Monday, January 20, 2014

How Don Newcombe helped to open the door for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Don Newcombe 1956 Topps
While celebrating the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, I would like to highlight the contributions of one Brooklyn Dodger who had a major part in turning the wheels of the civil rights movement.
Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe was one of the earlier black players signed by a major league team, quickly following Jackie Robinson and Johnny Wright into the Brooklyn Dodgers organization in 1946.

Paired with future Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella at Class B Nashua, they became the first black players in the New England League. Newcombe's breaking of the color line in the New England League was one of many "firsts" in his career. In addition to being one of a handful of blacks in the majors when he made his 1949 debut, he was baseball's first Cy Young Award Winner, and was the first player in baseball to win the Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and MVP awards during their career.

Newcombe is the last living link to the early African-American Brooklyn Dodger players that endured vicious racial taunts, Jim Crow segregation, and the weight of the entire black community during their quest to play baseball on the sport's brightest stage. Twenty-years prior to Dr. King's assassination, Newcombe and company were laying the groundwork for the civil rights movement. The camaraderie displayed on the field throughout the entire Brooklyn Dodger ball club, crossing racial boundaries to achieve greatness in America's national pastime, planted the necessary images for our country to begin to advance race relations.

Some 28 days before Dr. King was assassinated, he visited Newcombe in Los Angeles. King was in the midst of an exhausting tour of speech-making and sought the company of the Dodger great. In a 2009 interview with the New York Post, Newcombe relayed the following epic words from Dr. King:

"Don, you'll never know how easy you and Jackie and Doby and Campy made it for me to do my job by what you did on the baseball field."

Let these words marinate as an example of the character of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he is honored on this monumental day.

Video - Don Newcome at the 2012 BBWAA Dinner

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