Newk was a marksman on the hill, issuing his rifle blasts with exceptional accuracy. One of the top control pitchers in baseball history, Big Newk had his Major League career limited by two factors: the color-line and the Korean War.
Signed by the Newark Eagles of the old Negro Leagues, Newk pitched for Eagles a couple of seasons before the color line was erased. One of the first blacks signed by a Major League club, Newk joined Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella in the Brooklyn farm system after his signing. After some seasoning in Nashua and Montreal, the Dodgers called Newk up to Brooklyn and he won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1949. As a rookie, Don tied for the league lead in shutouts while posting 17 wins for the NL champs. In that years World Series, Newk locked up with Allie Reynolds in a classic pitcher’s duel in Game 1 in which Don was the loser of a 1 to 0 game.
Don won 19 games in 1950 while leading Brooklyn moundsmen in victories. He was named to his second All-Star team while tossing over 260 innings. 1951 was a better year for Newk. He became a 20-game winner for the first time while tying Hall of Famer Warren Spahn for the league lead in strikeouts. Newk had three years in the Majors and three All-Star selections to show for it. Then, he was drafted into the military for the Korean War.
Newcombe missed the 1952 and ’53 seasons to the war but returned in 1954 with a bit too much rust on his right arm. Newk didn’t play much service ball and it showed upon his return, but he bounced back better than before in 1955. Apparently Uncle Sam taught him the value of marksmanship and Newk flashed amazing control in ’55, walking an average of 0.162 batters per inning; superior to Hall of Fame peers Spahn (0.264), Robin Roberts (0.174), Whitey Ford (0.445) and Bob Lemon (0.351).
1955 was another pennant winning season for the Dodgers with Newk leading the league in winning percentage and strikeout-to-walk ratio. Brooklyn tangled with the Yankees in the Fall Classic again but Newk didn’t have his stuff and lost his only start.
Putting a poor Fall Classic showing behind him, Don blazed into 1956. He led the NL with 27 wins and a .794 winning percentage. He trimmed his ERA down to 3.06 (in a hitter friendly era) which enabled him to bring home both the Cy Young Award and the MVP Award. His Dodgers went to another World Series, taking on their nemesis again, and the Yankees roughed up Newk worse than they did the year before. From that moment on, Don was more or less an average pitcher.
Still showcasing fine accuracy in 1957, Don issued just 33 walks in 199 innings of work. After a poor start to the 1958 season, Brooklyn gave up on Newk and shipped him off to Cincinnati for masher Steve Bilko and fireman Johnny Klippstein. Newk turned things around with the Reds and showed Cincy fans that he was one of the Schoolboy Rowe variety: a pitcher that could hit with the big bats. Newk hit .361 that year, boosting his lifetime mark to a flattering .271.
1959 was Newk’s last fine season. He led Reds pitchers with a 3.16 ERA while still showing off his great control – issuing an average of 0.122 walks per inning. Don was the only Reds pitcher with 100 strikeouts. He split the 1960 season with the Reds and Indians and ended his career as a first baseman in Japan.
W 149/L 90/PCT .623/G 344/CG 136/IP 2,155/H 2,012/BB 490/SO 1,129/SHO 24/ERA 3.56