This one here is straight out of left field…well, center field is more like it. In digging up stuff for this series, I wanted to try to touch on a lot of different Yankee players. The obvious choices for 31 were Hall of Famer Dave Winfield and (should be HOFer) Tim Raines. However, you’ve heard all about them. You know them and love them and respect them. instead, I’m going to touch on another great Yankee outfielder, Earle Combs. How did I arrive at Combs on day 31? I was looking up the Yankee leaderboards on B-R and I sort of shoehorned Combs in by finding out he’s #31 on the Yankees’ all time stolen base list with 98. I call this shoehorning because Combs was most definitely not a great base stealer in his career. He stole 98 bases, but he was also caught 71 times. Despite that, I wanted to take this time to touch on Combs’s career, as it definitely gets glossed over in terms of Yankee history.
Combs, inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1970, predates Bernie Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio in the line of great Yankee center fielders. His playing career started a tad late. He was already 25 years old when he played his first bit of baseball in the Bronx in 1924. In that cup of coffee, Combs hit .400/.462/.543/1.004 with a 158 OPS+ in 24 games and 39 plate appearances. He stuck around for good in 1925.
As a 26 year old, Combs continued the hot hitting he showed in 1924. He finished the season at .342/.411/.462/.873/123. He only hit three homers, but he combined for 49 doubles (36) and triples (13). Triples would become the signature of Combs’s career. Just two years after his first full season for the Yanks, Combs led the league in triples with 23. He repeated that feat in 1928 (21) and 1930 (22). Not surprisingly, he ranks second in franchise history in triples with 154. The only player in front of him, Lou Gehrig, hit 163 triples, but he had over 3100 more plate appearances. From 1927-1933, Combs ranked in the top ten in triples every year. What’s more is that in each of those years, save for 1926, he was in the top five. While triples were his signature, Combs also had an affinity for hitting singles. He placed in the top ten there every year from ’25-’32 (with the exception of ’26), and led the league in singles twice, once in 1927 (when he also led the AL in overall hits with 231) and again in 1929.
Combs played on three World Series winners (’27, ’28, ’32) and one loser (’26), and certainly showed up in the Fall Classic. He essentially mirrored his regular season performance in the World Series, hitting .350/.444/.450/.894 in 16 games and 72 plate appearances. After his playing days were over in 1935, Combs was a coach with the Yankees through 1944 and coached in MLB up through 1954, seeing time with the St. Louis Browns, the Red Sox, and the Phillies.
Though he was overshadowed by his more legendary teammates Babe Ruth and the aforementioned Gehrig, Combs was a great player who, with his speed, must’ve been a joy to watch. Let’s take a minute and remember this underappreciated Yankee.