Little Tommy Bridges was a Big Ace for the Detroit Tigers

In a 16-year career with the Detroit Tigers, right-hander Tommy Bridges proved that size can be deceiving. The pitcher whom Detroit catcher Mickey Cochrane called “a hundred and fifty pounds of courage” won 20 games three times for the Tigers and is one of only two players to play in four World Series for the team.

Bridges most famous moment came in the 1935 World Series in Game Six against the Cubs in Briggs Stadium in Detroit. Pitching in a tie game, Bridges surrendered a triple to Stan Hack to start the eighth inning. But little Tommy mustered all of his pitching weapons and retired the next three batters on a strikeout, weak grounder back to the mound, and a harmless fly to left. Threat extinguished. And an inning later, while Bridges was tucked in the runway beneath the stands having a cigarette, Goose Goslin singled in Cochrane with the winning run, giving the Tigers their first World Series title.

Known for his curveball, which Hall of Fame catchers Cochrane and Rick Ferrell called the best they ever saw, Bridges also had a pesky fastball, which he relied on heavily. “A curve isn’t worth a hoot unless they respect your fastball,” Bridges contended. Twice he led the American League in strikeouts, and when he retired Bridges ranked 8th in that category.

Though he stood at just 5’10, Bridges was a giant of a competitor on the mound.

“[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 said. Bluege should have known – as a starting infielder for the Senators he faced Bridges frequently throughout the 1930s.

On several occasions, Bridges nearly etched his name in the no-hit record books, including one near perfect game. On August 5, 1932, he retired the first 26 batters against the Senators. Washington manager Walter Johnson sent in pinch-hitter Dave Harris, who banged out a single off one of Bridges’ curveballs to ruin the perfect game bid. 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 in the final frame to the St Louis Browns, before winning 7-0.

Bridges made a splash right away in the big leagues, after signing a deal with Detroit out of the University of Tennessee. In his first big league appearance in 1930 he came in as a reliever, inducing Babe Ruth to ground out on his first major league pitch. Bridges followed it with a strikeout of Lou Gehrig, preserving an extra-inning win over the Yankees.

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 at the tail end of 1945 he was initially hired as a pitching coach, but returned to duty as a player at his own request. That fall he made one relief appearance in the World Series against the Cubs, joining Hank Greenberg as the only players to play in four World Series for Detroit.

He was released after struggling in 1946, but pitched four more seasons in the Pacific Coast League, leading the loop in ERA and also finally hurling a no-hitter in 1949. He tossed his last curveball at the age of 42, having defied the odds as a little man in a big game. His 198 wins for the Tigers ranked second at the time of his retirement.

7 replies on “Little Tommy Bridges was a Big Ace for the Detroit Tigers

  • Duane Lowe

    I am Tommy Bridges great-grandson, and am extremely proud to say that. I never new grandfather, but was very close to his first wife, my great-grandmother, Carolyn Bridges. She would tell stories of their time in Detroit, his career, and what it was like being a players wife. Two weeks ago I went to grandfather’s, Tommy Bridges, grave for the first time and it was a moving, but awesome experience for me. The stories live on in my family and maybe one day he can reach HOF, which I think he deserves. No surprise there.

  • AStevens

    I am actually looking to locate your great-grandmother’s grave. I am in school with a woman who is married to Carolyn and Tommy’s grandson, Danny. Please reply to my email address if at all possible.

  • Duane Lowe

    Tommy Bridges wife Carolyn is buried in Gordonsville, TN, which is in the same county (Smith County) as Carthage. Gordonsville is where Tommy Bridges is from, but he is buried in Carthage.

  • david corbitt

    My grandmother was a Jellicourse from Carthage. I never knew her, she died before i was born. My grandad was James Howard Corbitt. I never got to know my relatives from Carthage and am interested in knowing them. All i know is Mr Bridges was married to my great aunt Carolyn Jellicorse

  • Duane Lowe

    David, Carolynn Jellicourse Bridges, your great aunt, is my great grand mother. She was awesome! I loved her dearly and she was a woman that loved her family, which includes Tommy Bridges till the day she died. Two weeks ago Gordonsville High School honored Tommy Bridges during a basketball game, which much of the family attended. It was a great evening, which they also named the baseball hitting facility in grandfather’s name. Carolyn also had a brother named Sonny. His is son, my cousin, Reggie Jellicourse played football for the University of Tennessee. They are great people. Let’s get in touch.

  • Susan Allen

    My dad, Otis Allen, was also born in Smith County (Brush Creek, TN) in 1898. He came to Detroit around 1926 and pitched semi-pro ball for a Ford Motor Co team. I can remember him talking about Tommy Bridges and that he hung out with him at Navin Field. Also I had a cousin, Edward Allen Bennett, also born in Brush Creek, who married a woman, Jewell, whose first husband was named Clinton Bridges Matthew’s. He was killed in WWII and I believe was somehow related to Tommy.

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