In a time of hatred and disdain towards the African American race, there was a small, yet powerful light that shined through cloudy ignorance.
Guys like Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige provided that light with their positive outlooks on the game of baseball and how they handled adversity not just as ballplayers, but as men.
In an interview with ESPN’s Buster Olney, Newcombe discussed his life as a ball player and talked fondly of multiple teammates, opponents and persons alike.
When Olney asked about his favorite players growing up as a kid, Newcombe shared a few:
Well, I had quite a few of them at a time because I lived in Jersey and went to see the Newark Eagles play a lot and played against Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Those were quite a few idols. They were men that I didn’t ever have the idea that I would pitch against when I got older and I did and it brought back memories and still do.”
Respect was a common theme for Mr. Newcombe, as Olney would only refer to him as. He had the utmost admiration for all of his teammates, but nothing matched the compassion he shared when talking about Campanella and Robinson.
Well, Roy Campanella was always my roommate and my catching mate an my teacher, and then Jackie Robinson, of course. How could you not play with Jackie Robinson this great athlete and do the things he did on the field and off the field, and what a great man he was. Roy and I followed him through the process that we went through and the integrating of baseball. We learned a lot from Jackie and Jackie taught us a lot and he was such a great man that you had to admire him. I still admire him today. Also, because his memory is such a stain in my mind. Such great memories.”
With Robinson starting the integration movement for African-Americans in the major leagues, Newcombe and Campanella followed in his footsteps with no hesitation. They electric battery had contracts in place with the Brooklyn Dodgers, like Robinson, and were quickly shipped to Nashville, New Hampshire, where they would play minor league baseball. They were originally set to play in Danville, California, but the atmosphere and fans were unwelcoming.
They didn’t want any blacks playing in Danville. We would up in Nashville in New Hampshire and that’s where we started our careers, in Nashville, New Hampshire, in 1946.
The notion of being a tough-minded, black player was not always the reason why they were able to last so long in the bigs. Sure, they needed to have thick skin to survive, but Newcombe explained that it was hard to keep track of the hatred and scorn towards them. They focused on playing ball.
Newcombe holds a career record of 149-90 (.623 win percentage) with a 3.56 ERA, 1,129 strikeouts, while throwing 136 complete games.
Newcombe earned many accolades in his ten-year career, winning Rookie of the Year and Sporting News Rookie of the Year in 1949, the Cy Young Award, Most Valuable Player and Sporting News Pitcher of the Year Award in 1956, and the Beacon Award in 2012.
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