Sunday, April 24, 2016

Meet the Brewers #23: Wayne Comer

Wayne Comer did not play until the Brewers' third game, serving as a pinch hitter for Russ Snyder before playing right field against the Chicago White Sox in a 5-4 loss in the third game of the season. 

In 1970, Wayne Comer was coming off a very successful rookie season with the Seattle Pilots. In 147 games (573 plate appearances), he put up good numbers: 15 HRs, 54 RBI, 18 SB (in 25 attempts...not so hot), and slashing .245/.354/.380. He walked more than he struck out -- 82 walks, 79 strikeouts -- at the age of just 25 years old. And yet, he played 57 more games in 1969 than in any other season in his career.

Why the 26-year-old who was coming off a fairly successful season did not get to start is a big question: the other options were the 36-year-old Snyder and 33-year-old Ted Savage, amongst others. 

1970 McDonald's Milwaukee Brewers
Perhaps it was this: during an exhibition game just prior to the season that took place in Oakland, Comer was at bat. He fouled a ball off straight down, and it bounced up and hit him in the head. Oddly, his SABR Biography does not make note of this and calls Comer the Brewers' starting centerfielder. This clearly was not true as he made only two starts -- only one in centerfield -- for the Brewers during the first month of the season.

Even though he was a rookie in 1969, he already had a World Series ring. He served as a pinch hitter for the Detroit Tigers in 1968, going 6 for 48. But, he was on the World Series roster against the St. Louis Cardinals in that last World Series before the addition of divisions and the League Championship Series. He batted once in the 1968 Series and singled, meaning he had a perfect post-season career.

Despite the very good 1969, it seems that his talents were not appreciated in his day. Yes, this is another example of baseball people focusing on batting average rather than on-base percentage. His major league OBP in 807 plate appearances was .331, but his batting average was just .229. His minor league OBP was .367 versus a batting average of .275. 

1988 Reprint of 1970 Flavor-Est Milk Set 
The other thing going on here may be as simple as someone actually understanding park effects. Sick's Stadium in Seattle was a bandbox -- just 305 feet down the left-field line. It was a terrible stadium -- just read the Wikipedia entry about it to hear all the problems. For instance, on opening day 1969, some people had to wait to sit down for three innings because workers were still putting the seats together.

Comer did not last long in Milwaukee. He went hitless for his first fifteen at-bats, got a pinch-hit single in the first game of a doubleheader against the Washington Senators on May 10, then made an out pinch hitting again in the second game of that doubleheader. That was his last game in Milwaukee, as Comer was traded to the Senators on May 11, 1970 for Hank Allen and Ron Theobald.

1994 Miller Brewing Milwaukee Brewers
Comer played in the minor leagues until the age of 30 in 1974. Thereafter, he first went into sporting goods sales. After that, he became a local teacher and baseball coach in his hometown of Shenandoah, Virginia -- a small town along the South Fork of the Shenandoah River near Interstate 81 in western Virginia -- and in nearby Harrisonburg, Virginia. 

Comer was certainly a local celebrity -- to the point where one reference to him came up on a church website for the Vision of Hope United Methodist Church. The reference is in a sermon overview, and it provides something of a window into what Comer really was like:
Many of you know the name of Wayne Comer. A resident of Page County, Wayne was a super-talented baseball player who made it all the way to the Show -- the major leagues. He was a utility infielder on the 1968 World Champion Detroit Tigers, and also played for the Seattle Pilots. . . . Wayne spent several years operating a very successful sporting goods franchise here in Harrisonburg. And upon retiring from that, he did a short stint as coach of the Spotswood High School Trailblazers baseball team.
The sermon continued by comparing Comer to Bobby Knight and the "my-way-or-the-highway approach" and described Wayne's personality as follows:
Now anyone who has ever known Wayne will agree he has no lack of confidence. And many will tell you he's an arrogant ol' cuss.
Yet, as the sermon continued, it talked about how long after retirement, Comer agreed to come help a struggling second grade boy who needed someone to keep tabs on him and provide a control and a role model on how to act properly in class and school. It worked like a charm.

Wayne Comer has just 11 cards of him from his playing career on the Trading Card Database. Of course, that Broder-type "Flavor-Est" milk set is not in the Trading Card Database, so make it 12. Out of those 12, four show him as a Brewer -- the three I've shown here along with his 1970 Mike Andersen Postcard -- the photo for which is the same as this Flavor-Est card.


  1. These are always interesting. Love reading these

    1. Thanks, Mike -- I really like history and the stories behind the players, so these are a lot of fun for me as well.