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March 30, 2010
You Can Blog It Up
Dead Player of the Day and Other Notes #2
Dead Player of the Day
In which I pick a page from the encyclopedia at random and riff on what I find.
Tommy Bridges, RHP, 1930-1943; 1945-1946 (1906-1968)
Full name: Thomas Jefferson Davis Bridges. He would have to have been born in Tennessee... By the lights of our Davenport Translations, career Tiger Tommy licks Jack Morris in career WARP, 47.9-36.2. He also edges him in peak WARP, 5.2 (1936) to 5.0 (1987). In reality, the 5-foot-10, 150-pound curveball master of the lilywhite leagues can’t compare to the 6-foot-3 workhorse Morris, but it’s still fun to think about given the Hall of Fame controversy that has surrounded Morris while Bridges, far more dominant in his own time, languishes in obscurity (Bridges did receive HOF votes when eligible, but peaked at 7.5 percent of the vote). Winner of 20-plus games in three straight seasons, Bridges’ curve was thought to be the best in baseball. Charlie Gehringer, quoted in Cobb Would Have Caught It: "I was glad he was on our side… I’ve seen him throw that curveball at a guy’s head, and the batter would fall flat on his rear end thinking it was going to hit him, and then the ball would go over the plate for a strike."
Bridges had a fascinating career. He pitched in four World Series for the Tigers and had a personal record of 4-1 with a 3.52 ERA in seven games. He pitched several one-hitters in the regular season, including a famous near-perfect game against the Senators in 1932 that went 8.2 innings. With one out to go, the Tigers up 13-0, and Washington’s pitcher due up, it was assumed that the perfecto was in the bag. Instead, Senators manager Walter Johnson sent up pinch-hitter Dave Harris, who hit Bridges’ first pitch for a single. Bridges got the next batter. “I didn’t want the perfect game to be given me on a platter,” Bridges said. “I wanted it with the opposition doing its best.”
Bridges averaged 265 innings a year from 1933 through 1937, and it’s clear that by 1938 something had gone out of his arm. Nonetheless, he remained a highly effective pitcher into World War II, at which point service in the Army derailed what would have been a fairly easy bid for 200-plus wins. After the war he pitched three strong seasons in the Pacific Coast League from ages 40 to 42. Unfortunately, late in his career Bridges became a problem drinker. His life rapidly fell apart, and though former teammates Eldon Auker and Billy Rogell tried to get him straightened out, he never did recover.
Which position players need to get off to the fastest starts this spring or risk losing their jobs? The most obvious candidates: Brandon Wood (Angels) because Mike Scioscia doesn't seem to be a fan and could always decide that Maicer Izturis could do a better job; Felix Pie (Orioles) will appropriately claim some playing time from Nolan Reimold, but that doesn't mean Reimold is going away; Ryan Theriot (Cubs) will spend the year hearing Starlin Castro's footsteps, but I don't know if he has to worry about them in April; one of Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta (Indians) is going to get squeezed out when Russell Branyan gets healthy; Gaby Sanchez (Marlins) has to put some distance between himself and Logan Morrison in the regular season; Yuniesky Betancourt (Royals): can even Dayton Moore resist a resurgent Mike Aviles? Blake DeWitt (Dodgers), because Joe Torre can never resist a veteran like Ronnie Belliard; Brett Gardner (Yankees) just because of the team he plays for; Jeff Clement (Pirates) as Garrett Jones could shift back to first base; Ian Desmond (Nats) because Cristian Guzman is still there.
Did I miss anyone?
While waiting for Christina to complete her interview with Bryant Gumbel at the Yogi Berra Museum, I found myself alone in the back room where they keep Hazel Weiss's sculpture. Hazel was Hall of Fame GM George's wife. Not only was she on the spot with a classic quip (during George's brief retirement between Yankees and Mets gigs, Hazel complained that she married him for better or for worse, but not for lunch), but she was also an ace sculptor. I've spoken at the Yogi about a half-dozen times now, and each visit I try to figure out how to get a copy of this thing. The best I could do this time was to snap this photo:
Wait... That's not it. I meant this one:
Not bad, right? It was almost as if he was talking to me.
"What you doing here, kid?"
"Waiting for Bryant Gumbel and Christina to finish up."
"What do the standings look like?"
"It's February, Casey."
"Oh. So what do we do now?"
"Looks like we both remain on exhibit."
"Not necessarily. Looks like you brought a pretty big bag. Put me in there, and if anyone squawks you can blame it on Jaffe."
"I'm going to pretend you didn't say that."
"Yes, me too."