Obviously, DiMaggio and Mantle stand head and shoulders above all Yankees center fielders. There never will be another like them, but in a short time, Bernie Williams has shown that he’s a worthy successor to Joe D. and Mantle and deserving of being No. 3 on my list of all-time Yankees center fielders.
In his first 10 years as a Yankee, Williams put up some impressive numbers, numbers that are DiMaggio and Mantle–like. He also had a lot of the same qualities as DiMaggio and Mantle—he has a quiet dignity, he leads the team by example, and he is the heart of the offense. I like Williams a lot. He’s a switch-hitter and a good guy, and he puts up great numbers. He would have easily fit on the great Yankees teams I played with.
I don’t know much about Earle Combs, except that he was the center fielder on the “Murderers Row” teams of the twenties; he had a career batting average of .325 for 12 seasons, all with the Yankees; he batted .350 in four World Series; he led the league in 1927 with 231 hits, a Yankees record until Don Mattingly had 238 hits in 1984; and he is in the Hall of Fame.
I actually crossed paths with Combs even though he retired 15 years before I got to the Yankees. It happened when I made my Yankees debut in 1950. We were playing the Red Sox in Fenway Park, and I came in to relieve Tommy Byrne.
The first three batters I faced got base hits, a single, a single, and a double. Then our first baseman, Tommy Henrich, came to the mound.
“Hey, Eddie,” he said, “that first-base coach knows everything you’re throwing. He’s calling every pitch.”
I couldn’t believe it because I had thrown only about six pitches, but it was true. When I was going to throw a fastball, the first-base coach would yell, “Be ready.” When I was going to throw a curve, he yelled, “Make him get it up.”
The first-base coach was Earle Combs.
Mickey Rivers is No. 5 on my list of all-time Yankees center fielders. “Mick the Quick” played only three and a half seasons for the Yankees, but he made his mark. He was the leadoff batter and catalyst for those great teams in the late seventies. In his three full seasons, the Yankees won three American League pennants and two World Series championships.
From Few and Chosen by Whitey Ford with Phil Pepe.
Copyright © 2001 by Whitey Ford and Phil Pepe. Excerpted with permission.