It’s one of the toughest things to do in sports: come off the bench and contribute. Every team needs players on the bench, but few players fill the role well. In both 1968 and 1972, Wayne Comer was probably the last guy on the bench for the Detroit Tigers, but he performed his role dutifully. As a reward he has a ring as a member of the ’68 World Series champions.
Comer wasn’t with the team as the ’68 season started – he was in Toledo as a member of the Mud Hens. It was his seventh minor league season and he’d only had a tiny taste of the big leagues, appearing in four games at the tail end of 1967. But when Al Kaline broke his arm in late May, Comer was called up to take his spot on the roster. Comer had proven he could handle minor league pitching, but now he’d be pressed into service at the major league level. His versatility was one of the reasons that Comer was called up. Not only was he to serve as a piece of Mayo Smith’s outfield, but Comer was the team’s #3 catcher behind Bill Freehan and Jim Price.
Smith used Comer mostly as a pinch-hitter – the Virginia native got 48 at-bats in 48 games. His biggest moment came on August 11 when he produced a pinch-hit homer in the 7th inning off Boston’s Jim Lonborg to help the Tigers scratch back to tie the game. They won in the 14th inning when Gates Brown homered to end it at Tiger Stadium.
Comer made the World Series roster too, in a bit of a surprise, but he had a shining moment in the Fall Classic. In Game Three he was called on to pinch-hit for pitcher Daryl Patterson in the 7th. He lined a single to center field. Also during the Series, Comer took a bit role in history – he warmed up Mickey Lolich before each of Mick’s three starts.
The pinch single was the last hit Comer would have in a Detroit uniform for four years. In 1969 he was selected by the Seattle Pilots in the expansion draft (Detroit also lost relief pitcher Jon Warden in the same draft). On the young Pilots, Comer was one of their most productive offensive players: hitting 15 homers, scoring 88 runs, and walking 82 times with 18 stolen bases. It would prove to be his only season as a big league regular, however. In 1970 when the franchise relocated to Milwaukee, Comer went along, but when he struggled he was traded to the Washington Senators, which was sort of like being sent to Siberia. Comer served again as a bench player with the Senators, playing under Hall of Fame legend Ted Williams. At the end of the season he was re-acquired by the Tigers and he spent 1971 in a familiar spot – Toledo.
Comer also began the ’72 season with the Mud Hens – it was his fifth year with the team – but was called up in late May just like he had been in 1968. He spent about seven weeks with Billy Martin’s team in ’72, appearing in 27 games and receiving just 10 plate appearances. He delivered a sacrifice fly to drive in his only run on July 20 in the Tigers 5-1 victory over Texas. On August 2 he was sent back down to the Mud Hens, but when Detroit won the AL East title on the final day of the season, Comer received a small playoff share from his teammates. Once again he’d played a small role on a first-place Tigers team.
Comer never played in the majors again, ending his 13-year professional career in 1974 in the Phillies organization. He had played more than 1,100 games in the minor leagues, with more than 1,100 hits and 68 home runs to his credit. He had a career minor league average of .275 with more than 100 stolen bases. In the big leagues he appeared in 316 games, batting .229 with 16 homers and 67 RBI. Comer returned to Virginia and coached baseball for a while, also spending time in the sporting goods industry.
He may not have been a star at the big league level, but Wayne Comer was in uniform for two of Detroit’s glory seasons, and he will forever have a ring as a member of the ’68 World Series champions.