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After that 1951 season Newcombe spent two years in the Army Medical Corps, most of the time as a part of a special demonstration unit. He came back to the majors in 1954. After that season's poor showing, he reported to spring training this year determined to regain his pre-Army form.
"That's why that thing happened." He was referring to his famous run-in with Manager Walter Alston in May. "I wanted to play," he said. "I didn't do much to help the club last year. I had a bad arm. This year I felt fine, but there was the team winning and I wasn't part of it. I wanted to play."
The day before he was finally scheduled to start a game, after 11 straight days on the bench, plans were changed and Newcombe was assigned to pitch batting practice. He hit the ceiling. He said he wouldn't pitch batting practice. Manager Alston told him if he wouldn't do as he was told he'd better take off his uniform and go home. Newcombe ripped off his uniform, stomped out and went home to New Jersey. The Dodgers promptly suspended him indefinitely, fined him and left him to stew.
He didn't stew long. A mathematically minded sportswriter figured it was costing Newcombe over a hundred dollars a day to sit home. Newcombe figured likewise. He called the club, made his peace with Alston and rejoined the Dodgers as they left for Philadelphia.
That night he pitched two blistering innings of relief to beat the Phillies. Four days later he threw a sparkling one-hit shutout against the Cubs. He was off and running. He won 10 straight games, lost one, won eight more before losing twice last week; and he hit like Frank Merriwell.
THE REASONS FOR SUCCESS
There have been a great many reasons advanced for Newcombe's extraordinary success this year. Walter Alston says it is just a case of a man taking a year to readjust physically after two years away from baseball. Newcombe insists it is simply a matter of sore arm last year, no sore arm this year. Whatever the reason, Newcombe this year has been a great pitcher, particularly when he is, as he was earlier this season, seething with anger.
"I never thought about it much," he said, "but it's true. I hate to have people take advantage of me. Maybe I have a complex. My mother always said when I was a kid I was hardheaded. I hated for my brothers to do things to me. I'd fight them. Jackie Robinson says I have too much pride. I don't know whether it's pride or being hard-headed or being just a plain damn fool.
"I know I'd do anything in the world for my mother and my father and my brothers. But if I ever thought they were taking advantage of me, I'd be awfully mad. I'd get mean. My wife says that. There's nobody in this world I think more of than my wife. But you know how husbands get. Sometimes I get mad at her—after all the things she's done for me—but I get mad at her, and she says I get mean."
Newcombe doesn't mention it, but another factor which certainly has an important bearing on his phenomenal baseball success is the pure strength he generates in his huge body. He carries that strength with a majestic swagger that makes him look—if you exercise only a little imagination—like some all-powerful Hamitic king of ancient Egypt. He handles a baseball bat as though it were a symbol of kingly office. He looks, in short, like a legend.