Earle Combs was the leadoff man for the great Murderers’ Row Yankees, serving in that role for six full seasons, from 1927 to 1932. The Yankees won three World Series during that stretch, and a big part of it was the man at the top, the pesky leadoff man. Combs got on base 41 percent of the time when leading off games, which helped the Bombers jump out to early leads. In those six seasons, the Yankees scored more runs in the first inning than any other.
Combs was lean but had an athletic build, and he was very fast. When he rounded first base his cap would often fly off his head, revealing his premature grey hair, which he wore longer than most men of his era. Earle had piercing blue eyes, was handsome, and had a kind smile. He was a great teammate, and he earned a place as the best in-clubhouse barber on the Yankees, using the shears he kept in his locker to give his Yankee teammates a trim.
When Combs first came to the Yankees, manager Miller Huggins called him into his office.
“I hear you’re pretty fast,” Huggins said.
“Yep, they called me The Mail Carrier in Louisville,” Combs replied.
“Well, they are going to call you The Waiter here,” Huggins said. “Because we’ve got a couple guys named Ruth and [Bob] Meusel who hit the ball out of the park, and if you get on base, you just wait for them to knock you in.”
In terms of character, Combs was similar to Brett Butler. Both men were devout, religious men who didn’t fit in with the jock culture of the locker room. Dale Murphy is a third member of that class. Combs didn’t smoke, swear, or gamble. But socially he was a popular member of the team, known as a good conversationalist. He roomed on the road with coach Art Fletcher for years, the two men getting up at the crack of dawn to go for a walk filled with great gab. Toiling in the shadow of Babe Ruth and others, Combs was content to let others get the attention.
How modest was Combs? At his Hall of Fame induction in 1970, the 71-year old said “I thought the Hall of Fame was for superstars, not just average players like me.”
Combs was well above average. He hit a cool .325 for his career and was a good center fielder. He was known for being a great breaking ball hitter, and he got out of the box quickly: Combs led the league in triples three times. He was called “The Mail Carrier” because of his speed, and he was also called “The Kentucky Colonel,” which might be the best of the geographic nicknames.