As is the case with each one of the posts under this heading, By the Numbers is a regular series here at Tigers Tracks that profiles a current or former player that wore each uniform number. If you missed the previous entries, where have you been? You can catch up by clicking the “By the Numbers” tag at the top of this page.
In looking for the best that wore No. 10, I didn’t have to search for long. In actuality, not very many players have worn that number in Detroit. Fernando Vina comes to mind, but otherwise, this was an easy call.
Tommy Bridges was a right handed pitcher who played his entire career with the Tigers. His big league career spanned 16 seasons, from 1930-1946, he missed the entire 1944 season due to the war.
Signed out of the University of Tennessee, Bridges made a big impression with the Tigers while in the minor leagues, fanning 20 batters in a 1929 game. His indoctrination to the majors came on August 13, 1930, when Bridges appeared in relief against the New York Yankees. The first batter he faced was Babe Ruth. Bridges retired Ruth on one pitch (Ruth would get his revenge in 1934, when he belted his 700th career home run off a Bridges offering). Two batters later, he also retired Lou Gehrig.
Bridges had an electric arm, but especially in his youth, he struggled with control. In his debut season, Bridges walked 23 batters in just 37.2 innings. His first full season came the next year, and the control didn’t improve much. Bridges hurled 173 innings and lead the league with nine wild pitches. He walked an alarming 108 batter while striking out 105. In fact, it wasn’t until 1933 that he managed to strike out more batters than he walked.
But he sure could strike them out.
Beginning in 1931, Bridges placed in the top ten in strike outs each season through 1940, then again in 1942 and 1943. He lead the league in punch outs in both 1935 and 1936. His curveball was the stuff of legend and he threw very hard, especially given his diminutive stature. He played most of his career at near 150 pounds.
When the Tigers put together back-to-back pennant winners in 1934 and ’35, it was Bridges who lead the pitching staff. He won 22 games in 1934, 21 in 1935, and a league best 23 in 1936.
Perhaps his crowning achievement came in the 1935 World Series, when pitching in Game Six, Bridges had the Tigers tied with the Cubs going into the ninth inning. Cubs’ third baseman Stan Hack lead-off the inning with a triple, but Bridges stranded him at third on a strikeout, a comebacker, and a lazy fly ball. The Tigers would go on to win the Series on a Goose Goslin single that plated Mickey Cochran in the bottom of the inning. Bridges won, and completed, both his starts in that series.
During the hitter-friendly decade of the 30s, Bridges’ ERA was rarely below 3.50 and sometimes as high as 4.50. When you take a quick glance at his numbers, you won’t be blown away. But Bridges ranked in the top ten in ERA 10 times in his career. While he was prone to allow runners via the walk, his career adjusted ERA+ of 126 ranks as 55th best of all-time.
Bridges was a six time all-star. He won 20 games three times. He was among the top five in shutouts eight times. He also frequented the leader boards of walks allowed, hit batsmen, and wild pitches. But when he retired, his 1674 strikeouts ranked as the eighth highest total in the history of the American League. Bridges won 194 games in his career.
Upon his release by the Tigers after the 1946 season, Bridges signed on with Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He never again made it back to the majors, but he lead the PCL in ERA at age 41, and threw a no-hitter in 1947. He had flirted with a no-hitter several times in his big league career, including 8.2 perfect innings versus Washington in 1934, but was never able to close the deal.
After his career ended, Bridges worked as a coach and scout with the Reds, Tigers, and Mets while struggling with alcoholism. He died in 1968 at the age of 61.