Don Newcomb, Roy Campanella and the Nashua Dodgers. For the whole story on the team be sure to read author Steve Daly’s book
Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.
Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella just wanted to play baseball.
Newcombe, a pitcher from Elizabeth, N.J., and Campanella, a catcher born in Pennsylvania of parents with Italian and African-American roots, had already proved themselves in the Negro Leagues.
They weren’t welcome in the midwestern and all-white Three-I League, covering Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. They at first were destined to play in Danville, Ill., but the league president at the time said he’d shut it down if they were sent to play there.
Branch Rickey had already decided Jackie Robinson would be the one to break the major leagues’ color barrier. The first African-American in the modern era of professional baseball debuted with the Montreal Royals on the field in Jersey City on April 18, 1946. Newcombe and Campanella represented the second tier of Rickey’s Great Experiment, but would have to wait their turn.
Buzzie Bavasi, manager of the Nashua Dodgers, said as long as they can play ball, he’d take them. Newcombe thought at first he was off to Nashville, but no, it was north to New Hampshire.
According to author and former Telegraph assistant sports editor Steve Daly, being sent here didn’t make Newcombe too happy at first. He made the best of it, though, and settled right in.
It was the time of the New England League. Daly, author of “Dem Little Bums: The Nashua Dodgers,” which explores the history of the team and its place in the story of integrated baseball, explained during that era, a lot of mill cities had teams – Manchester, Portland, Maine, and in Massachusetts, Lowell and Lynn. “It was the working-class cities that had teams, and the fans had a real sense of pride in their teams,” he said. “And, it was a cheap night out.”
Plus, fans had access to players. “Players would stand and talk to you as long as you wanted. They were part of the community.”
Newcombe told Daly, during one of the interviews for his book, the most difficult challenge he faced after arriving in Nashua was trying to find a barber who could cut a black person’s hair.
I myself remember in April 1997 when Newcombe came back to Nashua to be feted by the city for his accomplishments. I drove through the city streets with him as he pointed out his old haunts – “we used to have a drink here; I used to live there,” he said, pointing out the window as we went.
The 1946 season progressed and the Dodgers became the New England League champions that year. Along the way, Newcombe’s teammate Campanella made his mark by hitting 14 home runs.
The feat earned him 1,400 chicks, provided by local poultry farmer Jack Fallgren, at 100 chicks per slam. Campy sent them home to his father, who started his own poultry farm outside Philadelphia.
Fallgren is seated in the dugout above. With him are Dodgers players Billy Demars, Dean Wood, Newcombe, Gus Galipeau and Campanella.
Daly explained that at first, the city had a fascination with the black players. They knew they were really talented, but to them, it didn’t matter what color they were. What mattered was playing good ball, just like their manager wanted them to.
Play well they did. And more.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or email@example.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).