Newcombe named special advisor

Newcombe named special advisor

LOS ANGELES -- When Dodgers owner and chairman Frank McCourt asked Don Newcombe to be his special advisor, it only took Newcombe a half-second to make his decision.

Newcombe, of course, said yes and immediately broke into tears.

After all, it's been a long road for the 82-year-old former pitcher, who has gone from being the club's third African-American player to its third special advisor to the chairman.

"I just started crying like a big baby," Newcombe said. "I was so proud and so touched by the fact that this man and the Dodgers have confidence in me. But that's been the whole track record of the Dodgers."

Newcombe, who is the only baseball player to win the trifecta of the Rookie of the Year Award, the Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young Award, is part of that track record, as he was the third African-American player signed by the Dodgers, coming on the heels Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella.

Newcombe, who pitched for 10 big league seasons before retiring in 1960, played a key role in the country's civil-rights movement as the top African-American pitcher of his era.

That's why McCourt said Newcombe's promotion was "long overdue" and that the idea came after President Barak Obama was sworn into office this year.

"If you step back, you realize that he really helped blaze that trail," McCourt said. "And it seemed to me that it was appropriate, as President Obama was being sworn, that he should have that position."

Newcombe also created baseball's first community affairs office in 1970 and baseball's first public relations office, with all other baseball teams soon following suit.

Newcombe joins Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda and Dr. Franklin Jobe as the club's only three special advisors to the chairman.

Newcombe began his baseball career in the Negro Leagues with the Newark Eagles before being signed by the Dodgers' Branch Rickey in 1946, joining fellow African-Americans Robinson and Campanella in the Dodgers' Minor League system.

Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers first in 1947, breaking baseball's color barrier, with Campanella joining him in 1948 and Newcombe in 1949.

Both Robinson and Newcombe won the Rookie of the Year Award in their first seasons in 1947 and 1949, respectively.

And all three won National League MVP honors in their careers, with Robinson winning in 1949, Campanella in 1951, 1953 and '55 and Newcombe in '56.

And the trio did all this with challenges off the field such as death threats, isolation, degradation and insults from fans, opponents and even some teammates. Various hotels and restaurants also refused to serve them.

"We started the civil-rights movement in a sense," Newcombe said. "The Dodgers started that when they signed Jackie Robinson in 1945."

Despite the conditions, Newcombe went 149-90 with 1,129 strikeouts and a 3.56 ERA over his 10-year career, along with 136 complete games and 24 shutouts. Also a dangerous hitter, Newcombe hit seven home runs in one season and in his career batted .271 with 15 home runs, 108 RBI, 238 hits, three doubles, 94 runs scored and eight stolen bases.

His best season came in 1956, when he won 27 games with a 3.06 ERA, winning both the Cy Young Award the MVP award in the same year.

The Dodgers were also winners during that time period as the club won its first World Series title in 1955, and from 1949 through 1956, the Dodgers played in five World Series and just missed pennants in '50 and '51.

Newcombe also had a chance to meet with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, just 28 days before King was assassinated. Newcombe hosted King at his Los Angeles home and King thanked him for his help in the civil rights movement.

Newcombe recalled that King told him, "Don, you'll never know how easy you and Jackie and [Larry] Doby and Campy [Roy Campanella] made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field.

"Imagine, here is Martin getting beaten with billy clubs, bitten by dogs, and thrown in jail, and he says we made his job easier," Newcombe said.

Just two years later Newcombe joined the Dodgers front office in 1970 and since then has performed countless hours of community service. One of his major contributions comes in helping those with substance-abuse problems.

Now his role with the Dodgers changes slightly with McCourt saying that Newcombe will be involved in both the private realm and the public realm of the organization. He'll be a person McCourt can bounce ideas off of, as well as a public figure for the Dodgers at community and team events.

Newcombe said he's looking forward to his new role and that it's difficult to describe his emotions right now.

"I wish I could tell you how proud I am," Newcombe said. "To get a promotion of this magnitude from Frank McCourt and the Dodgers, the only thing I can say is thank you for having the confidence in me. The Dodgers have treated me and my wife, Karen, like family."

Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.