Newcombe was born in Madison, New Jersey, and raised in Elizabeth where he attended Jefferson High School. After playing one season with the Newark Eagles in the Negro Leagues, Newcombe signed with the Dodgers. With catcher Roy Campanella, Newcombe played for the first racially integrated baseball team based in the United States in the 20th century, the 1946 Nashua Dodgers of the New England League.
He debuted for Brooklyn on May 20, 1949. Newcombe immediately helped the Dodgers to the league pennant as he earned seventeen victories, led the league in shutouts, and pitched 32 consecutive scoreless innings. He was also among the first four black players to be named to an All-Star team, along with teammates Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella and the Indians’ Larry Doby.
Newcombe was the only baseball player to have won the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards in his career. He became the first black pitcher to start a World Series game in 1949. He was also the first black pitcher to win twenty games in one season. In 1956, the inaugural year of the Cy Young Award, he became the first pitcher to win the National League MVP and the Cy Young in the same season.