Former Dodgers great Don Newcombe dead at 92
Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitching great Don Newcombe has died after a lengthy illness, the team announced Tuesday. He was 92.
"Don Newcombe's presence and life established him as a role model for major leaguers across the country," Dodgers president Stan Kasten said in a statement. "He was a constant presence at Dodger Stadium and players always gravitated toward him for his endless advice and friendship. The Dodgers meant everything to him and we are all fortunate he was a part of our lives."
Newcombe, one of the first African-American pitchers in MLB, joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, winning Rookie of the Year while helping the team win the NL pennant.
In Newcombe's debut season, he and Dodgers teammates Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella became three of the first four African-Americans (along with Cleveland outfielder Larry Doby) to appear in an All-Star Game.
After a break to serve in the military during the 1952 and '53 seasons, he returned, and with the likes of Robinson, Campanella, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Pee Wee Reese, helped create a World Series champion.
The Dodgers won it all in 1955, and Newcombe went 20-5 with a 3.20 ERA to help get them there.
"Don Newcombe had a ton of talent and he was a great competitor," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said in a statement. "He was a helluva player, and he was one of the best hitting pitchers I have ever seen."
Newcombe's best season came in 1956, when he led the league with 27 wins and won the Cy Young and MVP awards and led the Dodgers to another NL pennant. But the Dodgers lost the Series to the Yankees in seven games, and Newcombe dropped the deciding contest, giving up two home runs to Yogi Berra.
He never reached the same lofty heights again. After an 0-6 start to the 1958 season (the organization's first in Los Angeles), he was traded to the Reds. He won 13 games in 1959 but only six split between Cincinnati and Cleveland in 1960, his last season.
"Don was a mentor at first, a friend at the end," said Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax. "He will be missed by anyone who got to know him."
After he retired, Newcombe revealed that a drinking problem contributed to the downfall of his career. In the mid-1960s he became sober and worked with various organizations to help curb teenage drinking.
"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," longtime Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully said in a statement. "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."
Newcombe finished his 10-year MLB career as a four-time All-Star with a 149-90 record and 3.56 ERA.
The New Jersey native began his professional career in the Negro Leagues in 1944.
"Anytime you lose somebody that you know is a sad thing. But he lived a pretty incredible life, great story, a pioneer for a lot of different things in baseball," said Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. "Just getting to know him over the years, great man, and he'll be missed, for sure.
"The Dodger uniform meant a lot to him. Before he got older and traveling was tough, he used to speak to us every spring training. You could just tell what it meant to him."
ESPN's Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.