Tommy Bridges was one of the best pitchers in the Majors during the 1930s. A Southern right-hander who spent his entire career with the Detroit Tigers, Bridges would have easily won over 200 career games had he not missed action to World War II at the end of his career. Like recent inductee Bert Blyleven, Tommy was respected throughout the game thanks to his first-rate curveball, which was widely regarded as the best breaking pitch in the Majors during the 1930s. Detroit was a strong team during Tommy’s days with the club. He was able to put together a three-year string of 20 or more wins.
Now we’ll take a look at Bridges and see how well he stacks up against his peers. He has a number of peers (players who played in the same era) in the Hall of Fame, such as Dizzy Dean, Lefty Gomez, Carl Hubbell, Ted Lyons and Red Ruffing. Bridges was best known for his strikeout proficiency, and when judged against his Hall of Fame peers, he doesn’t take second fiddle to any of them. Tommy averaged 5.3 strikouts over nine innings over the course of his career. This stat was matched by both Dean and Gomez, while Hubbell (4.2), Ruffing (4.1) and Lyons (2.3) were all well below Bridges’ strikeout pace. The Southern right-hander always ranked high each season in the strikeouts department while some of his Hall of Fame peers didn’t have quite the put-’em-away as our man Bridges.
Bridges was a six-time All-Star who topped his league in strikeouts on two occasions. Both Red Ruffing and Carl Hubbell led their respective leagues in whiffs once while the Bayou Boy Ted Lyons never paced the league in strikeouts. It was quite common for Tommy to punch out more batters than his opposing moundsman. When scouring through newspaper archives, you’ll find numerous stories concerning batters bemoaning digging in against Tommy because they all feared him. His curveball was far advanced from that of any other pitcher’s breaking offering. It was once claimed that Tommy could bend his curve around a lightpost with the greatest of ease.
Pitchers of Tommy’s time tended to finish what they started. When his career was all said and done, Bridges had completed an even 200 games. The time in which he pitched was also known more for its offense than its pitching, so any pitcher who could tame the opposition’s bats were of utmost importance. The Tiger from Tennessee was adept at putting batters to hush. He was able to twirl 33 shutouts, a mark that exceeded Hall of Fame peers Dizzy Dean (26), Ted Lyons (27) and Lefty Gomez (28).
A great deal is made about World Series and postseason performance when players are looked at for the Hall of Fame. This is an absurdity because it takes a team and not one player to win a championship. There are a handful of players in the Hall of Fame who were solid role players on championship teams but wouldn’t have been stars on lesser clubs. Be that as it may, Bridges was a solid postseason pitcher. Of his Hall of Fame peers, only Gomez has a better career winning percentage in October than Tommy, and let’s not forget, Lefty pitched for the mighty Yankees who could have beaten any team while wearing their pajamas and bedroom slippers. Tommy had an .800 career winning percentage in October, which eclipsed Ruffing, Dean and Hubbell’s postseason percentages.
When comparing Bridges to his Hall of Fame peers, it appears that Tommy was the most reliable pitcher of the group. He was often among the Top Ten in both strikeouts and ERA. Over the course of his career he had ten Top Ten finishes in ERA and 12 in strikeouts. Let’s take a look at his enshrined peers. Dizzy Dean had four Top Ten finishes in ERA and six in strikeouts–edge Bridges. Lefty Gomez had seven Top Ten finishes in ERA and nine in strikeouts–edge Bridges. The great screwball artist Carl Hubbell had ten Top Ten finishes in both ERA and strikeouts–edge Bridges. Ted Lyons had ten Top Ten finishes in ERA but not a single Top Ten finish in strikeouts–edge Bridges. Red Ruffing posted eight Top Ten finishes in ERA and thirteen in strikeouts–edge Bridges. Bridges has the edge over all his Hall of Fame peers when you combine his Top Ten finishes in two of the most important categories for pitchers. As one of the greatest pitchers of his time, Bridges would make a solid Hall of Fame inductee.