Earle Combs: Yankee Centerfielder was Ky. Native

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Earle Combs: Yankee Centerfielder was Ky. Native


Earle Combs, for several years centerfielder for the New York Yankees, was born in Owsley County, Ky. He played baseball for teams in local coal-mining towns. He enrolled at Eastern when he was 17. His first year playing for the Maroons was 1918 and he batted .596.

In 1922, he signed a contract to play for the Louisville Colonels, of the American Association. Joe McCarthy was the team’s manager that year. Combs batted .344 and the next year, he batted .380. The New York Yankees signed him for $100,000 (this was before there was such a thing as a minimum wage in the U.S., so the equivalent spending power today is in the multimillion dollar category). His first year was 1924. He played center field between Bob Meusel and Babe Ruth. Later that year, he broke his leg. Even so, he played all of 1925, batting .342. His first World Series was in 1926. He played in four World Series (series, not individual games) during his career without making any errors.

The 1927 New York Yankees team remains the greatest team in the history of the game. Ruth hit 60 home runs, Combs batted .356 and they and Lou Gehrig were part of “murderer’s row”.

There was no warning track in the outfields back then. On July 24, 1934, Combs, concentrating on catching a long fly ball, crashed into the wall. He injured his skull, his shoulder and his knee. He recovered from his injuries and returned to center field the next year. However, a collision with another outfielder injured his shoulder again. He decided to quit playing while he was ahead. His replacement on the Yankees was Joe DiMaggio. Combs stayed on with the Yankees organization until 1943. He later was on the staffs of three other major league teams.

Combs returned to Madison County where he raised beef cattle on his farm. He was selected for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1970. I was lucky enough to be one of 800 who paid tribute to the man at a ceremony at Eastern on March 10, 1970.

I first knew Mr. Combs in 1945. The Madison-Model baseball team went to the state tournament finals in both 1945 and 1946. Mr. Combs’ son, Charles, was a member of both teams. He was a year older than I. My job was score-keeper and I was beginning my longstanding relationship with the Richmond Register (over 65 years now, on and off), writing up high school sports.

Bob Ackman was the official coach, but Mr. Combs was on bench helping to coach (along with Mr. Harold Moberly) the Purple nine. I always thought that was million-dollar coaching for free. Mr. Combs had two other sons — Earle Jr. and Donald (Donald was later an outstanding swimming coach at Eastern).

Mr. Combs never used his fame to boost himself above others. Over the years, when we met he always greeted me with “Hello, Fred. Good to see you.” His amazing life is a unique strand in Madison’s heritage.


Dr. Fred Engle




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Dr. Fred Engle, “Earle Combs: Yankee Centerfielder was Ky. Native,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed August 8, 2022, https://madisonsheritage.eku.edu/items/show/1871.