A Lifetime of Memories from Striking out the Babe to Teeing It up with the President
by Elden Auker
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MY FAVORITE ROOMMATES
I'll never forget the knock on our front door in Birmingham, Michigan, early one evening. Knock . . . knock . . . knock. I turned the porch light on, but still barely recognized the disheveled man standing in front of me: rumpled clothes, dirty white shirt, badly in need of a shave, hair pointing in every direction, smelled like a damn brewery. Looked like hell. Looked like a tramp. I stared at Tommy Bridges and the face of shame stared back.
Tommy and I roomed together on the road for six years with the Tigers. I didn't see Tommy have a drop to drink in those six years. The bottle found him after we went our separate ways, and it never let go.
"Tommy, for God's sake, come on in," I said. "Mildred, honey, Tommy Bridges is here." Mildred threw her arms around him, treated him as if he hadn't changed a bit, as if he had just walked off the mound after winning a World Series game. She gave him a hero's welcome.
It couldn't have been easy for Tommy to come see me in the condition he was in. He was a proud man and he cared about what I thought of him.
Tommy never even went downstairs for a drink when we roomed together. He was a wonderful man, a really nice fellow, and he had the best curveball I ever saw. It was like it rolled off the edge of a table. That was the pitch that made him a 20-game winner three seasons in a row (1934-1936) when he was our ace. Schoolboy Rowe and I backed him up.
Tommy came from good stock. His father was a doctor in Gordonville, Tennessee, and his grandfather was a doctor, too.
Tommy was a good family man in our years together with the Tigers. He called home from the road every night. He was always asking his wife, Caroline, how their daughter Evelyn was doing. He so worried about that daughter of his. All Caroline would have to tell him was that Evelyn had a little temperature and Tommy would be up all night, tossing and turning, pacing, worried sick about his little girl. He was really fanatical over that child.
Tommy went to the University of Tennessee, but he never did graduate. Every time I see one of those T-shirts you see nowadays, the ones that say, "Baseball Is Life," I think of Tommy Bridges. Baseball was everything to him. I guess once he could smell the end of his playing career on the horizon, the scent of liquor was the only thing that could kill that frightening odor.
Charlie Gehringer told me that after I was traded to the Red Sox, Tommy never drew another sober breath. He roomed with Al Benton, a relief pitcher from Oklahoma who came to the Tigers from the Philadelphia A's with a reputation as a hard drinker. Tommy took right up with him. Gehringer told me that they didn't even come downstairs for dinner. They drank their meals.
From Sleeper Cars and Flannel Uniforms by Elden Auker with Tom Keegan.
Copyright © 2001 by Elden Auker and Tom Keegan. Used by permission.