Earle Bryan Combs
(The Kentucky Colonel)
- Bats Left, Throws Right
- Height 6' 0", Weight 185 lb.
- School Eastern Kentucky University
- Debut April 16, 1924
- Final Game September 29, 1935
- Born May 14, 1899 in Pebworth, KY USA
- Died July 21, 1976 in Richmond, KY USA
"I thought the Hall of Fame was for superstars, not just average players like me." - Earle Combs
Known for his speed, center fielder Earle Combs (whose last name rhymes with "tombs") was the New York Yankees leadoff man in the days of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. He hit .325 over the course of his career, playing twelve seasons with the Yanks.
Baseball was not originally in the cards for Earle. He attended Eastern Kentucky State Normal School with every intention of being a schoolteacher. He took their two-year teaching program, batting .591 as a member of the school's baseball team. Upon graduation, he returned home and taught in one-room schoolhouses while continuing to play semipro ball. Playing with the Lexington Reos in 1922 of the semipro Bluegrass League, he drew the eye of the Louisville Colonels in the American Association, giving up a life of teaching for a life of baseball. He hit .344 in his first season, then batted .380 in 1923, attracting a bidding war from the big leagues. The New York Yankees were the winners, seizing him for $50,000.
Earle crushed it in his brief rookie season, batting .400/.462/.543 in in 24 games in 1924 before breaking his ankle sliding at League Park against the Cleveland Indians on June 15th. Undaunted by the injury, skipper Miller Huggins installed Combs as his lead-off hitter and center fielder and was rewarded with a .342/.411/.462 season in 1925. Earle scored 117 runs, the first of eight consecutive seasons in which he exceeded 100, and rapped 203 hits, the first of three times he exceeded 200. He managed to hit over .300 in every season but his final season, 1935, and 1926, when he was just under at .299/.352/.429 in 145 games.
Combs' best season came in 1927, when he hit .356/.414/.511, scored 137 runs, and led the American League with 231 hits and 23 triples. He followed by finishing 6th in the 1928 MVP vote, batting .310/.387/.463 with 118 runs scored and a league leading 21 triples. He also starred in the postseason, hitting .350/.451/.450 over the course of four World Series from 1926 to 1932 (with the Yankees winning three crowns). A broken finger limited him to one plate appearance in the 1928 World Series, but he made the most of it, hitting a sacrifice fly that drove in a run.
In 1930, Earle was back in fine form when he hit .344/.424/.523 with 129 runs scored and another triples crown (22). He scored a career best 143 runs with a .321/.405/.455 line in 1932, then fell off slightly to .300/.372/.465 in limited action in 1933. Combs suffered a serious injury in 1934 that could have cost him his life, fracturing his skull, breaking his shoulder and damaging his knee after running into the wall at Sportsman's Park on a sweltering summer day in St. Louis. He was carried unconscious from the field and remained in the hospital for two months afterwards, but miraculously returned to the field in 1935. His career was shortly thereafter ended by another injury, a broken collarbone. He was replaced the next season as the Yankees center fielder by another future Hall of Famer, Joe DiMaggio.
Although he was a very good player, Combs was famous for his weak throwing arm. In addition, although he had a .325/.397/.462 batting line, he never was in the top five in batting average during any one season. His numbers were still considered strong enough by the Veterans Committee to induct him into the Hall of Fame in 1970.
After his playing days, Combs was a Yankees coach from 1935 to 1944 and a member of the St. Louis Browns staff in 1947. He later coached for the Boston Red Sox from 1948 to 1952 and spent 1954 with the Philadelphia Phillies. He died of a lengthy illness at 77 in 1976.
- AL At Bats Leader (1927)
- AL Hits Leader (1927)
- 2-time AL Singles Leader (1927 & 1929)
- 3-time AL Triples Leader (1927, 1928 & 1930)
- 100 Runs Scored Seasons: 8 (1925-1932)
- 200 Hits Seasons: 3 (1925, 1927 & 1929)
- Won three World Series with the New York Yankees (1927, 1928 & 1932)
- Baseball Hall of Fame: Class of 1970