Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Death and dying

I know that's a heavy post title. I don't want to bring anyone down to my current miserable state, so I'll try to keep it in a baseball frame of mind, but just to give you an idea of what I am presently dealing with:

Death and dying is everywhere. My mother's health continues to decline. We all know what her illness is, we're just waiting for confirmation. The news is not good and some of us are not taking it well. Meanwhile, around the block from me last week, a father and his four daughters died in a fire on Valentine's Day. The city is devastated. There have been memorials in the street near my house all week.

So with those happy themes dominating my life right now, I came home from yet another trip to my parents to hear that Don Newcombe had died.

I loved Don Newcombe. I thought he never received as much appreciation as other Brooklyn Dodgers. Of the great African-American Dodgers trifecta of the 1940s and 1950s, I suppose Newk couldn't compare with Jackie Robinson (breaking MLB's color barrier) or Roy Campanella (three-time NL MVP), but I was always enamored with Newcombe.

I wrote a post about him three-plus a years ago, detailing his very impressive feats achieved during a very stressful time period. He is one of the biggest pioneers that baseball has ever had. But they just aren't repeated as often as some of his peers'.

There are precious few relic cards or autograph cards of Newcombe. Topps hasn't made a card of him since 2005. I don't know of any cards of him by a major card company since 2009. My guess is this is a licensing issue but it's a bit of a downer that nobody went the extra effort to get a deal done.

Don Newcombe is one of the greatest-hitting pitchers the game has ever known. Yet this is the only card of his that I own that shows him hitting.

His vintage cards seem shockingly available. Although I don't have all of them in my collection, I do have three of his 1958 Topps card, his final playing-day card of him in a Dodgers uniform. It is just bizarre to have triples of 1950s player of his stature.

But I shouldn't complain.

If collectors aren't going to value him as much as I think they should, then those Newcombe cards will come to me all the more easily.

I won't say that these vintage Newcombes arrived in my collection easily, but I can't see a Campy or Jackie just falling into my binders for the modest of efforts.

I feel fortunate that the first Newcombe cards I ever owned was the card from 1956.

It's also the first 1956 card I ever owned.

It was part of the '50s cards that my dad brought home from work, given to him by a co-worker. My brothers and I sat at the dining room table and took turns selecting all those wonderful '50s cards for our collection.

But before we did that, we doled out the cards that showed our respective favorite teams. Mine was the Dodgers. I don't remember who was distributing the cards for this portion of the exercise but I do know that the Newcombe card arrived in my stack first. I would also pick up from the 1956 set the Carl Erskine card, the Randy Jackson card, the Don Zimmer card and the Brooklyn Dodgers team card. But that Newcombe card was special. Such a star. Such a Dodger. And it was the first '56 I could say was mine.

There was another '50s card of Newcombe in that big grocery bag from that unknown co-worker of my dad's:

This beat-up 1957 Don Newcombe was mine as well. I gave no thought to the condition. This was my first experience with glorious '50s cards. I'd never known anything older.

A cleaner version of that '57 Newk landed in my collection a year or two ago. I enjoy it, but I can't part with the other Newcombe, lest I lose a portion of that wonderful day when we spread a bunch of '50s cards all over the dining room table.

Once Newcombe retired, he disappeared off of cards through the '60s, '70s and much of the '80s. As the baseball-card boom arrived, he popped up again, on cards from Swell and Target and Smokey the Bear. And this card:

Don Newcombe with his name misspelled. They would never do that to Jackie or Roy.

When legends on new designs became all the rage 15 or 20 years ago, Newcombe appeared again on various retro cards.

Those are just a few of them in my collection. And you'll note that Fleer and Upper Deck did a better job of recognizing Newcombe than Topps did during this time (mostly, Topps just kept repeating Newk's '56 Topps card).

But not all of my favorite Newcombe cards are vintage ones.

This is just beautful, although it's something I think would look better in Stadium Club.

