Monday, December 26, 2011

The first Cy Young Award winner

Who is your favorite Los Angeles Dodger pitcher?  The franchise has a deep history and tradition of producing good pitchers.  The Dodgers have continued to build their teams around pitching and defense which best accommodates the “pitcher friendly” outfield dimensions of Dodger Stadium. 

Is your favorite Dodger pitcher the late Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Fernando Velenzula or Orel Hershiser?   What about Clayton Kershaw who last month became the eighth Dodger pitcher to win the National League Cy Young Award? 

My favorite all-time Dodger pitcher is the subject of this week’s Negro League Baseball history fact.  Don Newcombe began his pitching career in Negro League Baseball with the Newark Eagles in 1945.  The next year he was signed by Brooklyn Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey and became the pitching stalwart of their pennant winning teams of the late 1940s and early 1950s.  In 1956, Newcombe was the first recipient of the initial Cy Young Award.

A power pitcher, Newcombe started by going 17 – 8 in 1949 and winning the National League Rookie of the Year award.  He won 19 games in 1950, 20 Games in 1951.   After missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons while in the Army and struggling through a year of readjustment in 1954, Newcombe won 20 games in 1955.

For the first 10 years (1956 – 1966) of the Cy Young Award, there was no separate winner for the American and National Leagues.  Only 1 pitcher received the award each of those years. In 1956, Newcombe was 27 – 6 with a 3.06 ERA and five shutouts.  He was chosen to receive the award that season over Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford, and Early Wynn; all Hall of Fame pitchers. Newcombe also was named National League Most Valuable Player, the first of only seven pitchers to win both awards the same year.

Although Newcombe won big games to help the Dodgers win pennants, he could never replicate his great regular season performances in the World Series.  The 256 innings pitched he averaged yearly would take a toll on him come October.  In five World Series games against the powerful New York Yankees, he was 0 – 4.

Newcombe was not the greatest Dodger pitcher.  His career record of 149 – 90 will not get him into Baseball’s Hall of Fame.  However, he was the first successful black starting pitcher in the Major Leagues.   

Who was your favorite Major League pitcher in the 1950s or 1960s?