Newcombe shares memories with fans
Dodgers pitching great talks online about his playing days
Dodgers pitching legend Don Newcombe talked about the Negro Leagues and shared memories about Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente during an online chat with fans on Monday. Newcombe is scheduled to participate in the 50th anniversary celebration of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Championship at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 28. Newcombe made baseball history in 1956 when he won the National League MVP and, one week later, the first-ever Cy Young Award, becoming the only Rookie of the Year in history to also win both awards.
Bert_Duckwall: Don, I know you were not only a fabulous pitcher but also a fine hitter, often being used as a pinch-hitter. As a hitter, which batter would you have least liked to face?
Don Newcombe: I think if I had one that I had to pick in my era, I will say it was Sam Jones with the Chicago Cubs. We used to call him "Toothpick Sam." He had a great fastball and a great curveball and he was tough to hit against.
mlb_com_member: Once you signed with the Dodgers, how did you become so successful that year? That was your rookie year and you finished 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA and pitched 32 scoreless innings straight. Did you expect this when you first started playing?
Newcombe: I started in the Negro Leagues in 1944 and surely when I was signed in 1946 by the Dodgers, I expected to be a winner because the Dodgers expected me to be a winner. I worked hard and had a great catcher, Roy Campanella, and he was a great teacher and great friend. As a result of that teaching and being around him so much, I learned a lot and learned fast. When I came up, that was just a carry over from the Minor Leagues. I need you to know that in the three years I was in the Minor Leagues, two years in Class B and one year at Triple-A, my first year I won 14 games, the next year, 19, and then 17 at Triple-A. I had quite a record in the Minor Leagues and I expected to win when I got to the Dodgers and I did.
mlb_com_member: How was it to play in Japan when you left the Dodgers?
Newcombe: It was a great experience. I went over because I was playing a position I had never played before -- first base. I didn't do very well as a first baseman so they moved me to right field but I didn't do very well there. But in left field, I made just two errors in 80 games. I adjusted to it and adapted to it and it turned out pretty well for me.
Base_Ball_2: Who was your favorite teammate?
Newcombe: I had a few of them. Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson of course. But I had a roommate in 1947 in Nashville, N.H. His name was Gus Galliapeau. He was a French man and we were the first interracial roommates in organized baseball. He eventually became a sheriff in the Rhode Island area and he was always a good friend. I always tell people now that Jackie Robinson is my idol and I really admired both him and Roy Campanella.
dodgers102: What was your greatest memory with the Brooklyn Dodgers?
Newcombe: My greatest memory, of course, is being selected as the first rookie in 1949 to start the World Series. I pitched a game against the Yankees and got beat that day, 1-0. Tommy Hendrick hit a homer off me leading off the bottom of the ninth inning. That was probably one of my greatest memories until 1956, when I won 27 and lost seven and was the first winner of the Cy Young Award.
4evrla: What are you doing now?
Newcombe: I'm still in business. I have my own personal consulting business. I work for the Dodgers, too. I've been with the Dodgers for 49 years and I hope to see the 50th year, and it's something I'm very proud of. (Maybe the Dodgers will give me a big party or something!)
Base_Ball_3: Do you think a Major League team should be in Brooklyn today or was moving the right thing?
Newcombe: Moving was a business decision by Walter O'Malley and I can't argue with a man who's trying to do better in business. I hated to leave Brooklyn, like many Dodgers, because I lived in New Jersey, but I know we were exploring new territory and to be part of the Los Angeles Dodgers, I was very proud of that. I moved where my job took me and that was all I could do about that. Now, you have the Mets, which we didn't have then. The Mets and the Yankees have done well over the years. Right now, with the way fans feel about the Dodgers leaving, I don't know if they'd support a team in Brooklyn, but who knows. Maybe some day they'll have baseball back there again, but it'll never be the same as the Brooklyn Dodgers. Anyone who assumes that might happen, well, it's just not going to happen.
highflyingwhitesock: Early in your career, did the Dodgers ever think about using you solely as a position player because of your bat?
Newcombe: If they did, they never mentioned it to me. But, I got some information recently about my record as a hitter in Major League Baseball and one of the very important incidents that was relayed to me was that in 1951, I batted over 100 times and I only struck out nine times as a pitcher. In my career, I batted .300 five times, one year even .359 while going to bat well over 100 times while also setting a record for home runs in a season by a pitcher in the National League with seven. It's been tied by Don Drysdale, my old teammate, and Mike Hampton. So, I'm still pretty proud of those batting records. I just wish more pitchers today would pay more attention to their hitting and bunting and it would keep them in ballgames longer and help the team to win. The team would know, like Walter Alston did, that they could depend on me.
mlb_com_member: How did it feel to be presented as a Dodgers bobblehead doll last year?
