Don Newcombe and Justin Verlander, the Detroit Tigers’ hard-throwing right-hander, are the only players in big-league history who have won the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player.
That’s heady stuff, but “Newk’’ maintains his off-the-field achievements are just as important.
For several decades, Newcombe was the Dodgers’ Director of Community Affairs, and was recently appointed special advisor to the Chairman of the Board.
When Newcombe’s 10-year playing career came to a close after the 1960 season, he started drinking heavily and became an alcoholic.
After ups and downs, Newcombe finally won, and has been sober since 1967.
Newcombe talks to groups about the dangers behind the bottle.
“What I have done after my baseball career, and being able to help people with their lives and getting their lives back on track, and they become human beings again, means more to me than all the things I did in baseball,’’ Newcombe said.
At a time when race truly mattered, the Brooklyn Dodgers were miles ahead of every team in baseball, and it began with the signing of infielder Jackie Robinson, who made his debut on April 15, 1947. Robinson was later joined by Newcombe, catcher Roy Campanella, and infielder Jim Gilliam.
Newcombe compiled a 149-90 record with a 3.56 earned-run average, 24 shutouts and 136 complete games after missing 1952 and 1953 due to military service.
Newcombe’s career kicked off in 1949 when he put together a 17-8 mark with a 3.17 ERA, 19 complete games, five shutouts, 149 strikeouts and 73 walks.
Brooklyn faced the vaunted New York Yankees in the World Series, and fell to the Bronx Bombers.
Though Newcombe was roughed up in that Series to the tune of two losses without a victory, and would absorb single setbacks in 1955 and 1956, he was thrilled to be the first African American to pitch in the Fall Classic.
Newcombe had a winning record seven seasons, three 20-win campaigns, and a 19-win outing in 1950.
In 1951, Newcombe went 20-9 with a 3.28 ERA, 18 complete games and three shutouts, in 1955 was 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA and 17 complete games, and in 1956 finished 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA, 18 complete games and five shutouts.
At a fundraiser for California Senator Barbara Boxer in 2010, President Barack Obama had a few words to say about Newcombe, who was present.
“Don was someone who helped America become what it is,’’ he noted. “I would not be here if it were not for Jackie [Robinson] and it were not for Don Newcombe.”
Fifteen years ago I had dinner with Newcombe, and the late Dodgers’ closer Joe Black in the stadium press box.
At one point, I told Newcombe his career numbers were similar to Dodgers’ legend Sandy Koufax, and that they seemed worthy of the Hall of Fame.
He thanked me. “Sandy and I have been great friends for a long time,’’ he said, “and I don’t want to say he doesn’t deserve to be there, because he does. But if our numbers are similar, then maybe I also belong.’’
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.