walk of fame recipient Plaque 8

Earle Bryan Combs

  • Born May, 14, 1899, at Pebworth, in Owsley County, Kentucky, the son of James Jesse and Nannie Brandenburg Combs.
  • Left Pebworth in 1917 to pursue a teaching degree at Eastern Kentucky State Normal School (now Eastern Kentucky University) in Richmond.
  • Received his teaching certificate from E.K.S.N.S. in 1919.
  • As a member of Eastern’s baseball team, hit .591 in his last season in 1921.
  • Rose from success in central Kentucky’s semi-pro leagues in 1922 to earn a contract with the Louisville Colonels of the American Association.
  • After two outstanding years in Louisville was sold, in 1924, to the New York Yankees for $50,000.
  • Had his greatest season in 1927 when, as leadoff hitter and center fielder for the Yankees’ famed Murderer’s Row lineup (which included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig), he hit .356 and led the American League in at-bats (648), hits (231), and triples (23).
  • Suffered a spectacular injury in July 1934 with a frightening crash into the outfield wall at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, receiving a fractured skull, broken shoulder, and damaged knee. Near death for several days, he remained hospitalized for more than two months.
  • Retired as a player at the end of the 1935 season, completing twelve years in New York that saw him attain a career batting average of .325 and help the Yankees to four World Series appearances and three World Championships (1927, 1928, and 1932).
  • Between 1936 and 1954, when he retired from baseball, he coached the Yankees, St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Served as Kentucky State Banking Commissioner under Gov. A.B. (Happy) Chandler.
  • Served on Eastern Kentucky University’s Board of Regents from 1956 to 1975.
  • Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, in 1970.
  • Died July 21, 1976, in Richmond Kentucky and was buried in the Richmond Cemetery.

Earle Bryan Combs Biography

Earle Bryan Combs was born May 14, 1899, at Pebworth, in the eastern Kentucky county of Owsley, the son of James Jesse and Nannie Brandenburg Combs. At an early age Earle showed natural athletic abilities that his father noticed; to encourage that talent James made homemade bats and baseballs for his son. Throughout his childhood Earle organized pickup games with his siblings and other children in the area, enjoying his passion for the sport whenever possible.

In 1917 Earle left Pebworth to become a college student at Eastern Kentucky State Normal School in Richmond; his goal was to become a teacher. For the next several years he lived a dual life of student/teacher, and baseball player. He received his teaching certificate from Eastern in 1919, and taught in several one-room schools in eastern Kentucky. The college soon discovered Earle’s baseball talents and asked him to return to school, continue his education, and play on the school’s baseball team. In 1921, the last season he played on the college team, his batting average was a remarkable .591. In the meantime he further honed his skills by playing for several semi-professional teams within the Bluegrass Region, including the Lexington Reos, before finally joining the Louisville Colonels of the American Association. At that point, the schoolroom was left behind in favor of the baseball field.

During his years with the Louisville Colonels, Combs maintained high batting averages while he also developed his career-long reputation as a line-drive hitter. His numbers and his skills did not go unnoticed by professional teams. In 1924 the New York Yankees bought the brilliant Kentucky outfielder for $50,000; Combs would remain a Yankee throughout his professional career as a player. With the 1925 season, Combs became the leadoff hitter for the “Murderers Row” lineup, which included Mark Koenig, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bob Meusel, and Tony Lazzeri. In 1927 this lineup became a part of what may have been the best baseball team ever. With Combs as the leadoff hitter and as a spectacular outfielder, the 1927 New York Yankees compiled a 110-44 record and won the World Series, sweeping Pittsburgh. The statistics for Combs are impressive; that year he led the American League in at-bats (648), hits (231), and triples (23), while maintaining a batting average of .356. No wonder the Yankee fans adored the athleticism of this “Kentucky Greyhound,” “Kentucky Colonel,” or “Silver Fox.” Fans also admired his character, for Combs did not drink, smoke, or curse and was ever a gentleman.

Combs and the Yankees would win two more World Series, in 1928 and in 1932; then, injuries befell him. In July 1934, when the Yankees were playing in St. Louis, Combs crashed hard into the outfield wall while catching a fly ball. He sustained serious injuries from this accident, was near death for several days, and then remained in the hospital for over two months. He made a full recovery and returned to the game the following year, only to suffer another injury. At this point he chose to end his career as a professional baseball player. In 1936 he became a coach for the New York Yankees, training his replacement, a young man named Joe DiMaggio. Over the years he continued to coach in baseball for several teams, including the St. Louis Browns, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies before finally retiring from the sport for good in 1954. His baseball legacy was given permanent recognition when he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame; his induction took place on July 26, 1970.

After his retirement from coaching, Combs returned to his 400-acre farm in Madison County. He served as Kentucky State Banking Commissioner under Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler during the latter’s 1955-1959 term. (He first met Chandler when both played on the Lexington Reos team.) Combs also served on the Board of Regents of his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, from 1956 to 1975; he chaired the Board from 1972-1974. In November 1962 he laid the foundation stone for the Earle B. Combs dormitory at Eastern.  Combs was a charter member of Eastern’s Athletics Hall of Fame; the University also gives an athletic scholarship in his honor.

In 1922 Combs married Ruth McCollum, an old Owsley County friend. They had three sons, Earle Jr., Charles, and Donald. Earle Combs died on July 21, 1976, and was buried in Richmond Cemetery.

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