Newcombe: That was a great thrill and on top of that, our Dodgers ticketing director, Billy Hunter, said that I set a new record on Bobblehead Night with 55,311 people. That's now been broken, but I was very proud of that and happy that I was able to make some kind of contribution to the team in terms of attendance in the past season.
Base_Ball_2: Who was the hardest batter you've ever faced?
Newcombe: I think if I had to pick one hitter, well, I always pick two, since I've been asked that many times. Stan Musial, of course, he was tough on everybody, and Hank Aaron with the Milwaukee Braves, you know he was tough, too. But, there was a player named Mike Goliat with the Philadelphia Whiz Kids in 1950, and he wore me out. He made the statement that if all pitchers in the Majors were like Newcombe, I'd bat 1.000. And believe me, he wasn't a Musial or an Aaron, either.
highflyingwhitesock: What steps need to be done in the future in order to preserve the legacy and history of the Negro Leagues? Do you think the great players like Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard and Oscar Charleston get left out of best all-time players debate more often than not?
Newcombe: I don't think they're left out because they are in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., so that means they have acquired, and rightfully so, some recognition. But I think if you're going to maintain the history of the Negro Leagues, you need to think of the Negro Baseball Museum in Kansas City, run by Buck O'Neill and pay attention to what they're doing out there, to what the Negro Leagues meant, and still mean, to the history of the game and what they've done for the game.
frank3883: What Negro League player do you think was the best that never made the Majors?
Newcombe: In my memory, and I pitched against this man when I was 17 years old, Josh Gibson is the guy that comes to my mind. He broke me out of trying to throw a crossfire. I don't know if most people know what that means, but that's stepping towards third base and throwing across your body to the hitter. One of the pitchers on my team told me that's how to get him out and I tried that one day in Washington, at Griffith Stadium, and Josh almost tore the center field fence down. I never threw another crossfire in my whole career.
4evrla: Do you have a favorite music type?
Newcombe: I love music, period. All kinds of music, in fact. I just love to dance and love dance music. Wherever I get the chance, when my lady wants to go, we go dancing and enjoy ourselves and still do at this stage of my life. I enjoy, very much, all kinds of music.
Jeffery_Rojas: What was your record in high school?
Newcombe: Ironically enough, we didn't have a baseball team in Elizabeth, N.J., where I went to high school. At high school age, it came from playing in the sandlots out there and I was fortunate enough to have a man live next door to me and he taught me how to pitch. I wasn't lucky enough to have Little League baseball growing up. My dad did not play baseball. I was lucky enough to have a man named John Grier who taught me how to pitch, control the baseball, and have a windup. I always remember him as a man who helped me so immensely with my career.
fugiantsiluvla: In your opinion, why isn't Gil Hodges in the Hall of Fame? What kind of player was Mr. Hodges?
Newcombe: The fact of the matter is, I just had a discussion with some people here at Dodger Stadium and I suggested they should have a congressional investigation into why Gil Hodges and Maury Wills have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. And to go deeper, they should see why Maury doesn't get more votes. If I knew why, I would take it to the congress, but I don't know. I don't know what they expected Gil to do. He had a very, very good lifetime batting average. He was a great first baseman, a great guy, a great family man. I never saw the man curse or take a drink. And on top of all that, he was a great manager for the Mets in 1969. I don't know what Gil would have to do in his record to equate with some of the other Hall of Fame inductees of recent years. I'd like to know myself.
Leah_Setaghian: Which stadiums did you enjoy pitching in most?
Newcombe: I enjoyed pitching in Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds in New York, Sportsman's Park in St. Louis. I did not like Cincinnati, nor did I like Milwaukee. I loved Wrigley Field and I won a major part of my starts against the Cubs in Wrigley Field.
roberto6: Did you get to know Roberto Clemente?
Newcombe: Yes, I pitched against him and he was a very, very smart baseball player. I used to throw inside and knock him down sometimes because of the way he was in the batter's box. But, when I pitched him outside, hoping he couldn't reach it, he would step back into the box and hit it to right field. God, how baseball missed him and misses him. He was a great baseball player and I'll always remember him as a fine young man.
BJ_Neverett: Don, talk about your experiences in Nashua, N.H., in the Minor Leagues.
Newcombe: Nashua, in my memory, is one of the finest cities that I've been to in my lifetime. I say that because of the people and the way Roy Campanella and I were accepted there in 1946, when we had nowhere else to play in the entire Dodgers organization as black men. The city of Nashua and all of its people, including the president of the league, accepted us as if we were one of their own sons and I will forever be grateful to all of those people, for a part of my success. It had to start somewhere, and it started in Nashua.
roberto6: Please compare Ebbets Field and Dodger Stadium?
