Pat Combs played college ball at Baylor University, where he was named an All-American and an Academic All-American. Combs was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame and named to the Baylor Athletic All-Century Team for his contributions to the University.
Combs was a member of the classic 1988 Team USA Baseball squad who brought the Olympic gold medal home from Seoul. The big lefty was selected with the 11th overall pick by the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round of the 1988 MLB Draft.
Combs had a magical season in 1989 where he played in every single level of professional baseball from A ball up to and including getting his shot on the big league team.
He played parts of four seasons for the Phillies before retiring after the 1992 season.
In the latest Card Back Q&A we discuss his strikeout prowess as a Baylor Bear, his meteoric rise up the Philadelphia Phillies organization and the MLB umpire he is related to.
Tony Reid-Your 1988 Topps Traded XRC states that you were the Baylor University all-time strikeout leader. What was it like to be ‘the guy’ on a college stage that big?
Pat Combs-I started my college career at Rice University in Houston then transferred to Baylor. I spent two years there. I didn’t go in expecting to break career records obviously with only two seasons to play. It just so happened that way. The strikeout leader thing was pretty cool. I think I am now second or third in career strikeouts. I still hold own the single season strikeout record even after guys like Jason Jennings and Kip Wells have been through there.
Now I broadcast all of the Baylor Baseball home games. That has been fun keeping up with what is going on collegiately. Back then you just go play the game. I wasn’t chasing records. Some of those things just happen. Years later you think ‘That was pretty cool.’ I look in the back of the book and you see how owns some of those records and you still see your name there. I pitched really well in college and I had a great career at Baylor. I really enjoyed my experience there. It has been fun.
TR–The back of your 1990 Baseball Card Magazine card stated how you made a quick rise through the Phillies system last year (1989) and you shone at every stop. What was that whirlwind season like for you were you were excelling at every single stop in the organization and before it was all said and done you had a great record for the Phillies?
PC-I went in to pro ball with the idea that I was positioned well to rise quickly through the Phillies system. Of course, it has a lot to do with the team that drafts you and the position you are in. I certainly felt like when the Phillies drafted me first in 1988 that there was a need for pitching. They were rebuilding at the time. I felt like I could be on a pretty quick path to get there. Of course, you have to then go perform and prove yourself up. It was the right time and the right team.
I put it all together on the mound. I was in Single A in Clearwater to start the season for about three weeks. Then I was moved to Double A for about three months, so we are getting close to the middle of August. George Culver, the roving minor league pitching coach at the time, visited Reading and pulled me into the office after one f my starts. He said that I was pitching pretty well at Double A and they wanted to pull me up to Triple A but only give me three or four starts here at the end of the season to get a gauge to see where I will start next season, either Triple A or Double A.
I asked George if I was not pitching well enough to get to the big leagues that season. He said that was out of the question. They didn’t want to rush me I said ‘What if I go to Triple A and throw three or four gems in a row, does that not show enough to get me called up?’ He said it just wasn’t on the radar that year. I took offense to that– not at George– but I wanted to prove to the organization that if I had a few good games at Triple A I wanted to show them that I was ready to come up in September. Sure enough, it all came together.
I was throwing the ball really well. I was locked in. I went to Triple A and threw a one hitter, a three hitter and a four hitter…all shutouts. I will never forget it. It was a road game in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I just threw at shutout against the Red Sox. Lee Thomas visited and he said ‘OK. You are forcing my hand. Now I have to call you up in September or I will get lambasted by the media in Philly.’ I get the call up in September and like you said, it was a whirlwind deal. It was so fun to have everything going in the right direction. I was super excited to prove myself up. In September in Philly I had a great run with six good starts.
TR–It was stated on your 1990 Topps and others that you are a distant relative of MLB umpire Terry Tata. What were interactions like between the two of you on the diamond?
PC-I don’t know it the league office told him or what. In one of my very first starts, in September of 1989, I think it was in Montreal, Terry Tata was calling home plate. I came up to bat in the second of third inning. As I am walking up he said ‘Is it true that we are related somewhere?’ I’m like ‘How would you know that?’ He said ‘Yeah. I know about it. You don’t get any special favors. I hope you know that.’ I said ‘Yes, Sir Mr. Tata. I wouldn’t expect any.’