SI Vault
Robert Creamer
August 22, 1955
Brooklyn's fabulous pitcher talks about his career—about the men who helped him, like Branch Rickey, and about those who caused him trouble, like himself
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 22, 1955

Subject: Don Newcombe

Brooklyn's fabulous pitcher talks about his career—about the men who helped him, like Branch Rickey, and about those who caused him trouble, like himself

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

"After a week I began to understand what Mr. Rickey was doing, doing things slow. I began to see that sitting home wasn't doing me any good. So I called up Buzzie Bavasi [then general manager of the Montreal club, now vice president of the Dodgers] and I asked him would he take back a damn fool.

"Then in May they called me up. And I had the sore arm. My wife rubbed my arm it seemed like all day and all night, and when I reported to the club in St. Louis it was okay."

Burt Shotton was managing the Dodgers that year; and in May, as indeed all through the season, Brooklyn was fighting the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League pennant. In St. Louis Shotton sent Newcombe in as a relief pitcher in his major league debut. Much was being written at the time about the racial tension in St. Louis, with colored fans rooting for Robinson, Campanella and the Dodgers, and white fans rooting just as hard against them. When Newcombe came in, the stories go, the colored element roared its welcome. When Newcombe struck out Chuck Diering, the first batter, joy was unrestrained. But then he gave up four consecutive hits, and the cheers went the other way. It was a heartbroken Newcombe, wrote one observer, who trudged off the mound.

"I don't remember it being so bad," Newcombe went on, in his slow, heavy voice. "I never had it the way Jackie did, I know that. What I remember about that game is the way I was thinking. I had always had the idea that the majors weren't much different from Triple-A ball. After I struck out Diering I was sure of it. Then I gave up four straight hits. Schoendienst, Musial, Kazak, Slaughter. That taught me in a hurry that the majors were different. But I wasn't heartbroken. I had good stuff.

"When I pitched against Cincinnati a couple of days later and shut them out, I felt pretty good. I knew then that I could win in the majors. But the real good feeling was later on. I don't know exactly when it was, but it was when I realized that I wasn't going to have to go back down to the minors and come up again, like so many fellows have to do. Unless my arm went bad or I broke a leg, I wasn't going to be sent down. That was a big thing to know that. I guess that was really the biggest thing that ever happened to me in baseball."

Baseball, for Newcombe, goes back to his boyhood in New Jersey. He had three brothers, one older than himself and two younger. "We lived pretty good when I was a kid," he said. "My father had a good job. He was chauffeur for the same family for 28 years. He made $40, $45 a week. That was pretty good money in those days. And he made that right through the depression. We lived in Madison, New Jersey, where I was born. It's not a country town, but there were fields around it then. It wasn't like a suburb, you know, where one town sits right up against another.

"I was very skinny when I was a kid. I had pneumonia. My father took me to the doctor once to see what they could do; but the doctor said just give him lots of good food. I didn't get big, the way I am now, until I was around 17.

"Even though I was skinny I could always throw pretty good when I was a kid. When I was about 9 I used to play on my brother's team. My brother Roland Jr. He was about 14 or 15. I used to pitch batting practice, but I used to do some pitching, too.

"At Lafayette Junior High in Elizabeth, where we moved to, I played on the school team, but I didn't do much pitching. I could pitch pretty good; but there was another kid who was the star and he pitched. I guess he was better than I was. Then.


Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6