Earle Combs

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Earle Combs
EarleCombsGoudeycard.jpg
Center fielder
Born: May 14, 1899
Pebworth, Kentucky
Died: July 21, 1976(1976-07-21) (aged 77)
Richmond, Kentucky
Batted: LeftThrew: Right
MLB debut
April 16, 1924, for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
September 29, 1935, for the New York Yankees
MLB statistics
Batting average .325
Home runs 58
Runs batted in 633
Teams
Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svgEmpty Star.svgEmpty Star.svg
Induction 1970
Election MethodVeteran's Committee

Earle Bryan Combs (May 14, 1899 – July 21, 1976) was an American professional baseball player who played his entire career for the New York Yankees (1924–35). Combs batted leadoff and played center field on the Yankees' fabled 1927 team (often referred to as Murderers' Row). He is one of six players on that team who have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame; the other five are Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Tony Lazzeri, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth.

Professional baseball is played in leagues throughout the world. In these leagues and associated farm teams, baseball players are selected for their talents and are paid to play for a specific team or club system.

New York Yankees Baseball team and Major League Baseball franchise in the Bronx, New York, United States

The New York Yankees are an American professional baseball team based in the New York City borough of the Bronx. The Yankees compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the American League (AL) East division. They are one of two major league clubs based in New York City, the other being the New York Mets of the National League. In the 1901 season, the club began play in the AL as the Baltimore Orioles. Frank Farrell and Bill Devery purchased the franchise and moved it to New York City, renaming the club the New York Highlanders. The Highlanders were officially renamed the Yankees in 1913.

Murderers Row

Murderers' Row were the baseball teams of the New York Yankees in the late 1920s, widely considered one of the best teams in history. The nickname is in particular describing the first six hitters in the 1927 team lineup: Earle Combs, Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri.

Contents

Combs led the league in triples three times and was among the top ten in the category in several other seasons. He suffered a fractured skull and other injuries from a crash into an outfield wall in 1934, then retired after another injury the next season. Nicknamed "the Kentucky Colonel", Combs was known as a gentleman on and off the field. He remained in baseball as a coach for many years after his retirement as a player.

Triple (baseball) in baseball, a three-base hit

In baseball, a triple is the act of a batter safely reaching third base after hitting the ball, with neither the benefit of a fielder's misplay nor another runner being put out on a fielder's choice. A triple is sometimes called a "three-bagger" or "three-base hit". For statistical and scorekeeping purposes it is denoted by 3B.

Biography

Early years

Combs was born in Pebworth, Owsley County, Kentucky. As a child, he played baseball games with tree limbs as bats and with baseballs made out of string and the material of old shoes. [1]

Pebworth, Kentucky Unincorporated community in Kentucky, United States

Pebworth is an unincorporated community located in Owsley County, Kentucky, United States. Its post office closed in April 1992.

Owsley County, Kentucky County in the United States

Owsley County is a county located in the Eastern Coalfield region of the U.S. state of Kentucky. As of the 2010 census, the population was 4,755, making it the second-least populous county in Kentucky. The county seat is Booneville. The county was organized on January 23, 1843, from Clay, Estill, and Breathitt counties and named for William Owsley (1782–1862), the judge of the Kentucky Court of Appeals and Governor of Kentucky (1844–48).

College

Combs left Pebworth in 1917 to enter Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in Richmond. In those early days, Eastern prepared its students to become teachers. On completion of a two-year program, graduates were often employed in rural one-room schools. They were often responsible for forty or more students, ranging in age from six to teen-age in grades one through eight, so the work required much management skill.

Eastern Kentucky University Public university in Richmond, KY, USA

Eastern Kentucky University is a regional comprehensive university in Richmond, Kentucky. EKU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. It maintains branch campuses in Corbin, Hazard, Lancaster, and Manchester and offers more than 40 online undergraduate and graduate options.

Richmond, Kentucky City in Kentucky, United States

Richmond is a home rule-class city in and the county seat of Madison County, Kentucky, United States. It is named after Richmond, Virginia, and is the home of Eastern Kentucky University. The population was 33,533 in 2015. Richmond is the third-largest city in the Bluegrass region and the state's sixth-largest city. Richmond serves as the center for work and shopping for south-central Kentucky. Richmond is the principal city of the Richmond–Berea Micropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Madison and Rockcastle counties.

