Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Don Newcombe

Today marks the first appearance of a new Tuesday feature for Baseball: Past and Present, “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame?” I first wrote about the Hall of Fame here in May 2009 when I made a list, The 10 best baseball players not in the Hall of Fame. Now, I could probably name 50-100 such players. I intend to look at as many as possible here.

Claim to fame: Newcombe was the ace pitcher on an iconic team, the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers written about in Roger Kahn’s The Boys of Summer. The 1949 National League Rookie of the Year when he went 17-8 with a 3.17 ERA, 19 complete games and five shutouts, Newcombe proceeded to win at least 20 games three out of his next five seasons. He peaked in 1956 when he won the MVP and Cy Young awards, going 27-7 for Brooklyn.

Newcombe was gone from the majors by 1960 at 34, with a 149-90 lifetime record and 3.56 ERA, and as it emerged later, he battled alcoholism during his career. While Newcombe has just one less win than Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean and a better lifetime ERA than two other Cooperstown members, Red Ruffing and Waite Hoyt (another pitcher who later disclosed that alcoholism marred his playing), one has to wonder what Newcombe would’ve achieved if he’d found recovery sooner.

He said he’s been sober since 1967 and told MLB.com in 2007, “I’m glad to be anywhere, when I think about my life back then. What I have done after my baseball career and being able to help people with their lives and getting their lives back on track and they become human beings again — means more to me than all the things I did in baseball.”

Current Hall of Fame eligibility: Newcombe exhausted his 15 years of eligibility with the Baseball Writers Association of America in 1980, peaking at 15.3% of the vote that year; he’s eligible for enshrinement with the Veterans Committee.

Whether he belongs in Cooperstown: The Veterans Committee could do (and has done) worse than to honor a player like Newcombe, a fine example to any player struggling with substance abuse. I’ve read that the Dodgers of the 1950s overused their pitchers, so the argument could be made that Newcombe would have left the majors early regardless of if he drank, but I still think his Cooperstown induction could positively effect the game. It could send the message: If you’re a talented player who falls short of the Hall of Fame behind drugs or alcohol, and you turn your life around after you leave the big leagues, we’ll take note.

If I understand correctly, the Hall of Fame is about celebrating the best of baseball, just as it’s about honoring players with gaudy career numbers. While I don’t know if what Newcombe has done in retirement is enough to make up for his truncated career and earn him a nod from the Veterans Committee, it would be a bright spot for a game whose players have famously struggled with alcohol, amphetamines, cocaine and steroids. If it were up to me, I’d give him a plaque. He’s in my Hall of Fame.

0 thoughts on “Does he belong in the Hall of Fame? Don Newcombe”

  1. I’d vote him in. For several seasons he was among the best of that first generation of Black players to succeed in the major leagues in the wake of Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby–and one of the few pitchers. Most of the early Black stars were position players.

  2. Joe Black won 15 games in 1952 but was ineffective the remainder of his career. Satchel Paige made two All Star games in his mid-40s (or early 50s, depending on who you talk to.)

    I’m also working on a post for Monday on a guy who might have been an ace if the majors had desegregated while he was pitching.

    1. No not even close, though he did well enough in the Negro Leagues that he may have been a Hall of Famer with a few more solid seasons there or several more in the bigs.

  3. After the way the Yankees, and Yogi Berra in particular, worked him over in the 56 series, he was never the same pitcher as he’d been before.
    There were even cruel jokes afterward that went, “What has two arms, two legs and no guts? Don Newcombe.”
    And no. He’s not a hall of famer.

  4. We shouldn’t forget that he lost 2 full season to the military, in the midst of his
    20 victory years. I suspect, too, that his mediocre 1954 season was because of
    readjusting after the two year absence. He might have added enough wins to put
    him close to 200. Probably still not enough for the HOF, without better Series
    performances.

  5. Big Newk holds distinction of being one of the 9 best hitting pitchers of all times (including several .300 seasons) and was revered by his opponents as “menacing”. His career was above average, and his post-baseball career after rehabilitation was of great benefit to the game. Should have been a HOF member, but post career contributions to the game just simply aren’t recognized, just look at the contributions of the late Buck O’Neil.

  6. He pitched through the seventh inning of the second game of the doubleheader.Saw him pitch many times.Overpowering therefore sometimes wild.#1 pitcher on great teams. A workhorse.Great spokesman for the game .Still works for the Dodgers.

  7. Definitely. He was an overpowering presence on the field. He was a good enough hitter to be used as a pinch hitter. A great player on a great team. Baseball was different then. No five man rotation. Put him in and be proud that you did.

