Don Newcombe, who died Tuesday at the age of 92, was an imposing, hard-throwing pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He won 20 or more games three times during his 10-year major-league career and 19 games in 1950. He might have topped the 20-win plateau a few more times, but he lost the 1952 and 1953 seasons to military service.
“Newk” stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 220 pounds. Roger Kahn, in his 1993 book, The Era, wrote that players said “Big Newk … could throw through a damn wall.” Newcombe, the third black pitcher to reach the majors after Dan Bankhead (1947) and Satchel Paige (1948), won the National League’s Rookie of the Year award in 1949 with a 17-8 mark. Newcombe was a four-time All-Star and the first black pitcher to start a postseason game, losing a 1-0 duel to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series when Tommy Henrich hit a ninth-inning home run.
Newcombe was also an underrated hitter, connecting for 15 home runs during his career, including seven in 1955.
Newcombe’s career was cut short by alcoholism and he was criticized for “never winning the big one,” especially in the World Series, where he went 0-4 in five starts. He faced his drinking demons head-on when he spoke on behalf of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Before reaching the majors, Newcombe also played in the Negro League and spent two winters in Cuba, playing for Matanzas in 1946-47 and with Marianao and Almendares in 1948-49.
Here are five Don Newcombe cards worth collecting:
1956 Topps #235
This might not be the rarest of Newcombe’s cards, but it depicted the hard-throwing right-hander at the peak of his career. In 1956, Newcombe posted a 27-7 record and was named the first Cy Young Award winner (when only one pitcher in the majors was tapped for the honor). He also was named the National League’s Most Valuable player.
It’s not an easy card to find in high grade. Only 12 have been rated 9 on PSA’s Population Report with no 10s. Only two cards have rated above NM/MT 8 on the SGC census.
1950 Bowman #23 (Rookie Card)
Newcome followed up his outstanding rookie season by going 19-11 in 1950 and throwing a career-high 20 complete games. This set was the first by Bowman to use full-color artwork for a baseball set, and the thin white border allows the player’s portrait to stand out. It was also Newcombe’s first card as a major leaguer and is one of the key players in the 252-card set.
Newcombe’s rookie card has been submitted 378 times to PSA, but only three cards grade as high as PSA 9. Eighty nine cards were sent to SGC, and only one graded as high as 96.
1952 Berk Ross
This 72-card set was not numbered, and it shows Newcombe coming off his first 20-game season. The card back proclaims this set as the “Hit Parade of Champions” and measured 2 inches by 3 inches. The irony of including Newcombe in this set is that he did not play during the 1952 season, as he was serving in the military.
Seventy-one of Newk’s cards were sent to PSA for grading, and only two graded as high as PSA 9. There were only nine cards submitted to SGC, and one came back graded a 96.
1958 Hires Root Beer #13
Like many of the Dodgers who moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, Newcombe had a difficult time adjusting to the West Coast during the franchise’s inaugural year in the City of Angels. Newcombe’s drinking also took a toll, and he went 0-6 in 1958 before the Dodgers traded him to the Cincinnati Reds during the middle of the season. Newcombe rebounded with a 7-7 mark in Cincinnati.
The Hires cards were attached to a wedge-shaped tab, which offered collectors the chance for fan club memberships. The 66-card set had a quirky numbering system, beginning at No. 10 and ending at No. 76. Card No. 69 was not issued.
1960 Topps #345
This was Newcombe’s last regular-issue card, although he did appear in1961 Topps as part of the Most Valuable Player subset. Newcombe also appeared in the 1960 Leaf and Kahn’s sets. The 1960 season would be Newcombe’s final one in the major leagues, and he went 6-9, splitting his time between Cincinnati and the Cleveland Indians. Newcombe was coming off a solid 1959 season, when he went 13-8 for the Reds, with 29 starts and 17 complete games. But by 1960 it was clear Newcombe’s baseball career had come to an end.
He tried a comeback in 1961 with the Dodgers’ Triple-A club in Spokane and went 9-8, but he never made it back to the majors. In 1962, he played for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan, where he was used primarily as a first baseman because of his still potent bat.
One last fun fact about Newcombe: He was no stranger to television and the silver screen. Among his credits: Newcombe and umpire Art Passarella had cameo roles in “Peanuts and Crackerjacks,” an episode of the 1971 television series Nichols, which starred James. The former pitcher also appeared in a 1988 episode of the TV series Simon & Simon, playing himself in “Zen and the Art of the Split-Fingered Fastball.” He also appeared as himself in the 1990 move, Pastime.