- December 28, 1906
- 5' 10"
- 155 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-13-1930 with DET
When the Detroit Tigers finally gave little Tommy Bridges a chance to pitch in their rotation, the right-hander paid off. He won 20 games for three straight seasons, from 1934-1936, as the Bengals won pennants in each of the first two years. He won one game in the 1934 Fall Classic, and pitched two complete game victories, including the clincher, in the '35 Series. He was a key member of the Tiger rotation through 1943, until he entered the U.S. Army in World War II. When he returned, he was hired a coach, but returned to duty as a player at his own request in 1946 before being released. Bridges pitched four seasons in the Pacific Coast League, leading the loop in ERA and also hurling a no-hitter at the age of 42. Hall of Fame catcher Rick Ferrell called Bridges' curveball the best he'd ever seen.
"[He] had a heart of gold. He had the courage when the chips were down, and you had to hit him and hit him hard to beat him." — Ossie Bluege
Early Years and Near No-Hitters
Born in Gordonsville, Tennessee, Bridges attended the University of Tennessee, and after having a 20-strikeout game for the minor league Wheeling Stogies in 1929, he joined the Tigers in 1930, inducing Babe Ruth to ground out on his first major league pitch.
On August 5, 1932, he came within one out of throwing a perfect game. With two outs in the ninth inning, and the Washington Senators trailing 13-0, the Senators' pitcher was due to bat. Washington manager Walter Johnson sent pinch hitter Dave Harris to bat, who led the AL that season with 14 pinch hits. Harris hit a single to break up the perfect game.
Bridges had another one-hitter against the Senators, on May 24, 1933. On September 24, 1933, Bridges reached the ninth inning with a no-hitter for the fourth time in two years. This time, he gave up a pair of hits but beat the St Louis Browns 7-0. For the 1933 season, Bridges had a 3.08 ERA (140 Adjusted ERA+), second-best in the American League.
In 1934, Bridges was 22-11 with 23 complete games to help the Tigers win their first pennant in 25 years. Bridges also surrendered Ruth's 700th home run on July 13, 1934. In the 1934 World Series, Bridges pitched a complete game victory, in a pitching duel with Dizzy Dean. Bridges beat Dizzy Dean 3-1, but the Tigers lost the Series in 7 games.
Bridges had another strong season in 1935, going 21-10 with 23 complete games. He also pitched a complete game victory in the last game of the 1935 World Series. With the score tied 3-3 in the top of the 9th, Bridges gave up a leadoff triple to Stan Hack, but retired the next three batters without the runner on third scoring. In the bottom of the 9th, Goose Goslin drove in the winning run with 2 outs, and the Tigers won their first championship. After the game, manager Mickey Cochrane said the following of Bridge's gutsy performance: "A hundred and fifty pounds of courage. If there ever is a payoff on courage this little 150- pound pitcher is the greatest World Series hero."
In a nationwide poll Bridges was named the No. 2 sports hero of 1935, behind Notre Dame football player Andy Pilney.
After winning over 20 games in both 1934 and 1935, Bridges led the AL in 1936 with 23 wins, and finished ninth in the MVP voting. Also in 1934, Bridges gave up Babe Ruth's 700th career home run.
On August 11, 1942, Bridges was involved in one of the great pitching duels of all time. Cleveland starter, Al Milnar had a no-hitter until Doc Cramer singled with two out in the 9th. Milnar's scoreless duel with Bridges ended in a 14-inning scoreless tie because the rules did not permit the game to be continued under the lights.
Bridges was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 1931 until 1943, when he entered the Army.
He was among the league leaders in earned run average 10 times between 1932 and 1943, including a career-low 2.39 ERA in 1943—the year before Bridges entered the Army.
Over his major league career, he compiled an Adjusted ERA+ of 126—ranking 54th best in major league history. Though his unadjusted ERA is less impressive because of the high batting averages in the years in which he pitched, Bridges had an Adjusted ERA+ in excess of 140 on six occasions: 1932-33, 1939–40, 1942-43.
He was named an All-Star six times between 1934 and 1940, missing out only in 1938 due to an injury.
Bridges was also a consistent leader in strikeouts. He led the AL in strikeouts in 1935 and 1936, and was among the league leades 12 times: 1931-40, 1942-43. Even more telling, he was among the top 3 in the league in strikeouts per 9 innings pitched on 7 occasions: 1931, 1935–36, 1939–40, 1942-43.
In 1941 he set the Tigers' career strikeout record, surpassing George Mullin's mark of 1380. His team record for career strikeouts was broken in 1951 by Hal Newhouser, and remained the top mark for a right-hander until Jack Morris broke it in 1988.
Bridges' career record with the Tigers was 194-138 with a 3.57 ERA.
Bridges Misses Two Seasons to World War II
Bridges served in the U.S. Army during World War II, missing the entire 1944 season and coming back in time for only one start in 1945. He was a member of the Tigers' 1945 World Series championship team, his fourth Series, making a relief appearance in Game 6.
Bridges and Hank Greenberg are the only players in Detroit Tigers history to play in four World Series for the team, having appeared in the 1934, 1935, 1940, and 1945 World Series.
The Pacific Coast League
Sent to the minors in 1946, he pitched for four years with the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League. On April 20, 1947, pitching for Beavers, Bridges finally got his no-hitter, beating San Francisco 2–0. Bridges also led the Pacific Coast League league in ERA in 1947, but never pitched in the majors again.
Life After Baseball
Bridges' life outside the major leagues took a downward turn, in part due to alcoholism which developed after his war service. In 1950 Bridges left his wife for another woman; former teammates were shocked by his appearance. In 1951 he became a scout and coach for the Cincinnati Reds, and he was later a scout for the Tigers and the New York Mets.
Bridges died in Nashville, Tennessee in 1968 at age 61.
- Tommy Bridges