Rob Hannings speaks at Amos Fortune Forum about integrating baseball

A mural in Nashua commemorates Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella integrating the Nashua Dodgers in 1946. Nashua was the first integrated team affiliated with a Major League Baseball team in America.

A mural in Nashua commemorates Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella integrating the Nashua Dodgers in 1946. Nashua was the first integrated team affiliated with a Major League Baseball team in America. —STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FONDA

Brad Smith welcomes attendees to the Amos Fortune Forum.

Brad Smith welcomes attendees to the Amos Fortune Forum. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Local baseball historian Rob Hannings gives a presentation about baseball’s history in the Monadnock region to kick off Jaffrey’s 77th annual Amos Fortune Forum series.

Local baseball historian Rob Hannings gives a presentation about baseball’s history in the Monadnock region to kick off Jaffrey’s 77th annual Amos Fortune Forum series. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

A selection of items from baseball historian Rob Hannings’ collection.

A selection of items from baseball historian Rob Hannings’ collection. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Attendees gather in the Jaffrey Meetinghouse for the kickoff of the 77th annual Amos Fortune Forum on Friday evening.

Attendees gather in the Jaffrey Meetinghouse for the kickoff of the 77th annual Amos Fortune Forum on Friday evening. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Local baseball historian Rob Hannings shares photos of local players from past leagues.

Local baseball historian Rob Hannings shares photos of local players from past leagues. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Local baseball historian Rob Hannings shares photos of local teams from past leagues.

Local baseball historian Rob Hannings shares photos of local teams from past leagues. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

Attendees listen to local baseball historian Rob Hannings’ presentation about baseball in the region.

Attendees listen to local baseball historian Rob Hannings’ presentation about baseball in the region. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

A collection of vintage baseball gloves from historian Rob Hannings’ collection.

A collection of vintage baseball gloves from historian Rob Hannings’ collection. STAFF PHOTO BY CAMERON CASHMAN

By CAMERON CASHMAN

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 07-09-2024 12:19 PM

During his Amos Fortune Forum presentation Friday evening at Jaffrey Meetinghouse, local baseball historian Rob Hannings of Greenfield detailed Nashua’s pivotal role in racial integration in baseball.

In 1946, the first two Black players joined the Nashua Dodgers – catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe. Campanella and Newcombe were signed by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey, who had also signed Jackie Robinson. Rickey had initially tried to place Robinson, Newcombe, and Campanella on the same Danforth, Ill., team.

“And Danville, Ill. said, ‘Absolutely not, we’ll close the league down. We won’t play a single game the entire year,’” Hannings recounted. “So they had to scramble. They sent Jackie to Montreal to play minor league, and they sent Campanella and Newcombe to a Class B affiliate in Nashua, N.H. – so technically, we broke the color barrier in New Hampshire.”

When Campanella and Newcombe joined Nashua, the team became the first integrated squad in the United States affiliated with a Major League team.

Hannings said that Newcombe, a 19-year-old from New Jersey, and Campanella, a 24-year-old from Philadelphia, were warmly accepted by the roughly 35,000 residents of Nashua – fewer than 50 of whom were Black.

“I think their biggest concern was – ‘Can they play? Can he pitch? Can he hit?’ – the important questions of fielding a team,” Hannings said. “But they really showed no prejudice – even the mayor of that era, who owned a car dealership, would loan them cars so they could go home and visit their families.”

Hannings said that Campanella had a deal with a local poultry farmer, who would send 100 chicks back to Campanella’s father in Philadelphia for every home run he hit. He ended up sending 1,300 chicks home, which allowed his family to start a profitable poultry business – “so it was a nice side business,” Hannings joked.

Both Newcombe and Campanella recorded many accomplishments during their baseball careers. Newcombe was Rookie of the Year in 1949, and won the first Cy Young Award in 1956 as the top pitcher in the majors. He was also the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1956.  Campanella won three MVP awards, in 1951, 1953 and 1955, before being paralyzed in 1958 after a car accident. Campanella was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969, and died in 1993.

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Hannings was instrumental in helping Nashua recognize Newcombe before his death in 2019.

“They did, in conjunction with Daniel Webster College, bring Don Newcombe, Roxy Newcombe and their families back to Nashua. They gave them the key to the city, and they gave Don an honorary doctor of humane letters, and they renamed the streets around Holman Stadium, where they played, to Newcombe and Campanella Avenues,” Hannings said.

Hannings also discussed the early days of baseball in the region, recounting stories from the 19th century when small-town teams were abundant. Hannings said baseball became a unifying force, drawing communities together that helped get their mind off of the mundane routines of daily life.

“There was not a lot of recreation or social events. Most of daily life consisted of work in a factory, or in a farm, or in a trade,” Hannings said. “There were church functions or various agricultural events and even some military functions – but it was baseball that changed all of that in New England.”

Hannings said soldiers returning from the Civil War brought baseball back with them, and “it was the rage of every small town.” In those days, there was a fierce rivalry between the Peterborough and Jaffrey teams, whose local pride ensured unforgettable diamond showdowns. Peterborough ended up having to pay a “hired gun” from Keene – James “Red” Kibby – to gain an edge and eventually a victory over Jaffrey. 

Hannings’ presentation marked the kickoff of Jaffrey’s 77th annual summer Amos Fortune Forum, which invites speakers to give presentations on relevant social, political and cultural topics affecting residents of the Monadnock region and beyond. The next forum will be on July 12 at 8 p.m. at the Meetinghouse in Jaffrey Center. The speaker will be Annette Polan, who will speak about the late Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. For information, go to amosfortune.org.