In his first year at Eastern, Combs put on a stellar performance in a faculty-student baseball game and was encouraged to join the school team by Dr. Charles Keith (Dean of Men and baseball coach). [1] He hit .591 at Eastern during his last season. After graduating from Eastern, Combs went back to his native Owsley County and taught in one-room schoolhouses in both Ida May and Levi.

Early baseball career

Combs with the Louisville Colonels Earle b combs.jpg
Combs with the Louisville Colonels

Combs continued to play baseball in his spare time. He played for High Splint (Harlan County coal company team) in the Pine Mountain League (summer of 1921) and hit .444. He also played semi-pro baseball for the Lexington Reos of the Bluegrass League. It was in Lexington (in 1922) that Combs drew the attention of the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. After scouting him, Louisville offered him a contract which provided a salary that exceeded the $37 per month ($554 today) he made as a teacher in Owsley County.

Highsplint, Kentucky Unincorporated community in Kentucky, United States

Highsplint is a former coal town with an extinct post office in Harlan County, Kentucky, United States. It was named for the High Splint and Seagraves Coal Companies which operated a mine in the town at that time. Highsplint's first post office was established on February 7, 1918, with John D. Casey as postmaster, remaining in operation until 1974.

Lexington, Kentucky Consolidated city-county in Kentucky, United States

Lexington, consolidated with Fayette County and often denoted as Lexington-Fayette, is the second-largest city in Kentucky and the 60th-largest city in the United States. By land area, Lexington is the 28th largest city in the United States. Known as the "Horse Capital of the World," it is the heart of the state's Bluegrass region. It has a nonpartisan mayor-council form of government, with 12 council districts and three members elected at large, with the highest vote-getter designated vice mayor. In the 2018 U.S. Census Estimate, the city's population was 323,780 anchoring a metropolitan area of 516,697 people and a combined statistical area of 746,330 people.

The Louisville Colonels was the name of several minor league baseball teams that played in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 20th century. The name is derived from the historic Kentucky colonels.

His Louisville debut was unsettling; he committed several outfield errors. The last one gave the opposition the two runs they needed to win the game. Distraught afterward, Combs said, "As I went after the dropped ball I was tempted to keep right on going, climb the fence and not stop running until I got to Pebworth." He had married Ruth McCollum, his high school sweetheart, the year before and was concerned about his future.

Joe McCarthy, the manager of the Colonels and later his manager with the Yankees, knew what Combs could do and told him, "Look, if I didn't think you belonged in center field on this club I wouldn't put you there, and I'm going to keep you there." Combs soon found his stride, [2] hitting .344 in 1922 and .380 in 1923 for the Colonels and also earning a reputation for speedy ball-hawking in the outfield and reckless base- stealing on offense.

Major league years

In 1924, the New York Yankees won a spirited bidding war and bought Combs' contract for $50,000 ($730,971 in current dollar terms). This was a rather large sum at that time, but it bore fruit for the Yankees as Combs proved an immediate success in New York. In his rookie season (summer of 1924), Combs played center field and hit .400 before breaking an ankle sliding into home plate at Cleveland's League Park on June 15. Except for one pinch-hitting appearance, he saw no more action that rookie season.

The following year, manager Miller Huggins made Combs the Yankees' leadoff hitter. He held this position for the remaining eleven years of his playing career. He hit .342 and scored 117 runs in 1925. In his best year (1927), he hit .356 with 231 hits, 131 runs scored, 36 doubles and a league-leading 23 triples. He led the league in triples again the next year, batting .310 and finishing sixth in Most Valuable Player voting. He hit .345 in 1929, then .344 in 1930, again leading the league in triples. [3]

Combs suffered a serious accident in July 1934. On a 100+-degree day at St. Louis' Sportsman's Park, he crashed into the outfield wall going for a fly ball, sustaining a fractured skull, a broken shoulder and a damaged knee. He was reportedly near death for several days, and was hospitalized for more than two months. The next season, he attempted a comeback but suffered another serious injury. That injury, coupled with the knowledge that the Yankees were set to bring up a rookie center fielder named Joe DiMaggio the next season, led to Combs' decision to retire at the age of 36.