  8. An anecdote: I attended the 1956 home opener in Brooklyn with my father, Newcombe vs Robin Roberts; saw them hoist the world series flag; middle of game, Newcombe comes up and hits a line drive to right that appeared to go over the cyclone fence for a HR; Newcombe rounds the bases, then is called back to second base by the umps; turns out Newcombe had hit it so hard that the ball went through the fence, instead of over it, umps ruled it a ground rule double; doubt if that ever happened again.

    For many reasons, he belongs in the HOF.

  9. I was in the stands that day too, along with Mr. Gordon above. I was in the upper deck and that ball CLEARED the fence into Bedford Avenue. Newk was robbed, just as the HOF has robbed him too many years. Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and MVP, plus a 27-7 season. Who else comes close? Give him back the results of the two years he spent in the military, and the years before he was “allowed” to cross the Hudson River from Newark of the Negro League to Brooklyn of the National League and the “numbers” would satisfy even the statisticians.

    If the Veterans don’t vote him into the HOF, they should be ashamed. Newk deserves to be there, and in his lifetime!

  10. Don Newcombe, was a great pitcher of his time, come on folks especially Vinnie and Graham, start doing your research on who’s in the HOF with records or careers that don’t even come close to Don, NL rookie of the year, cy young award and MVP same year, world series champs, and all of this while missing 2-3 yrs to war, he was part of the boys of summers pitchers, Johnny Podres, Carl Erskine, and Don Newcombe arguable the best 3 starters in MLB history, plus a 300 batting avg, a 149-90 win loss record gees what does a guy have to do , the veteran’s should vote him in ASAP, while he still alive, to honor his contributions to MLB. Don I pray you get in, they missed the boat on Buck O’neil, and Minnie M. with the white sox, don’t miss on Don’s enshrinement into the home he belongs the MLB HOF.

  11. Saw Don Newcombe at the Burbank airport several years ago and asked him about the game be supposedly hit a ball through the fence for a ground rule double. I asked him about a game I saw on TV when he hit two home runs and a near-homer that went through the fence for a ground rule double. He confirmed my recollection but said that he and some of his teammates went to Ebbets Field early the next day to try to find that hole in the fence. According to him, there was no hole and it should have been ruled a home run. He is about to be honored at Dodger Stadium on July 1, 2014. All the best to a great Dodger and HOF’er in my book.

  12. Absolutely–First and foremost–Along with Jackie and Campy he BROKE the color barrier–He missed 3 important seasons–60 wins –Clearly dominant from 1947 to 1956–Never liked Walter Alston because he simply wore out his great pitchers–Newcombe-Koufax and Drysdale are ALL great examples–All could have played at least 5 more years-even in there time–Hell Thats 100 wins more for each of them—DON NEWCOMBE DESERVED THE HALL OF FAME!

  13. Newcombe’s greatest stretch, IMO, was in the closing weeks of the 1951 season. On the last Wednesday of the regular season, he pitched a complete game victory. On Saturday NIGHT, he pitched a complete game shutout. And on SUNDAY AFTERNOON, he pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings. And then held the Giants to a run for eight innings on Wednesday, being knocked out by two seeing-eye singles and a double. If a manager used a pitcher like that today, he’d be fired.

    But you know, it probably didn’t hurt him in the long run, because he took the next two years off in the Army. And Robin Roberts, who pitched eight innings against him on that Saturday and 6 2/3 innings on Sunday, won 28 games the next year. It was just different then, folks.

  14. Newcombe is the only player to win Rookie of the Year, MVP and the Cy Young…what else does he have to do to get into the HOF win a Stanley Cup?

  15. Too young to have seen him play, but since I’m from Brooklyn I have heard of him and have heard my father speak of him with reverence and wonder. It was because of that I assumed he was in the hall.
    When I see his stats and versatility and his major role on winning teams it becomes even harder to believe he isn’t . Though I take Military service into consideration, I don’t let his other off-field actions good or bad sway me.
    What may hurt him is there were so many good players on those Brooklyn Dodger teams, and also great pitchers on subsequent Dodger teams that obscure his memory.
    Also there is the question of him sustaining excellence over a long enough period. I forgot who said it, but there should be a special wing in the hall for those players who shined brightly for even a day, the Kirk Gibsons and Joe Carters, so when the kid says “why is he in the hall”, the dad can tell the special story. I mean, do we keep artists out of museums who “only” painted one masterpiece.

  16. He won the Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Most.Valuable Player awards, had numerous 20 win games (including back-to-back 20 game seasons), was called on to pinch hit throughout his career and had a batting average of 271, and had numerous complete games because he could pitch and hit enabling the Dodgers to win more games (did have pinch hit for him.

    What else is there to say, other than he most definitely belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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