"After Jackie": Don Newcombe

Originally Published: April 10, 2007
By Cal Fussman | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from "After Jackie: Pride, Prejudice and Baseball's Forgotten Heroes" by Cal Fussman. Copyright (c) 2007 by Cal Fussman. Reprinted by permission of ESPN Books. Click here for information on how to purchase the book.

After Jackie
SOMETIMES THE WHITE guys wondered why we were so bitter. Black guys experienced it. White guys tried to interpret it. But how can somebody else interpret what I feel inside my skin?

Can you know how I feel just because you think it's the way I'm supposed to feel?

One day, I got on the team bus to go over to the ballpark for a game, and sitting there were six white men in suits who weren't part of our usual party. Jackie handed me a letter and said, "Read this."

"If you so-and-sos show up at the ballpark today," the letter said, "we're gonna kill all of you."

"Who are these guys on the bus, anyway?" I asked.

"FBI," Jackie said. "It's a really serious threat today."

Me, Jackie, and Roy went to the ballpark and into the clubhouse and then into the dugout with one of these guys on each side of us. I was looking around, and I saw a guy walking on top of a building just beyond the outfield wall with a rifle. I turned to Jackie and said, "Hey, look over there."

"It's okay," Jackie said. "He's with us. FBI."

I said, "What are we gonna do?"

Jackie said, "We're gonna play ball."

All that tension and pressure just because we had the audacity to want to play baseball in the major leagues?

Jackie had his fears. He'd probably have had a nervous breakdown or something after he took the Dodgers to the World Series in his rookie year if it weren't for his wife, Rachel.

Jackie faced a real threat every time he stepped up to the plate. Opposing pitchers threw at him all the time. That was a given. It was hard to hit Jackie because his reflexes were good and he could get out of the way. But how many times did I see Roy Campanella lying on the ground after being hit? He was a big guy and a bad ducker. He was one of the first in baseball to use the hard plastic insert in his cap. That's right, Roy Campanella. They threw at him because he had black skin, and they couldn't hit the other guy with black skin often enough to satisfy them.

They can deny it all they want. They can talk all they want about how much they cared about Jackie and how much they loved Jackie and Roy and what great guys they were. But they didn't care about Jackie and Roy when we first joined that club. And that includes some of our own teammates.

Every time we'd arrive in St. Louis on the train, me and Jackie and Roy would have to get our suitcases and carry them through Union Station and stand on the curb trying to find a cab. Sometimes we had to wait 30 to 45 minutes, because white drivers wouldn't pick up black guys. They'd just drive by us in that St. Louis heat -- and only God knows how hot it gets in St. Louis. (And maybe even God doesn't know.)

We'd finally get a cab that would take us to a substandard hotel with no air-conditioning, while the white players went on their air-conditioned bus from Union Station to the Chase Hotel and didn't have to even so much as touch their shaving kits until they got to their rooms. Not one of them -- not one of the white guys on the Brooklyn Dodgers -- ever got off that bus and said, "I'm going to go with Jackie, Don, and Roy just to see how they have to live, just to find out."

The first St. Louis hotel Jackie had to stay in back in 1947, then Roy in 1948, and me in 1949, was called the Princess. It was a slum. We moved to the Adams Hotel after a friend of ours bought it, but he couldn't afford air-conditioning. Many nights, we had to soak our sheets in ice water and put them on the bed just to get a little relief from the heat and humidity. Try that sometime. We kept our windows open even with the trolleys running up and down the street below, because in that heat, you needed to get some air.

There we were, members of the great Brooklyn Dodgers.

We later heard that one of our teammates, who will remain nameless, was sitting on the bus in St. Louis and said to nobody in particular, "...Let them go for themselves. We didn't ask them to be here. They asked to be here."

Our teammate.

-- Don Newcombe