Schechter: Don Newcombe in 1956: The fragile fame of an award winner

From SABR member Gabriel Schechter at The National Pastime Museum on November 10, 2017:

How sad that it took Cy Young’s death at age 88 to nudge the powers that be into honoring him. Soon after Young’s death late in 1955 came an announcement that the Cy Young Memorial Trophy would be awarded to the best pitcher in the Major Leagues in 1956. The initial balloting proved decisive: Don Newcombe of the Brooklyn Dodgers received 10 of the 16 votes.

Newcombe’s 1956 season, when he went 27–7 with a 3.06 ERA and 18 complete games, also earned him the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, the first of 10 pitchers to earn both honors in the same season. Yet his poor performance in the World Series nearly ruined his reputation even as the glory of awards came his way. This precipitous plunge on baseball’s annual roller-coaster ride is a prime example of the athlete’s fragile fame.

Newcombe experienced a strange dress rehearsal of this fate in 1955. An astonishing 18–1 at the end of July, he got a virus that triggered an arm problem. Limited to 11 2/3 innings after September 5, he finished at 20–5. After giving up three home runs in a Game 1 loss in the World Series, he confessed his arm woes to Manager Walter Alston, who didn’t use him again as Brooklyn won its only title in seven games.

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Originally published: November 10, 2017. Last Updated: November 10, 2017.