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At Ebbets Field in Brooklyn last week, in the afternoon before a night game, Don Newcombe was out running by himself four hours before game time. He was the only player on the field, in full uniform except for his cap; and for 15 hot minutes he ran, over and over again, from deep in left field all the way across the far reaches of the outfield to the distant right field corner, running one way and then walking back in long, pacing, tigery strides to run again. Newcombe running is an awesome sight. He looks taller than his 6 feet 4 inches, heavier than his 240 pounds. He starts slowly, lumbering at first, but then gradually picking up speed like a Mack truck or an elephant; until with heavy, ground-shaking steps he pounds over the grass. A teammate has observed, "When Newk runs it's like the wall of a building falling down. He's not very fast, but once he gets going he can't stop, and ain't nobody going to get in his way."
Among the few who have gotten in Newcombe's way this year are Pitchers Sam Jones of the Chicago Cubs and Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies, who respectively handed Newcombe successive one-run defeats last week (1-0 and 3-2). Despite these painful losses, Newcombe's pitching record for 1955 is a remarkable 18-3, by far the best in the major leagues. More than that, he has smitten opposing pitchers with some very unpitcher-like hitting, running up a glittering .374 batting average wrapped around six home runs, as many home runs as any pitcher in National League history has ever hit in one season. This rare combination of pitcher-cum-hitter has caught the imagination of the baseball public as no other player has this year.
In the dugout last week, when he had finished running and had toweled himself off, Newcombe cut a tape-recorded message for a radio station in New Jersey, promoting a community-fund drive. He read his brief speech well, in a surprisingly lively, well-modulated, well-articulated voice; and he did it over three times before he, Newcombe, was satisfied it was right.
"Last year," he said finally, "me and my roomie [ Catcher Roy Campanella], nobody ever called us up. Nobody wanted us. This year, the phone's ringing all the time. Every place we go. The Duke of Paducah wants us, the Czar wants us, everybody."
Of course, last year Don Newcombe, fresh out of the Army and counted on for a big 20 victories by hopeful Dodger fans, was a grievous disappointment with a weak 9-and-8 won-and-lost record. And though he batted a creditable .319, he had only 15 hits and 16 total bases all season, and only four runs batted in. This year Newcombe and Campanella, who is a contender for the league batting championship, are Brooklyn's lead horses, the men most responsible for the Dodgers' remarkable improvement over last season.
"Last year I had a sore arm," Newcombe said. "This year I don't. That is the difference and the whole difference. There is no 'new' Newcombe. I'm the same guy. But this is the first year I ever remember that I didn't have a sore arm.
"That year I pitched spring training with the Dodgers. I was on the Montreal roster, but they had me pitching with the Dodgers at Vero Beach. I pitched pretty good. I thought I should be brought up. When they broke camp I thought they should have taken me with them. But they didn't. I was supposed to rejoin Montreal.
"So I went home. I borrowed some money from Sam Jethroe and took off. My wife didn't say anything. She knew I was wrong and she knew I knew I was wrong; but she didn't say anything. The thing I didn't realize was Mr. Rickey knew what he was doing. He wasn't worried about one man. He had a program and he was following it. Me, I was worrying about me. I thought I was good enough to pitch with the Dodgers, and that's where I wanted to be.