him the last few months, it's best for him to be in heaven. I'm going to miss him a ton."
Jansen would sit almost daily with Newcombe and wife Karen in the dugout seats during batting practice at Dodger Stadium. They met in 2010 in one of Newcombe's annual clubhouse addresses.
"I learned mental toughness from him," Jansen said. "What he went through for us to be here and play this game, him and Jackie and Campanella did a lot for us to have this moment. I learned so much from him, and what he went through in his post-career. I learned to be a better father, a better husband."
Newcombe was also one of the best hitting pitchers in the modern game. In 1955, he posted a .359/.395/.632 line with 7 homers in 125 plate appearance. Those 7 homers are tied for the most in a season by a player who was primarily a pitcher since World War II.
"Don Newcombe had a ton of talent and he was a great competitor," said former teammate and Hall of Fame manager Tom Lasorda. "He was a helluva pitcher and he was one of the best hitting pitchers I have ever seen."
Lasorda is now one of four living members from Brooklyn's only World Series-winning team of 1955. The others are Roger Craig, Carl Erskine and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
In his Cy Young- and MVP-winning 1956 season, Newcombe went 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA and 139 strikeouts while leading the Dodgers to a Fall Classic appearance. Newcombe was the only pitcher to be a Rookie of the Year, Cy Young winner and MVP until Justin Verlander joined him in 2011.
"He had an incredible life," said Clayton Kershaw. "He was a pioneer in so many things. Great man and he'll be missed, for sure. The Dodgers uniform meant a lot to him. You could just tell what it meant to him."
Funeral services for Newcombe are pending.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.