This, meanwhile, is the most recent Newcombe card in my collection. Check out the date in the bottom left. It's been 10 years since the guy showed up on cardboard. (EDIT: Newcombe is in the recent Sage Sport Kings product -- I just showed a card of his the other day -- as well as a handful of other cards from 2011, 2014 and 2015).

In 1975, I pulled this card from a pack if '75 minis during my first year of collecting. It was my first inclination of who Don Newcombe was and what his 1956 Topps card looked like. Little did I know that I would be gifted the actual card about six or seven years later. (The amount of time that passed between 1975 and 1981 or 1982 seems vast).

Newcombe will always be a special player in my card collection, probably valued much more than in the collections of the majority of others. The man who is one of the very few to have won the Cy Young Award, the MVP and the Rookie of the Year Award seems like he should've received more credit and definitely received more cards.

I'm not going to to say he belonged in the Hall of Fame or anything. But he's definitely in my Hall of Fame.

I'm not liking all these goodbyes I've been saying lately. All the sad faces and difficult moments and crushing conversations. But at least in this case, I can look at the baseball cards and smile.


  1. Criminally underappreciated, groundbreaking player. He'll be missed, and I hope that his passing shines a light on his accomplishments.

    Also: I'm sorry to hear that you, your family and your community are going through what you are at the moment. Love and strength to all of you.

  2. Those are some real beauties you have there. I met him years ago at my college. Great human being.

  3. Don Newcombe will definitely be missed. He was a regularly shown on Sportsnet LA Dodger broadcasts along with Tommy Lasorda. With his passing, only Carl Erskine is left from Dodgers who played in the 1940's.

  4. MLB Network had a very nice tribute to Mr. Newcombe earlier today. He was a great player and total gentleman. In fact, I was lucky to be in his presence somewhere in the lower levels of Dodger Stadium after a game sometime in the late 80's or early 90's (he was guiding wheelchair-bound Roy Campanella to another room at the time). RIP

  5. Wish you and your loved ones the best N.O.

  6. Sorry to hear about your mom. Wishing you the best.

  7. Prayers for you and your family.

  8. Praying for your family and community.

  9. Baseball cards can pull me through some days, better than some other hobbies can.

    That 56 with the glove over head has mesmerized since I was 8 years old, just from the 75; have never owned a 56. Maybe some day we can get a card with that original photo. Here's hoping.

  10. Newk spent his final season in professional baseball as a first baseman for the Chunichi Dragons in Japan. As a testament to his hitting skills, he hit .263/.316/.473 with 12 home runs in 81 games. There are at least two cards of him from Japan - I don't have either of them but here's a link to an image of one of them. Larry Doby played with him for the Dragons that year.

  11. Sorry this has been a rough patch in your life and community.

  12. RIP, Newk -- and sorry to hear about the family/community troubles lately, Greg.

    That '94 UD Heroes shot of Newcombe hitting has long been one of my favorites -- and I hadn't seen that Goodwin Champions one until now. What a card.

  13. I feel like you and I have been riding the same roller coaster ride with our aging parents the last year and a half, so my thoughts are definitely with you and your family. The story about the family in your neighborhood is also super sad. Can't even begin to imagine what your community and their friends and family are going through. As for Newcombe, I'm a little late to the party when it comes to appreciating him. I only learned about him winning the very first Cy Young Award a few months ago. And I've been learning a lot more about him through these tribute posts on the internet.

  14. Hang in there buddy. Hopefully blogging helps take your mind off of sumo of it.

  15. I was looking through my '61 Topps binder right after Newcombe died and I saw the All-Star card and thought of you. Sending thoughts and prayers your way.

  16. My thoughts are with you and your family. Watching as your loved one fades is nothing less than heartbreaking.

  17. Thanks for sending me that '54 Bowman of him so I have a real vintage connection to this great player. Sorry you're going through a rough patch.