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.