Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Don Newcombe's memories of playing in Cuba were less than fond

June 14: On this day in 1926, Don Newcombe was born in Madison, N.J.

A former Dodgers pitcher, Newbombe played two winters in the Cuba: 1946-47 with Matanzas and 1948-49 with Marianao and Almendares, going a combeind 1-4 in nine appearances.

More importantly, Newcombe was with Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella and Roy Partow as members of the Montreal Royals team that conducted spring training in Cuba with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 as Robinson was preparing to break Major League Baseball's color barrier.

In this screen-grab from a Cuban newsreel, Newcombe is shown as a member of the Cincinnati Reds during a Reds-Dodgers spring training game in Havana in 1959.

Unlike many other players, Newcombe (shown as a member of the Cincinnati Reds in this screen-grab from a Cuban newsreel of Reds-Dodgers spring training game in 1961) didn't have the fondest of memories about playing in Cuba.

In a 1997 interview, Newcombe described the trouble he had in the Cuban League in 1948-49:
Mike Guerra, Fermin Guerra, a former catcher with the Athletics, he was the manager of the Almendares team at that time. I was down there playing in the winter league. He sent me home. It was my fault. I was a brash 19-year-old, 18-year-old. He sent me home because I couldn't get the ball over the plate and I walked everbody I faced.
And he described the difficulties Robinson and his black Royals teammates faced when they found themselves segregated not only from the Dodgers but from their white Royals teammates.
"We all stayed in a seedy, downtown Havana hotel, where we were obligated to stay because we couldn't stay with the Montreal team out at the [Havana] miltary academy where they were training."

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