As a young man I developed a relationship with a neighbor of my wife’s who owned a personnel agency. He was instrumental in getting me into the HR/Personnel industry and giving me great experience in successfully placing people into jobs. He also sponsored a program which allowed me to meet the former Dodger pitching great Don Newcombe.
Don Newcombe was the first African-American to win twenty games in the major leagues, and is still the only player to be named Rookie of the Year, win a Cy Young Award, and be named Most Valuable Player of his league. Don Newcombe won twenty games three times on the way to 149 victories, but the feeling among knowledgeable baseball people is that Newcombe never reached his full potential. Newcombe struggled in the World Series, all against the Yankees, and then battled alcoholism as his skills declined.
Newcombe rose through the Dodgers’ minor league chain and made his major league debut in May of 1949. He was a sensation, going 17-8 in 31 starts with 19 complete games, was second in the league in strikeouts, and at one point tossed 32 straight scoreless innings to boost the Dodgers to the pennant. In the 1949 World Series, Newcombe lost two very clue games, but after the season Don was named the Rookie of the Year in the NL. Newcombe followed that up with 19 wins in 1950 and then became the first black pitcher to register 20 wins when he turned the trick in 1951.
Newcombe was out of the big leagues by 1961 at the age of 34. By this time Newcombe had fallen victim to heavy drinking, but he still was wanted by a team in the Japanese leagues and signed on with the Chunichi Dragons in 1962. Newcombe finally sought help for his drinking problem, and he has been sober since 1967. Former Dodger great Maury Wills credits Newcombe’s intervention in his life with saving him from his own substance abuse problem.
I met Newcombe on a tour of middle schools in the early 1980’s, where he was asked to speak about his life and the turn-around from alcohol. I had no clue as to the deep life experiences Newcombe possessed. None of these 12 and 13-year-old kids had much of an idea about him either, but just that they were in an auditorium listening to a guest speaker talking about the problems alcohol can cause. Our company sponsored the program, and I sat in a number of his presentations. Newcombe talked about the lowest points in his life – even selling his World Series ring in order to get more alcohol. One of the things Newcombe did as he started his messages was to say to the audience that he didn’t expect that everyone listening would get everything he had to say, but “if one young man on this (left) side of the auditorium, and one young woman on this (the right) side” heard what he had to say and it made an impact on their life, then he had accomplished his task. I always think of that simple message when speaking to a group.
I pressed Newcombe on the faith connection, because at the time I thought that this was the most important part of a person’s life – to declare Jesus as Lord. I would find out later that the redemptive work of Christ enrolls us in a much larger war against our very nature. I initially minimized the intensity of this battle. But after fighting my own selfish demons and destructive habits, I reckon overcoming alcohol addiction or any addictive behavior as only truly possible through this power given to us through Christ. The Apostle Peter wrote these words – “His (Christ’s) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Don Newcombe’s shortcomings in the World Series might keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but he can take comfort with the thought that he has won the biggest battle of his life, and it wasn’t on a baseball field. By God’s grace Don Newcombe was able to overcome this adversity to get his life back on track. This led him to take up his own redemptive work, traveling across the country telling others about his own adversity in order to awaken them to the dangers before it is too late. At last report the eighty-year-old former player was still the Dodgers’ Director of Community Affairs, a position he has held since the 1970s.
more – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Newcombe