Don Newcombe

The first outstanding black pitcher in ML history, Newcombe is the only player to have won the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Cy Young Awards. Physically imposing, the 6’4″ 220-lb Newk was sometimes criticized as lethargic, but his explosive fastball was likened by Ted Williams to those of AL stars Bob Feller and Virgil Trucks. He anchored the pitching rotation for the “Boys of Summer” Dodgers and was one of baseball’s dominant forces from 1949 to 1956.

After one season with the Negro League Newark Eagles, Newcombe signed with the Dodgers, arriving in Brooklyn in 1949. He immediately helped the Dodgers to a pennant. He shut out the Reds 3-0 in his May 22 debut and finished 17-8, 3.17, with a league-leading five shutouts. In the heat of the pennant race, which the Dodgers won by a single game over the Cardinals, Newcombe pitched 32 consecutive scoreless innings. He was named Rookie of the Year by both TSN and the BBWAA.

Newk was a strong 19-11 in his sophomore season, but on the last day of the season suffered the first of many late-season failures that would plague his otherwise outstanding career. Brooklyn needed a win to force a playoff with the Phillies when Newcombe served up a tenth-inning three-run homer to Dick Sisler to lose 4-1. Newk rebounded to go 20-9 in 1951, fanning a NL-high 164, and shut out the Phillies on the second-to-last day of the season to help force a three-game playoff with the Giants. He started Game Three, and appeared headed for a victory, the WS, and redemption from the previous year with a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth. He left the game with two runnners on base, and Bobby Thomson won the pennant for the Giants with a three-run home run.

After two years in the military, Brooklyn’s number 36 suffered a disappointing 1954 (9-8, 4.55), but returned to form in 1955, going 20-5, 3.20. He peaked the following year, with a sterling 27-7 record, five shutouts, and a 3.06 ERA, and was named NL MVP and recipient of the first-ever Cy Young Award, then given to only one pitcher each year (rather than one from each league).

In addition to his success on the mound, Newk was a threat at the plate, with a powerful left-handed stroke and a lifetime .271 average (9th best ever among pitchers). In 1955 he hit .359 with 7 home runs (a NL record for pitchers), including two two-home-run games. He hit two homers in a game a third time the next year, and found a place as a first baseman in Japan when his ML pitching days were over.

Still, the postseason was a personal nightmare for the usually dominating Newcombe. He pitched well in his first WS outing, fanning 11 and allowing only 4 hits in Game One of the 1949 Series, only to lose 1-0 on Tommy Henrich‘s ninth-inning homer. In his four other WS starts he allowed 20 earned runs in 14 innings.