Newcombe: I can only compare them under one circumstance, that being that I played in Ebbets Field, but I only see Dodger Stadium as an ex-player, from a distance. I wouldn't know anything about the dimensions and all those things that become so important. But Ebbets Field, the configuration, that made you bear down all the time. I think in looking at Dodger Stadium, I wouldn't bear down all the time because I would probably be thinking I could throw more fastballs and get away with more fastballs here than I did at Ebbets Field. You had to be more careful here, with more control, at Ebbets Field than you do here.
Base_Ball_3: Which current Major League player do you like to watch?
Newcombe: Roger Clemens is my type of guy. He's also a good friend of mine, I like to say. I like to see Roger pitch, except when he pitches against the Dodgers. He, to me, is a man that always gives his all and that's why he's been so successful in his career. Another one is Randy Johnson, with the Yankees. There's no fooling around. They're all about business when they take that mound and I'd like to think that's the way I was when I played.
roberto6: Tell me something about Jackie Robinson that most of us might not know?
Newcombe: There are so many things that I remember, I don't know if there's one thing that I can put my finger on. But I do know that he was a great family man. Everybody knows that. He loved his wife and young kids so much. He just wanted to do well in baseball because of the responsibility that he was undertaking as the first black man in Major League Baseball. I'll tell you this: If Jackie had failed to succeed in baseball, the success of the black man would've been set back 25 years. You never heard any scandal about him, except people who were trying to create something. This was a clean man and a fine man and that's why I appreciate him as my idol. I wish I could have been like Jackie Robinson.
athleticslover101: What was your best pitch?
Newcombe: My best pitch was my fastball and I threw everything hard anyhow. Once in a while, a change up or slow curveball, including my curveball. My biggest asset, if I could pinpoint one, would be my control. I worked very hard on my control of those pitches and as a result, I didn't walk many men in my career. I walked 38 men in 222 innings in one season, some of those were ordered by the manager, which was attributed to me, but shouldn't have been. Maybe 10, if I had to guess. I give thought to that and give great credence to the fact that I was a control pitcher in addition to be a power pitcher.
roberto6: What can MLB do to get more African-Americans to play baseball?
Newcombe: I think Major League Baseball is doing everything they can. They have to arouse an interest in the young black kid and try to get his attention away from basketball and football. That's where their attention is going to, especially basketball. Baseball is trying everything they can, building stadium and academies in poor areas. We have an academy being built here on the campus of Compton Community College and it's going to be a great facility to teach young kids -- black, white, green, brown -- the rudiments of baseball. I used to tell some football players when I was joking with them, one player with the Packers, I told him we play a more intelligent game. Football players have to play with broken fingers and broken legs and a baseball player goes on the disabled list with an injury like that. That's baseball for you. That's why I call it the more intelligent game.
Base_Ball_2: Do you enjoy watching the progress of young pitchers, such as Carlos Zambrano, Mark Prior and Dontrelle Willis?
Newcombe: Dontrelle, of course, has his own philosophy about pitching and is doing well. I just wish that pitchers would pay more attention to their conditioning. I'm a firm believer that pitchers are not doing enough sprinting in the outfield. I've always been a believer that a baseball player's foundation is his two legs. The stronger those are, not from weights, but stretching muscles as he runs and sprints across the outfield in the sunshine, not in the weight room. I wish I could see them in the outfield more. That's where they play the game, not in an air-conditioned weight room. I just wish some of them would pay more attention to that. I'm talking about wind sprints, all the time, in between starts. They'd be surprised how much stronger their arm would be late in the game.
fugiantsiluvla: What was it like to finally win a championship in Brooklyn?
Newcombe: I have great memories about the 1955, first-ever World Championship in Brooklyn. I always thank God for that young left-hander named Johnny Podres, who said in the meeting before the seventh game that day, when Pee Wee Reese, our captain, asked if we were afraid of the Yankees, the young rookie stood up in the middle of all those veterans and said, "Just get me one run and we're going to be champions." We got him two. Duke Snider said he said that on the bus, too, but I heard it in the clubhouse in front of everyone. Then, to have the Los Angeles Dodgers, this year, celebrating the 1955 World Championship of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Los Angeles, is pretty neat. Frank and Jamie McCourt should be congratulated for extending all of us old veterans, the invitation to be a part of that celebration. It's coming up Aug. 28 and I'm anxiously looking forward to it and hoping to see some of those old Dodgers who are still alive. I think there will be about 10 or 11, plus the widows and families of the other guys.
Newcombe: Well, thank you all for taking part in this today. I'm sorry we couldn't get to all the questions, but we'll do it again sometime.
Moderator: Be sure to come back for the next live web chat celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1955 World Championship with Carl Erskine on Aug. 8.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.