Newcombe to throw ceremonial first pitch at tonight’s Dodger game

By STEVEN HERBERT, City News Service
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Don Newcombe looks on during batting practice prior to their baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Monday, April 29, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Don Newcombe looks on during batting practice prior to their baseball game against the Colorado Rockies, Monday, April 29, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Don Newcombe will throw a ceremonial first pitch before the Los Angeles Dodgers interleague game against the Cleveland Indians tonight at Dodger Stadium.

The first pitch toss to Dodger reliever Kenley Jansen coincides with the first 40,000 fans receiving a replica Brooklyn jersey bearing Newcombe’s number, 36.

Newcombe was baseball’s first player to receive the MVP, Cy Young and rookie of the year awards. (In 2011, Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander became the second.)

Newcombe, who turned 88 on June 14, is in his 57th season with the Dodger organization. He is credited with starting Major League Baseball’s first community relations department in 1970. All 30 MLB teams now have community relations departments. He has been a special advisor to the chairman since 2009.

Newcombe began his professional career with the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League in 1944 and signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946.

When team President Branch Rickey attempted to send Newcombe and future Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella to the Dodgers Danville, Illinois, affiliate in the Class B Three-I League, the league threatened to shut down if the two black players arrived.

Instead, Newcombe and Campanella were sent to the Nashua (New Hampshire) Dodgers of the Class B New England League in 1946, making them the first U.S.- based team in organized baseball in the 20th century to include black players.

(Jackie Robinson had begun his career in the Dodger organization that year with the International League affiliate in Montreal.)

Newcombe began his career with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, going 17-8, helping the Dodgers to the National League pennant and was recipient of the National League rookie of the year award.

Newcombe was a three-time 20-game winner in his seven seasons in Brooklyn, missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons while serving in the U.S. Army.

Newcombe won a team-high 20 games in 1955, the only season the Dodgers won the World Series when they were in Brooklyn and his .800 winning percentage was the best in Major League Baseball.

Newcombe received the inaugural Cy Young Award in 1956 as the best pitcher in Major League Baseball and was the National League MVP as his 27-5 record helped the Dodgers to another pennant.

Following an 0-6 start in the Dodgers first season in Los Angeles in 1958, Newcombe was traded to Cincinnati. He concluded his major league career in 1960 with Cleveland.

In 1962, Newcombe became the first former major leaguer to play in Japan, playing the outfield and first base (pitching just once) for the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Central League.

In 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had dinner at Newcombe’s Los Angeles home, 28 days before being assassinated.

Newcombe recalls King saying, “Don, you’ll never know how easy you and Jackie and (Larry) Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field.”

“Imagine, here is Martin getting beaten with billyclubs, bitten by dogs and thrown in jail and he says we made his job easier.”

Newcombe’s community service contributions include helping numerous others in their battles against substance abuse.

“What I have done after my baseball career — being able to help people with their lives and getting their lives back on track so they become productive human being again — that means more to me than all the things I did in baseball,” Newcombe said.

In a 2010 fundraiser at the California Science Center benefiting the Democratic National Committee and Sen. Barbara Boxer’s re-election campaign, President Barack Obama said Newcombe “helped Major League Baseball become what it is, but also helped America become what it is,” as one of the first blacks to play in the major leagues after Robinson broke the color line in 1947.

Obama called it “an honor” to meet and have his picture taken with Newcombe.

“He was very gracious in saying `Jackie would be proud,”‘ Obama said. “I said, well, `I would not be here if it were not for Jackie and it were not for Don Newcombe.”

 

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