Out of the Shadows: African American Baseball from the Cuban Giants to Jackie Robinson

By Bill Kirwin | Go to book overview

GUY WATERMAN


Racial Pioneering on the Mound
Don Newcombe's Social and
Psychological Ordeal

JACKIE ROBINSON'S magnificent achievement as the first black man to cross organized baseball's color line in the twentieth century has been justly praised and documented in countless newspaper and magazine pieces, plus books, including the well-researched and broadly conceived treatment by historian Jules Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy.1

Less celebrated are other black players who stepped across the line right behind Robinson, facing almost as much hostility and tension as the first man: outfielder Larry Doby, who broke the barrier in the American League later in 1947; pitcher Dan Bankhead, the first black to pitch from a Major League mound, also in 1947; and finally, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, who joined Robinson as leading stars of the strong Brooklyn teams of 1949 and the 1950s.

In honoring Robinson, we honor the first black batter, baserunner, and fielder to confront white opponents on a Major League diamond in this century. An examination of contemporary press accounts, however, suggests a hypothesis that the first black pitchers of these years confronted special social and psychological barriers of their own. This article will review some of this evidence. If the hypothesis is worth further study, social and recreational history should provide data for a clearer understanding of the special obstacles, in the form of racial insecurities and resentments rampant during the 1940s, that were met and overcome by these pioneering black pitchers. Notable among these pioneers and their tribulations was the experience of Don Newcombe.

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