Today is the anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier. Though Robinson is considered symbol of the shift in race relations in the U.S., there were other baseball pros who played important roles.
There was Branch Rickey, the baseball executive that signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, catcher Roy Campanella and there was also Don "Newk" Newcombe. He was the imposing African-American pitcher that joined the Dodgers in 1949. He played alongside Jackie Robinson for eight seasons, but managed to carve out his own unique place in baseball history.
He was the first black pitcher to start a World Series game, the first to win 20 games in a season, and for more than 50 years, he was the only pitcher to win Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and the Cy Young award. He was one of a handful of African-American ball players who helped gain momentum for the then-nascent civil rights movement.
"I wanted to be a part of what was going on. I wanted to be a part of what Jackie and Roy were involved in," said Newcombe. "I was a poor kid from a poor family in New Jersey and I was a part of changing what was going on in this country being with two great men named Roy Campanella and Jackie Robinson."
Newcombe says it was Jackie Robinson's unique spirit that inspired him to enter a world where he would be on display and subjected to intense discrimination on a national stage. Being just 19 when he was signed to the major leagues.
"We needed somebody who was experienced, and could handle this kind of stress that was going to be instilled upon him because he had the audacity to want to play baseball and break down the color barrier," said Newcombe. "If they had asked me I would have turned it down because I couldn't have done that, especially as a pitcher."