Newcombe Honored in New Hampshire

Don Newcombe -- "Big Newk" -- dominated National League batters from the moment he pitched a shutout in his first major league start for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

A 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander for the Brooklyn Dodgers, "Newk" overpowered hitters with a lethal fastball for 12 seasons, winning 123 games while losing only 66 for a .651 percentage that still tops the chart for Dodger righthanders with 100 decisions.

He had winning seasons of 17-19-20-20 and 27 games despite 2 1/2 seasons out for military service and led the league in strikeouts in 1951, serving as the workhorse for a thin Brooklyn pitching staff.

But his contributions to the game and society go beyond his Rookie of the Year (1949), MVP and Cy Young awards (both in 1956) -- an unprecedented feat. He was the first African-American ace to pitch in the majors, paving the way for Willis, Martinez, Gibson and scores of other black and Latino hurlers.

The big man is considered a pioneer off the field as well. A former teammate and friend of the late Jackie Robinson, Newcombe has spent much of his post-playing life spreading the gospel of the man who broke baseball's color barrier nearly 60 years ago.

Newcombe accepted the "Keeping the Dream Alive" Award from the New Hampshire Cultural Diversity Awareness Council at Manchester's fifth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Dinner, January 16th.

He also made several speaking engagements yesterday, including his final stop the seventh grade classroom at Londonderry Middle School. Newcombe signed a few autographs and spent about 25 minutes speaking to a group of 100 or so 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds, who were eager to hear about his career with the Dodgers and his relationship with Dr. King, a personal friend of Newcombe.

At 79, Newk still has his fastball. He is quick to point out that Robinson entered the majors in 1947, seven years before Brown vs. Board of Education mandated integration in public schools, and 16 years before Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech at the March on Washington, which Newcombe attended in 1963.

"We have Martin Luther King Day," said Newcombe. "I'm also a firm believer that Jackie Robinson deserves a national holiday."

Bengie Molina May be Available-- Bengie Molina, the Angels' catcher since 1998, failed to re-sign with the Anaheim club and had turned down an $18 million, three-year contract with Toronto earlier in the off-season.

However, his price tag has dropped so far that the Dodgers are interested in signing him for one year sources said. GM Ned Colletti has spoken twice to Alan Nero, the agent for the former Angel Gold Glove catcher, and could make an offer this weekend.

The Blue Jays have reportedly offered Molina $4 million for one year, and the New York Yankees, who were interested for a time, have dropped out of the bidding.

It was the assumption that Dioner Navarro would be the Dodger catcher, and the Dodgers signed veteran free agent Sandy Alomar Jr. as a backup. Highly regarded prospect Russell Martin is expected to begin the season in triple A and eventually would challenge Navarro.

However, the Dodgers are having second thoughts about simply handing the job to Navarro because they acquired a large number of veterans during the off-season and believe they can contend in the National League West.

Navarro, 21, was impressive in 50 games after being promoted from triple A in July. In 176 at-bats, he batted .273 with three home runs and 14 runs batted in and had an above-average on-base percentage of .354.

Molina, 31, hit .273 in seven seasons with the Angels, including a career-high .295 in 410 at-bats last season. His 15 home runs were also a career high and he drove in 69 runs.

Molina was a Gold Glove winner in 2002 and 2003.

The question is, would his acquisition derail the impending youth movement the Dodgers are anticipating. Would the club release Alomar or make him a coach so Navarro could stay in the majors and catch occasionally? Or if Navarro was sent back to AAA Las Vegas, Martin would have to return to AA Jacksonville, certainly not a desirable move.

Dedeaux Remembered--The Dodgers will salute the memory of Rod Dedeaux, the legendary University of Southern California baseball coach and a member of the 1935 Brooklyn Dodgers, during ceremonies prior to the Dodgers' regularly scheduled 7:10 p.m. game on April 5 against the Atlanta Braves.

"Rod Dedeaux Night" will feature members from Dedeaux's family, along with other special guests from the collegiate, professional and international baseball communities. The Dodgers also will contribute $5,000 to the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, which promotes amateur sports in Los Angeles.

Spring Training Tickets--Spring Training is just around the corner, and there's just one place to be this spring: Vero Beach! See Jeff Kent, Eric Gagné, Nomar Garciaparra and all the other newest Dodger players hit the field with their new teammates for the first time — and turn the Sunshine State Blue.

New this season the Dodgers are offering two three-game mini plans; these plans cost $48 each and are on sale now. Single-game go on sale Saturday, January 21st

Triple Play Plan--
March 9 vs. Boston
March 16 vs. Florida
March 28 vs. Detroit

Think Blue Plan--
March 10 vs. Detroit
March 23 vs. St. Louis
March 29 vs. Washington

Catch all the action in Vero Beach with Spring Training Season Tickets — just $225 gets you access to all 15 home games! Call 1-772-569-6858 or visit the box office in Vero Beach, FL.

Dodger Blue Notes-- Player moves include LHP Tom Martin signing with Colorado, RHP Todd Williams signing with Baltimore, C Adam Melhuse signing with Oakland. …

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