For his career Combs hit .325, had an on-base average of .397 and averaged nearly 200 hits, 75 walks and only 31 strikeouts a season. He was a part of three World Series championships (in 1927, 1928 and 1932). He also set the Yankees' team record for most triples in a season (23 in 1927). He hit no lower than .282 in any of his eleven seasons, and scored no fewer than 113 runs from 1925 through 1933. In four World Series, Combs hit .350 with a .443 on-base average. He averaged 17 triples a season, and had a lifetime fielding percentage seven points better than the league average.

Combs' plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Earle Combs HOF Plaque.JPG
Combs' plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Miller Huggins once said, "If you had nine Combs' on your ball club, you could go to bed every night and sleep like a baby". Joe McCarthy (another longtime Yankee manager) said, "They wouldn't pay baseball managers much of a salary if they all presented as few problems as did Earle Combs." Said Babe Ruth: "Combs was more than a good ballplayer; he was always a first-class gentleman." [4] American sportswriter and baseball historian Fred Lieb wrote of Combs, "If a vote were taken of the sportswriters as to who their favorite ballplayer on the Yankees would be, Combs would have been their choice." [2]

After his retirement as a player, he remained in the game as a coach for almost two decades. He was offered a coaching job with the Yankees in 1936, and started his new position by instructing his replacement (DiMaggio) on the nuances of Yankee Stadium's outfield. He coached for the Yankees through 1944, for the St. Louis Browns in 1947 and for the Boston Red Sox (1948–1952). When he announced his retirement from the Boston coaching staff in March 1953, he said that he was going to spend more time with family and his Kentucky farm. [5] He returned to coaching for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1954. [6]

Life after baseball

After retiring from baseball in 1954, Combs returned to his 400-acre farm in Madison County. He served as the Kentucky state banking commissioner during Governor (and former Baseball Commissioner) A. B. 'Happy' Chandler's second administration (1955–1959), and on Eastern's Board of Regents from 1959 to 1975. In November 1962, he laid the foundation stone for Earle B. Combs Hall, a dormitory at Eastern. In June 1970, the Little League field at Irvine-McDowell Park in Richmond was named in his honor. In 2006, he was inducted as a charter member of Eastern's Athletics Hall of Fame, and the university provides an athletic scholarship in his honor each year.

Combs was selected for induction into the Hall of Fame in 1970 by the Veterans Committee. When he learned of the honor he said, "I thought the Hall of Fame was for superstars, not just average players like me." [7] Sabermetrician Bill James has listed Combs as one of ten examples of Hall of Fame inductees who do not deserve the honor. [8]

Combs and his wife Ruth (1901–1989) had three sons, Earle Jr, Charles and Donald. After a long illness, he died on July 21, 1976 (age 77) in Richmond, Kentucky. He is interred in the Richmond Cemetery. [2]

Career statistics

YearsGames PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO AVG OBP SLG FLD%
12145565145746118618663091545863398670278.325.397.462.974

In the postseason, in 4 World Series covering 16 games (1926, '27, '28 and '32), Combs batted .350 (21-for-60) with 17 runs, 3 doubles, 1 home run, 9 RBI and 10 base on balls.

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 "Remembering Earle B. Combs". Library of Congress . Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 Berger, Ralph. "Earle Combs: The Baseball Biography Project". Society for American Baseball Research . Retrieved 2010-04-08.
  3. "Earle Combs Statistics and History". Baseball-Reference.com . Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  4. http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/NASSH_Proceedings/NP1985/NP1985zt.pdf
  5. "Earle Combs retires after 32 years as player, coach". Sarasota Journal . March 30, 1953. Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  6. Levy, Sam (March 18, 1954). "Combs, back as Phillies coach, recalls days under McCarthy". Milwaukee Journal . Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  7. Cohen, Robert W. (2012). The 50 Greatest Players in New York Yankees History. Scarecrow Press. p. 83. ISBN   978-0-8108-8393-2 . Retrieved December 29, 2014.
  8. "Bill James Answers All Your Baseball Questions", an April 2008 entry from the Freakonomics blog
Preceded by
Larry Woodall
Boston Red Sox first-base coach
1948–1952
Succeeded by
Del Baker