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  #1  
Old 07-06-2004, 05:14 PM
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Default Taken out to the ballgame and then some

Posted By: warshawlaw 

I had a really great experience yesterday.

A friend invited me to Dodger Stadium to have lunch with Don Newcombe and to meet the current team, as part of a charity thing he'd won at a golf tournament. It was amazing. We met Newk at 2:00 sharp and spent the next hour and a half on the field at Dodgers Stadium. I met Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca, Manny Mota, Maury Wills (who gave me tips on teaching my daughter to field), Jose Hernandez, David Ross and Alex Cora. Jose Lima was really cool; gave my nephew his batting gloves. My nephew, who is 5, also got to meet Eric Gagne and got a single-signed ball. I had the players sign my hat and had Green sign a 2001 Upper Deck Vintage card (the ones that look like 1971 Topps cards). I also took a bunch of pictures and an hour or so of video. Best of all, I was able to get Don Newcombe to tape a greeting for my Dad, who was a Brooklyn Dodgers hardcore fan, and sign a nice personalized team photo for him.

The field is like the nicest golf green you have ever seen. The players are all a heck of a lot bigger and stronger than they look on tv. Most are about my size (6'3") but built a heck of a lot differently. They also have a lot of fun that you never see. The pitchers were taking bunting practice and playing games with it, and the regulars were playing home run derby. Honest to God, they were putting the ball into the bleachers and giving different points for the closer orange seats and the farther away blue seats. Green even smashed one into the scoreboard, which must have won him something. You cannot believe how hard these guys can hit until you are ten feet away in an empty stadium listening to the ball explode off the bat.

Lunch was great. Newcombe played 2 years in the Negro Leagues and then 3 in the minors and 10 in the majors, so he saw it all and did it all. Since my friend and I are baseball history nuts (me much more so than him, which is why he wanted me there to talk with Newcombe), we had a hell of a 2+ hour discussion about what it was really like back then. Among the more interesting things we learned:
--The best pitcher he ever saw: short term, Koufax. For a career, Spahn and Roberts.
--The toughest hitter: Stan Musial. I asked him about Williams. He said that he faced Williams a couple of times in an all-star game. Teddy Ballgame hit the hell out of the ball all four at bats. Two were caught over the fence, the others were long hits. I said I guessed he was pretty tough too; Newcombe sighed and shook his head.
--Beanballs: He was adamant about the lack of quality of today's pitching because of the reluctance to go inside. He said that his era had pitchers who dominated the plate (which is why Clemens is the pitcher he likes most today) and there were never the fights that break out today. It was just part of hard, tough play. He said that once at Wrigley, Duke Snider had a home run and the Cubs hit Rocky Nelson, the next batter. Robinson asked him to do something about it. Newk threw at the next 7 Cubs. The ump came over and told him to stop, as did Alston. Alston said if he did not stop, he'd have to come out. Newk told him to take him out after the next two because he still had two batters to throw at. Alston yanked him. He also said that no one threw at him because the pitchers all knew that they'd have to stand in against him later on.
--Minnie Minoso: I asked him if he'd played with Minoso in the Negro Leagues because I'd heard the guy was a character. Newcombe said no, he wasn't a character, just crazy. He said that there was only 1 restaurant in Tampa Bay that would serve the black players, so all of them ate there. Minoso liked their chicken and would order it every time. The others would come over to talk with him and steal the chicken to eat. Finally, Minoso got so mad that he spit on all the chicken and dared the others to take it. Of course, he had to eat spit covered chicken afterwards.
--Racism: I asked whether he felt he had been held back because of his race when he was signed. He said absolutely, that he was 54 and 9 in the minors over 3 seasons, but Rickey was reluctant to promote too many black players at once.
--Chuck Connors: the Rifleman was a teammate of his in the minors. He said that the only time someone charged the mound against him was when a redneck came at him. he ducked out and Connors "beat the hell out of him." Connors said that he (Newcombe) wasn't allowed to fight, but he (Connors) was allowed to fight. Afterwards, he was approached by an elderly black man who said that he had done the right thing not to fight. It was Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.
--Jackie Robinson: I asked whether it was true that Robinson told the black players to get out and mingle with white teammates. He said they were very careful to do that. In fact, the clubhouse man had put all 3 guys (Robinson, Campy and Newk) lockers side by side by side and they insisted that they be spread out instead.
--Josh Gibson: He pitched to Gibson and says that he was every bit as good as any major leaguer, and then some.
--Batting Practice: He used to throw BP instead of throwing on the side between starts, which he said was great for him and for the batters because he could work on live batters and they could hit live pitching. He claims that the Dodgers started using a screen at his request because he was tired of ducking liners. They used to try to hit it through the box at him and he would always threaten to knock them down. Carl Furillo was the "best" at hitting back through the box in BP.
--No pepper: he has no idea what the reason is why pepper was banned. He said that he and Furillo played it constantly as a means of improving their control.
--Drysdale: Whenever Drysdale had a batter who liked to dig in, he'd yell: "Keep digging, because you are going into the hole!" and then throw at them.
--Cheating: Lew Burdette taught him to throw a spitter. He in turn taught a number of players on other teams. I asked him if it was a feeling of pitchers against hitters and he agreed that there was a cameraderie among pitchers that extended beyond teams to the point where they would share information and techniques. He also told me how pitchers load it up today. You can go to the mouth off the mound and there is no way to force the pitcher to dry off afterwards. I asked him how a spitter worked (I already knew from physics, but I wanted to hear what a pitcher thought about it). Sure ehough, he had a practical explanation of what the ball does that fits right in with the physics explanation: the ball is thrown straight as a fastball and it dives. (The scientific explanation is that a spitter works by changing the wind resistance on a ball, causing a straight looking pitch to dive). What I did not realize is that water and sweat don't work. It takes spit.

Anyhow, it was an awesome experience to talk baseball for hours with a ROY-MVP-Cy Young winner.

Oh, I had him sign all 3 of his Exhibit cards, a 1956 Brooklyn team card and a 1955 Bowman card.

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Old 07-06-2004, 05:35 PM
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Default Taken out to the ballgame and then some

Posted By: Julie Vognar

Newk signed an envelope for me at some crazy dinner--it was the envelope my ticket came in. He wrote "Hang in there!" about his sig.

That afternoon has GOT to be right up there with one of your unforgettable experiences--and will probably stay that way, too.

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Old 07-06-2004, 05:54 PM
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Default Taken out to the ballgame and then some

Posted By: Big Spider Beck

What a great day you had at Dodger Stadium. If memory serves, you are the same fellow who was privileged to see the Burdick Collection a few months ago. I'm sure I speak for more than myself by saying that your careful reports are fascinating and much appreciated. And that you are one lucky dude! Thanks.

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Old 07-06-2004, 06:15 PM
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Default Taken out to the ballgame and then some

Posted By: scott brockelman

adam,

i am friends with his nephew and god-son, david newcombe. we have known each other for nearly 20 years and live close. i was able to meet and talk to don at a small card show here in north texas, interestingily several other negro league ballplayers were there and quite conversant and proud of their accomplishments. ONLY 1 PERSON was indignant and resentful and showed no respect for them, HOFer bob gibson, who was also signing at the show, FOR BIG BUCKS. he was a real ******* and did not even acknowledge them when they walked in the room, AND he wasn't that busy signing autographs, as most collectors are aware of his demeanor.

congrats on a great and memorable experience.

scott

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Old 07-06-2004, 06:30 PM
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Default Taken out to the ballgame and then some

Posted By: Julie Vognar

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