Countdown to Spring Training: 31

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.

Countdown to Spring Training: 36

Welcome to a new feature I'm going to be running here at TYA. As we count down to Spring Training, I'm gong to be taking that day's number and relate it to something significant in Yankee history. For today, with 36 days left until Spring Training begins, I'm going to take a look at the 1936 Yankees. This team could define the word 'dominant.' They finished 102-51, beating out the second place Tigers by 19.5 games. They lead the league in runs scored per game (6.9) and runs allowed per game (4.7). Their 1,065 runs scored is the second most in modern (1900 and later) baseball history (the record is held by the 1931 Yankees with 1,067 runs). They led the league in OBP (.381); SLG (.483); OPS (.864); and HR (182). On the pitching side of things, they had the best ERA (4.17) and the most strikeouts (624) while allowing the fewest runs (731). Four of their batters--Lou Gehrig (1); Bill Dickey (7); Red Rolfe (8); and Joe DiMaggio (9)--finished in the top ten for bWAR. Gehrig also led the league in OBP (.478); SLG (.696); OPS (1.174); OPS+ (190); HR (49); and walks (130). Not surprisingly, he won the AL MVP over Luke Appling.

1936 was Joe DiMaggio's first season as a Yankee. The 21 year old hit .323/.352/.576/.928/128 with 29 home runs, 44 doubles, and a league leading 15 triples. As a testament to his greatness on the baseball field, that 128 OPS+ would be the second lowest of his career; the worst was 116 in his final season, 1951. Between then, his OPS+ ranged anywhere from 138-184. Pretty good.

Most importantly, though, the Yankees won the World Series in 1936, 4-2 over the New York Giants.

In Game One, the Yankees lost 6-1. They jumped ahead to a 1-0 lead in the third inning thanks to a home run by George Selkirk. However, that was the only run NYG starter Carl Hubbel would allow. The Giants answered with a fifth inning home run from shortstop Dick Bartell and added another by catcher Gus Mancuso in the sixth. The Giants scored four runs in the eighth. One came on a bases loaded walk, one came on a sac fly, and two came on an RBI-single/error to put the Giants up 6-1. Jake Powell, Tony Lazzeri, and Selkirk all grounded out in the top of the ninth to end the ballgame.

In Game Two, the Yankees got their revenge by dropping 18 (!) on the Giants (who scored only 4). Each Yankee, except starting pitcher Lefty Gomez, reached base at least twice. Frank Crosetti and Joe D each had three hits. Lou Gehrig knocked in three runs. Bill Dickey and Tony Lazzeri each homered and each drove in five runs; four of Lazzeri's RBIs came on a third inning grand slam.

Game Three was a nail-biter, with the Yankees eking out a 2-1 victory in the Bronx. The Yanks took the lead in the bottom of the second thanks to a leadoff homer by the Iron Horse and held that lead until the fifth when Jimmy Ripple hit a leadoff homer of his own. In the top of the eighth, Frank Crosetti pushed across the game winning run with a two-out single. Pat Malone recorded a save in the ninth inning, since Red Ruffing was lifted for a pinch runner in the bottom of the eighth.

5-2 was the tally in the Yankee victory in Game Four. Already up 2-0 in the bottom of the third, Gehrig tallied his second home run in as many games to double the Yankee lead to 4-0. The Giants got single runs in each the fourth and the eighth, but the Yankees added an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. Monte Pearson was the star of this game for the Bombers, tossing a complete game while striking out 7 and walking only 2.

A first inning 3-0 deficit was too much for the Yanks to overcome in Game Five, and they dropped the game 5-4.The Giants got a run scoring double and two RBI singles in the first. George Selkirk answered with a homer in the bottom of the second and the Yankees added a run on an error in the third. The Giants added a run and the Yankees did eventually tie the game at 4 in the bottom of the sixth on back-to-back RBI singles from Powell and Lazzeri, and eventually the game went into extra innings. The Giants' Bill Terry had a sac fly in the top of the tenth to put his squad back on top and the Yankees ended the game in frustrating fashion in the bottom of the tenth. Bill Dickey led off with a single and was lifted for pinch-runner Bob Seeds. Selkirk and Powell followed with fly balls, but up came Tony Lazzeri. In the middle of his at bat, Seeds was caught stealing and the game ended.

Just like they did after losing Game One, the Yankees came back with a vengeance and scored 13 runs. The game was much closer than that for the majority of the contest. In fact, the Giants cut the lead to one. Leading 6-5 going into the ninth, the Yanks exploded all over the Polo Grounds. They scored seven runs in the top half of the ninth. Things got started with two singles from Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig. DiMaggio, who went to third on Gehrig's single, then scored on a fielder's choice. George Selkirk took an intentional walk, then Jake Powell singled home Gehrig and Dickey (who reached on a fielder's choice). Dick Coffman, the Giants' pitcher, was lifted for Harry Gumbert, who didn't get off to a good start. He walked Tony Lazzeri, gave up a run-scoring single to pitcher Johnny Murphy, then walked Frank Crosetti to force in a run. He finally got an out on a Red Rolfe groundout, but that also plated a run. Joe DiMaggio, in his second time up in the inning, knocked an RBI single as well. All of a sudden, the Yankees led 13-5. The bottom of the ninth went easily, 1-2-3, and the 1936 Yankees were World Series champions.