Don Newcombe

From BR Bullpen

1961 Topps #483 Don Newcombe

Donald Newcombe

BR page

Biographical information[edit]

1956 Topps

Don Newcombe was one of the first black players in the major leagues, with a ten-year career as a pitcher and posting a lifetime major league record of 149-90. His career winning percentage ranks # 58 of all time (many of the pitchers above him are from the 19th century or the turn of the 20th century). He appeared on four All-Star teams, and won the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award in the same season, 1956.

Before the white major leagues[edit]

Before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, Newcombe played for the Negro Leagues' Newark Eagles in 1944 and 1945. A newspaper poll done in 1952 placed him on the second team all-time Negro League greats. See Who were the Best Negro Leaguers?

When he joined the Dodgers, he played for the Nashua Dodgers in 1946 and 1947 and was with the Montreal Royals in the International League in 1948 and 1949. During those four seasons in the minors he posted a win-loss record of 52-18.

Major league highlights[edit]

Newcombe's major league debut in 1949 was a shutout against the Cincinnati Reds. He went 17-8 in his first season and was a key factor in bringing the Dodgers the pennant. He led the team in wins (ahead of Preacher Roe, who had a 15-6 record).

He won the Rookie of the League Award in 1949 and is the only player to ever win the MVP Award, the Cy Young Award, and the Rookie of the Year Award. He was the first player to win the Cy Young Award when it was initiated in 1956.

He lost two years to the military (1952-1953), something which is not usually counted into his record. In particular, he had won 20 games in 1951 before going into the military, and he won 20 games again in 1955, so one can only imagine how the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers would have done if they had had him on the team. The 1953 Dodgers won 105 games without him, and with him they might have become one of the three or four winningest teams of all time.

Newcombe started 14-1 in 1955, the best record before the All-Star Game by a pitcher with 15+ decisions until 2010, when Ubaldo Jimenez began the season 15-1. He had won his first 10 decisions before suffering his lone loss of the first half on June 12th; no other Dodgers starting pitcher would begin a season 10-0 until Alex Wood in 2017. He was 18-1 after a win on July 31st, but lost 4 of his last 6 decisions to finish at 20-5. Still, the 18-1 mark was the best after 19 decisions since Rube Marquard had won his first 19 decisions for the New York Giants in 1912. Roy Face matched him by going 18-1 for the entire 1959 season, and Max Scherzer also started off 18-1 for the 2013 Detroit Tigers.

After leaving the Dodgers, Newcombe had a good season with the Cincinnati Redlegs in 1959, where his 13 victories tied for the team lead with Bob Purkey - although Purkey went 13-18, while Newcombe went 13-8. His presence in Cincinnati gave the team three top black stars while still in the 1950s - Frank Robinson, Vada Pinson, and himself.

Newcombe was one of the best hitters of all-time among pitchers. His .271 batting average with an OBP of .338 in 878 life-time at-bats compares favorably to many position players of the time. He hit .319 in 1954, and then in 1955 hit .359 with 7 home runs - a .632 slugging percentage in 117 at-bats. Only Willie Mays, of all position players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the slugging championship, had a higher slugging percentage. Newcombe beat his teammate Duke Snider, who had a .628 slugging percentage in 538 at-bats. In 1958, Newcombe hit .361 in 72 at-bats, and in 1959 he hit .305. As a result of his hitting prowess, he was used regularly as a pinch hitter starting in 1955, going 20 for 87 in the role (.230) lifetime.

After the major leagues[edit]

After retiring from the major leagues, he was with the Spokane Indians in 1961 and then played for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan in 1962 as a first baseman and outfielder. He hit .262/.316/.473 with 12 homers in 279 AB.

After his playing days Newcombe worked in the front office of the Dodgers.

Hall of Fame analysis[edit]

It is interesting that Newcombe has not done better in Hall of Fame voting. His highest total among BBWAA voters was 15%. However, he was considered mostly in the 1960s and 1970s at a time when a certain amount of racism was still prevalent among voters. In the 2005 voting by the Veterans Committee, he placed 19th with 10% of the vote. In 2007, he received much more, getting 21%.

The argument against Newcombe, of course, is that his career is just too short. But that's unfair to a player who was excluded from the white major leagues in his early days and played in the Negro Leagues and white minor leagues. Then, he served in the armed forces in mid-career, something that has been looked upon quite favorably in the case of white prospects for the Hall of Fame whose careers were shortened by military service. One can compare him to Jackie Robinson, who played only 10 years in the majors due to racism, and Larry Doby, whose major league career lasted only 13 years.

Newcombe was simply the first great black pitcher in the majors, at a time when racists felt that blacks were not supposed to be pitchers. He won both an MVP award and a Cy Young Award, the sign of a great pitcher, and he had a high career winning percentage on teams that often went to the World Series. He was one of the best hitters ever among pitchers (hitting for a higher average lifetime than Pee Wee Reese), and he was an excellent fielder for a pitcher, with above-average range factors and fielding percentages.

One of the most similar players to Newcombe, based on the similarity scores method, is Dizzy Dean. Imagine a player with Dizzy Dean's pitching skills, only with better batting and fielding skills, and then imagine that player dealing with racism while trying to become baseball's first prominent black pitcher. That was Don Newcombe.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 4-time NL All-Star (1949-1951 & 1955)
  • NL Rookie of the Year Award (1949)
  • NL MVP (1956)
  • ML Cy Young Award (1956)
  • NL Wins Leader (1956)
  • 2-time NL Winning Percentage Leader (1955 & 1956)
  • NL Strikeouts Leader (1951)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (1949)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 5 (1949-1951, 1955 & 1956)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 3 (1951, 1955 & 1956)
  • 25 Wins Seasons: 1 (1956)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 6 (1949-1951, 1955, 1956 & 1959)
  • Won a World Series with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955

1955 1956 1957
Roy Campanella Don Newcombe Hank Aaron
ML Cy Young Award
1955 1956 1957
First Award Don Newcombe Warren Spahn
NL Rookie of the Year
1948 1949 1950
Award Combined Don Newcombe Sam Jethroe

Further Reading[edit]

Related Sites[edit]