December 01, 1975 12:00 PM

In the early 1950s Don Newcombe was known as tough, temperamental and one of the best pitchers in baseball. A few years later he was known as a tough, temperamental drunk. “One morning in 1966 I woke up with a terrible hangover,” Newcombe, now 49, recalls. “And I saw my wife Billie at the door with our three babies. They were all I had in the world, and they were going to leave me. I promised Billie that if she would stay, I would never take another drink of alcohol in my life. I’ve kept that promise.” When Newcombe joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949, just two years after teammate Jackie Robinson had integrated the sport, he won 17 games and was voted Rookie of the Year. For much of the next decade he was the best pitcher on one of baseball’s best teams, peaking in 1956 when he won both the Most Valuable Player and Cy Young (best pitcher) awards. He had also been developing a prodigious thirst for alcohol since he drank his first beer as an 8-year-old in Madison, N.J. In the Ebbets Field clubhouse after a game, he often chugged down 10 cans of beer. “Everybody knew I was doing it,” he says, “but I was winning and nobody cared.” Soon, however, Newcombe stopped winning. He had a poor season in 1957 and also was divorced from his first wife. By 1961 he was out of baseball. Worse, he was drinking two fifths of liquor a day. His restaurant-cocktail lounge in Newark was failing and he began to mistreat Billie, whom he married in 1960. His 1966 promise to reform did not solve all his problems. For one thing, he began wolfing such quantities of ice cream that his weight, 220 during his playing days, temporarily boomed to 300. He got nothing but support, however, from his family and a Los Angeles oil tycoon-philanthropist, Henry Salvatori, who gave him a job. Today Newcombe is a responsible businessman, serving as vice-president of a bank and as paid spokesman for a General Electric-sponsored program against alcoholism. He tells people, “I want to let everyone know that not all of us can take alcohol or leave it. For some it’s easy to take, but it’s hard as hell to leave.”

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