Colby Jack Coombs

John Wesley “Jack” Coombs was born in Le Grand, Iowa on November 18, 1882. In 1887, the family moved back to Maine, where his parents had been born. His father was a blacksmith, and John had two brothers and a sister. He was six feet tall, strong and tireless, traits that served him well as a pitcher. During the summers in high school, he pitched in semi-professional leagues.

John Coombs purchased Maple Hill Farm in Kennebunk in 1909. At 116 acres, it was just a few miles from where he and his parents and siblings had lived upon their move back from Iowa. Maple Hill became John's Kennebunk residence in the offseason, but his parents and several siblings lived in the farmhouse year-round, farming the land as a source of income. The home still stands to this day on Alewive Road as a private residence; nearby is Coombs Lane.

John was on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame on four separate occasions: 1937, 1938, 1946, and 1948 but always came up short. He has, however, been inducted into Duke University's Sports Hall of Fame and is in the sports halls of fame in Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina.

John Wesley “Jack” Coombs was born in Le Grand, Iowa on November 18, 1882. In 1887, the family moved back to Maine, where his parents had been born. His father was a blacksmith, and John had two brothers and a sister. He was six feet tall, strong and tireless, traits that served him well as a pitcher. During the summers in high school, he pitched in semi-professional leagues.

John Coombs purchased Maple Hill Farm in Kennebunk in 1909. At 116 acres, it was just a few miles from where he and his parents and siblings had lived upon their move back from Iowa. Maple Hill became John’s Kennebunk residence in the offseason, but his parents and several siblings lived in the farmhouse year-round, farming the land as a source of income. The home still stands to this day on Alewive Road as a private residence; nearby is Coombs Lane.

John was on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame on four separate occasions: 1937, 1938, 1946, and 1948 but always came up short. He has, however, been inducted into Duke University’s Sports Hall of Fame and is in the sports halls of fame in Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina.

College Days

Jack Coombs graduated from Colby College in Waterville in 1906, where he was a chemistry major and a member of the baseball, football, track, and tennis teams. The baseball field at Colby is named in his honor. Three weeks after graduation he joined the Philadelphia Athletics in the American League. Here he obtained one of his nicknames, “Colby Jack,” after the college he had attended. He also played for the Brooklyn Robins and the Detroit Tigers. In 1910, which many consider to be his finest year, he won three games against the Chicago Cubs, as the Athletics defeated the Cubs in the World Series. He set several records that stand to this day, including pitching the longest game in major league history. His other nickname, Iron Man Jack, was a result of the game.

October 24th, 1910, Coombs World Series Newspaper Article
October 24th, 1910, Coombs World Series Newspaper Article
1919, U.S. Public Health Service, Typhoid Fever Public Service Announcement.
1919, U.S. Public Health Service, Typhoid Fever Public Service Announcement.

Illness and Uncertainty

In the spring of 1913 he contracted typhoid fever, probably becoming infected while traveling during the opening weeks of the season. He was hospitalized and his weight fell from 185 pounds down to 140. The fact that he was in superb condition probably aided in his recovery. He was determined to come back to the team and returned on August 4, 1913. However, on September 1st he collapsed, typhoid was discovered in his spine, and he was put in a full-body cast. In early December he left the hospital in a back brace, with orders to spend the winter resting and regaining weight. He returned to the Athletics the next season and resumed pitching on September 28th.

1914 turned into a season of turmoil, as the new Federal League was in the throes of birth. In Coombs case, he was without work because his manager, Connie Mack, wrongly assumed that Coombs was aiding the Federal League, which folded that year.

Ending on a High Note

In 1915 Jack Coombs began pitching for the Brooklyn Robins. Brooklyn was an immature team, but Coombs helped the team win third place in the league. He pitched for three more seasons for Brooklyn, leading them to the World Series in 1916. He served as the manager for the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1919 season and played for the Detroit Tigers for 1920.

In 1929 he began coaching for Duke University, which he retired from in 1952. He had the good fortune to coach his nephew, Raymond Franklin “Bobby” Coombs, from 1931 to 1933. Many of his players at Duke went on to compete in the major leagues, and Duke named the baseball field after him. In 1937 he published Baseball – Individual Play and Team Strategy, a well-written tome on Coombs favorite subject.

1916, Colby Jack Coombs, Brooklyn Robins.
1916, Colby Jack Coombs, Brooklyn Robins.

PITCHING RECORDS

Unsurpassed: his record set in 1910 as the only player to pitch and win back-to-back, complete games in a World Series. 

Unsurpassed: his American League record for 13 shutouts in a single season. 

Unsurpassed: Coombs’ record for the longest complete game victory, with his defeat of the Boston Americans in a 24-inning game in his 1906 rookie season. 

Tied (with Christy Mathewson): as the only pitcher with three complete-game victories in a five-game World Series.

Descendants of Jack Coombs and Bobby Coombs reflect on the lives and careers of their family members.