Beyond Satchel: Conclusion

By Tony McClean
Updated: April 15, 2006

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — To most Negro League batters at first glance, righthander Jimmy Newberry would not strike anyone as an intimidating figure on the mound.

However, the 5-foot-7, 170-pounder was considered one of the league’s best pitchers during the 1940′s. The Alabama native was a big part of the Birmingham Black Barons pennant-winning teams of that era.

While Newberry had a wide assortment of pitches (i.e., fastball, sinker, screwball) in his arsenal, his bread and butter was his knuckleball. It’s something that Newberry called the “Dispy Doodle”.

The “Dispy Doodle” was essentially an overhand drop – similar to a knuckle curve – that could run in and out of the strikezone.

Born in 1922, Newberry was first introduced to baseball on the sandlots of his hometown in Birmingham. He briefly pitched for a local semipro team, the L&N Stars, before joining the Barons in 1943.

That season, the Barons won the first of their back-to-back American League pennants. Unfortunately, Birmingham lost both appearances in the World Series to the Homestead Grays.

As a rookie, Newberry struggled with a 1-4 mark. In fact over the next three seasons, he was a combined 10-11 with an ERA of 4.22 while serving as both a starter and reliever.

Despite his up-and-down numbers, he was still regarded as one of the league’s toughest pitchers to face. Many also felt that Newberry’s problems with alcohol attributed to his mediocre statistics.

However in 1948, things would change dramatically for Newberry and the Barons. Birmingham (55-21) would again win another American League pennant led by Newberry who had the finest season of his career.

Newberry went 14-5 with a 2.18 ERA, just behind George Stovey Award winner (the Negro League equivalent of the Cy Young award) Jim LaMarque (15-5, 1.96) of Kansas City.

The Barons staff, who outlasted the Monarchs (43-25) in the playoffs for the pennant, were also paced on the mound by righthanders Bill Powell (11-11) and Alonzo Perry (10-2).

Powell, who doubled as an All-Star first baseman, was also one of Birmingham’s leading hitters at .325. Teammate Artie Wilson led the league in hitting with a .402 mark.

Powell was also the starting and winning pitcher for the West (3-0) in the East-West All-Star Classic as well.

One other notable player on the Barons’ roster was a skinny 17-year old outfielder from nearby Westfield. That rookie, who hit a modest .262, would go on to a stellar major league career. His name? — Willie Mays.

Mays and Newberry would both play key roles to help carry Birmingham to a three-game sweep past Kansas City in the playoffs. The three games (all one run contests) would be won on the Barons’ final at-bat.

In Game One, Mays’ bases-loaded single in the 11th inning gave the Barons’ a 5-4 win. Newberry, who relieved starter Powell, got the victory.

In Game Two, player-manager Piper Davis hit for the cycle and Mays added three hits as Birmingham outlasted K.C. 6-5 in 10 innings.

Finally in the series clincher, the Barons scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth for a 5-4 victory. Although he didn’t get the win, Newberry held K.C. to three hits before he was lifted for Powell in the eighth.

But again when the Barons reached the Fall Classic, their hopes for a Negro League championship were dashed by the Homestead Grays, who took the series in five games.

After two more seasons in Birmingham, Newberry’s career would take him around the world. In 1950, the righthander along with several other Negro Leaguers, left the U.S. to play in the Mandak League.

Newberry would help lead the Winnipeg Buffaloes to the playoffs and the league’s championship. In just over a week, Newberry he won four games and saved another allowing just three earned runs over 24 2/3 innings.

He allowed only 15 hits while fanning 25 and walking four. He finished with a playoff ERA of 1.09. Two seasons later, Newberry would change teams and countries again.

For one season, Newberry pitched for the Hankyu Braves of the Japanese Baseball League. Starting and relieving for the club, Newberry went 11-10 with a 3.22 ERA.

After one season in the Orient, Newberry returned to the Mandak League before retiring from the game completely at the age of 34 in 1956.

Despite the ups and downs that occurred on and off the field during his playing career, Jimmy Newberry is still regarded as one of the most versatile pitchers in Negro League history.

NOTE: The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, The Complete Book of Baseball’s Negro Leagues, and the Encyclopedia of Negro League Baseball all contributed to this story.