Bridges a character with a capital C
Imagine a chin that resembles a brick and a face widened to an absurd degree by chaws of tobacco roughly the size of softballs. Envision a face with more wrinkles than a rolled-up shirt removed from a travel bag after a six-week stay. Put a crew cut on top of it, and the likeness of Rocky Bridges begins to appear. Add some touches of Casey Stengel, Popeye and Pete Rose and a face like no other results.
If nothing else, Rocky Bridges was distinctive -- in appearance and manner. He had to be called Rocky Bridges; he looked the part. His parents named him Everett Lamar; they could have been the least bit prescient.
Rocky Bridges is gone now; his time came Tuesday. He was 87 years funny.
Not much was made of Bridges' death. He was a baseball player of modest skills and achievements. He was a big league coach and a Minor League manager. He preferred "Skipper" -- "manager" was too formal. And above all, Bridges was a character. No, he was a character. That was his position in life. His baseball card should have identified him in that way. But Topps was too straight-laced.
If Bridges did have a distinctive identity within the game, it grew from his first big league experience, with the Brooklyn Dodgers. "The Dodgers told me I was the shortstop," he said. "I was actually about the 33rd shortstop Pee Wee Reese ran out of town." Don Zimmer was among the other 32.
Rocky Bridges appeared in headlines mostly during Spring Training when news was slow and writers had time to discover his delightful nature. Or he was quoted in Sunday notebooks because separating those enormous wads of tobacco was a clever tongue.
Asked once to describe his career, Bridges said: "Tainted. I probably batted about .250, which wouldn't be too bad by today's standards. At least I didn't have to worry if the writers were going to vote me into the Hall of Fame or not."
What Bridges did as a player never amounted to much. He twice had four hits in a game and once hit a grand slam. He was a one-time All-Star. He batted .247 in 11 summers with seven teams and never hit more than five home runs or drove in more than 47 runs in a season. He played second, short, third, and, for an inning and a third, left field. He committed 109 errors.
Ross Newhan of The Los Angeles Times has won the J. G. Taylor Spink Award, the journalism equivalent of the Hall of Fame election. He once wrote that Rocky Bridges "delivered more one-liners than line drives." You could look it up. I did. I Googled Bridges and Newhan as an entry. In the middle of a story about Bridges, written by Newhan, was a commercial link for the top five wrinkle creams.
What would Rocky have made of that? He was a humorist, another title he declined. "I just say funny things," he said. In his final year in the big league game, 1985, Bridges coached with the Giants, who acquired a shortstop from the Cardinals just before Spring Training. The shortstop in St. Louis had been Jose Gonzalez. When he joined the Giants, he opted to be identified as Jose Uribe. Bridges called him "the player to be named later."
Bridges' lone All-Star appearance was no appearance at all. He was named to the American League team in 1958, the year he played regularly -- at shortstop -- for the old Washington Senators. "Those were the days when every club was represented by at least one player," he said. "Casey Stengel picked me. He was a pal of mine. I never got in the game but I sat on the bench with Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. I gave 'em instruction on how to sit."
And there are so many others: Bridges lived in Idaho in an area so rural that "when we went hunting, we headed toward town."
When Jim Davenport, in his lone year as Giants manager, added Bridges to his staff, Bridges had been managing or coaching in the Minors for 13 years. The opportunity surprised him. "The first thing I did when they said they wanted me back was to ask what beer sponsor they had.
"They said, 'Stroh's,' and I said I'd be happy to come back."
Bridges once told his son Lance, "There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than everybody else -- build a fire, run a motel and manage a baseball team."
And he once concocted a diet cocktail: "You mix two jiggers of Scotch to one jigger of Metrecal. So far I've lost five pounds and my driver's license."