It was announced Tuesday that legendary pitcher Don Newcombe has passed away after a long illness. He was 92-years-old. The four-time all-star from the Brooklyn Dodgers is survived by his wife, Karen, and three children.
The Dodgers announced his passing on Twitter:
Don Newcombe (1926-2019) pic.twitter.com/LcFwmeXJ58
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) February 19, 2019
Remembering Don Newcombe
The legend won the inaugural Cy Young Award, awarded to the league’s best pitcher as voted by sportswriters, in 1956. (From 1956-66, one award was given for all of MLB. Separate awards for AL and NL pitchers began in 1967 and continue to the present.) He also won the MVP that year, the first pitcher to win both awards in the same season. That year, his record was 27-7 with a 3.06 ERA. His 27 wins are tied with Sandy Koufax, Steve Carlton, and Bob Welch for the second-most in a Cy Young Award season. Only Denny McLain, who won 31 for the Detroit Tigers in 1968, won more games in a Cy Young-winning season.
Newcombe was in his prime during the Dodgers’ last days in Brooklyn. His MLB career began in 1949 after two seasons in the Negro Leagues and three in the minors.
During his rookie season, the 23-year-old went 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA and a league-leading five shutouts. He was named to the All-Star Team and won the Rookie of the Year award, defeating Boston Braves catcher Del Crandall with 21 out of 24 first-place votes. After two more All-Star seasons in 1950 and 1951, he missed two seasons to serve in the Army.
After a sub-par season in 1954, he made the All-Star Team for the final time in 1955. His record of 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA and a league-leading 1.113 WHIP was instrumental in Brooklyn’s pennant run. Although he had a rough outing in the World Series, the Dodgers prevailed over the New York Yankees in seven games, winning their first title. He was also feared with his bat, hitting better than .300 in four of his ten seasons and better than .200 in all but one.
Trade to Cincinnati
After the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958, he struggled. An 0-6 record in eight starts prompted a mid-season trade to the Cincinnati Reds. He did better there, going 7-7 for the rest of the season. After two more above-average years, his career ended.
Beginning in 1956, Newcombe struggled with alcohol addiction, something that he later said contributed to his shortened career. After he quit drinking in 1966, he helped others deal with substance abuse. According to Mike Kupper with the Los Angeles Times, former L.A. Dodger Maury Wills was one such person. Wills would later say that Newcombe was “the man who saved my life.”
Newcombe left a great legacy both on and off the field, but his off-field achievements were his proudest. “What I have done after my baseball career,” said Newcombe, “And being able to help people [get] their lives back on track and … become human beings again, means more to me than all the things I did in baseball.” Such a wonderful human being will truly be missed by many.
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