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Remembering Former Dodger Great Don Newcombe

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The baseball pitcher Don Newcombe has died. He was 92 years old, a man who broke barriers in the early days of baseball desegregation.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The world knows the name of Jackie Robinson, who broke a racial barrier when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. By 1949, the Dodgers had three black players - Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe. Bill Plaschke as a columnist at the LA Times.

BILL PLASCHKE: He was as much a part of the civil rights movement as much as anybody. At age 92, he outlived many of those who harassed him and tormented him.

GREENE: The first black major league players faced segregated quarters when they traveled. They endured racial slurs and death threats. But Newcombe says opposing teams knew better than to insult him. He spoke with All Things Considered in 1975.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST

DON NEWCOMBE: I was big, I was young, and I could throw that baseball awful hard. And players weren't about to call me any names outside of hello, Mr. Newcombe or Don or whatever. They had to get up to that plate with that baseball bat in their hand, and they - you know, that ball hurts when it hit you.

INSKEEP: Newcombe became the first African-American pitcher to start a World Series game. He was named national league rookie of the year. And, in later years, he received a Cy Young Award, then awarded to baseball's best pitcher. He did all that despite missing two years of play while serving in the Korean War.

GREENE: Newcombe believed he could have accomplished even more had he not suffered from alcoholism. He later helped other players facing addiction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NEWCOMBE: I'm asked many times, Don, what do you do now? And I tell them that I am an ex-alcoholic, had the life that I lived, got weak in the sense and got involved with alcohol. I didn't take care of myself, like a lot of athletes do today and have done in the past. But I consider myself sort of an evangelist.

INSKEEP: Columnist Bill Plaschke says that attitude is what he'll remember about Newcombe.

PLASCHKE: You learn from him that every day is a good day, that every day you can make a positive influence on somebody, that every day, you know, no matter what's going on around you, you can judge your day by how you affect others.

GREENE: Don Newcombe died here in California yesterday just under 70 years after his first Major League Baseball game.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "PITTSBURGH LEFT (ELIOT LIPP REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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