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Article:Don Newcombe Started the Fateful Ralph Branca Game

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By Harold Friend

Mention Bobby Thomson's home run and most people immediately think of Ralph "Big Number 13" Branca, but not too many fans talk about Don Newcombe, who started the game. Don Newcombe is the only player to have won the Rookie of the Year, MVP, and Cy Young Awards. He was the first black twenty game winner.

Don Newcombe Pitched Great Baseball the Last Week of the 1951 Season

In 1951, Big Newk had won 20 games and was one of the National League's top pitchers. On the last Wednesday of the season, Don Newcombe started against the Braves in Boston before a sparse crowd of 2,444 fans. He went the distance in an easy 15-5 Brooklyn win. On Friday, Brooklyn lost to Philadelphia to fall into a first place tie with the Giants, but Newcombe, on only two days rest shut out the Phillies on Saturday. The Giants also won, and at the end of play on Sunday, Brooklyn and the Giants were tied for first place, which necessitated a best of three playoff series.

Don Newcombe Started the Final Playoff Game

In the first game, Bobby Thomson's fourth inning, two run home run off Ralph Branca was the margin of victory. Clem Labine shut out the Giants in the second game, which set the stage for Don Newcombe to face Sal Maglie for the pennant. Newcombe was starting the most important game of the season (not really, because every game of the season was equally important since the teams finished the season tied) on three days rest.

Don Newcombe pitched a fine game, limiting the Giants to seven hits and 2 walks in 8 1/3 innings, but he put the two runners who scored on Thomson's home run on base, and was charged with 4 runs. Brooklyn manager Charlie Dressen had no choice in the ninth inning. Newcombe had started four games in twelve days and was tired.

Brooklyn fans were crushed. A downtown lawyer exclaimed that Thomson's home run off Branca was the seventh the Flying Scotsman had hit off "Big Number 13." A taxi driver chipped in that Newcombe looked dead on his feet. Another fan thought that Dressen should have intentionally walk Thomson to face rookie Willie Mays.

Don Newcombe's Country Called

On November 1, his Elizabeth, New Jersey ordered Don Newcombe draft board report for a pre-induction physical examination. In late December, it was announced that Newcombe would spend the 1952 season in the army. Brooklyn owner Walter O'Malley said, "Certainly the loss of a pitcher of Newcombe's stature is going to be a rough blow, but Uncle Sam comes first, and in the end, I think this will turn out to be a very fine thing. It will be good for baseball too, because it lets people know that even being a prominent athlete brings no favoritism."

Don Newcombe missed the 1952 and 1953 seasons. Brooklyn won the pennant each season, but the Yankees beat them in the World Series each year. It is conceivable that Newcombe would have made a difference in those Series, although he didn't fare too well against the Yankees in the 1955 or 1956 World Series.

What MIght Have Been

Nineteen fifty-two would have been Newk's fourth season. He was coming off a 20 win season when he left, and although he won only 9 games when he returned in 1954, he won 20 games in 1955 and 27 games in 1956. As was the case with many others at the time, the missed seasons were costly.

Don Newcombe had an alcohol problem, and in 1957, he won only 11 games. He was sent to the Reds in 1958, winning 13 games, but his career was basically over, and after brief stints in Cleveland and then in Japan, he retired. Newcombe averaged 15 wins, 229 innings pitched, and a 3.56 ERA over a 162 game schedule. He had a solid career that might have been even better.

References:

Brooklyn Dodgers at Retrosheet.org

Don Newcombe at Baseball-Reference

It's Like a Wake in Brooklyn As Fans 'Replay' Fatal 9th :GIANT FANS DANCE AS DODGERS MOURN. (1951, October 4). New York Times (1857-Current file),1. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 306538802).

Newcombe to Report Wednesday For Pre-Induction Examination :Dodgers' Right-Hander Reclassified 1-A-- (1951, November 2). New York Times (1857-Current file),38. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 96220473).

By JOHN DREBINGER The New York Times. (1951, December 29). Newcombe Found 'Eligible' for Army Service and May Be Called Next Month :SET FOR ARMY DUTY. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 15. Retrieved March 24, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 84871310).


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