To begin with," says Rocky Bridges, the manager of the San Jose Bees, "I'm a handsome, debonair, easygoing six-footer. Anyway, that's what I told them at the Braille Institute. As you can see, I'm really a five-foot-eight-and-a-halfer and I weigh 190, but what you may not know is that my weight is very mobile—it's all moved around in front of me."
This is Rocky's first year as a manager, but he has come prepared, for he is one of the best stand-up comics in the history of baseball. "I'm back in the California League, where I started my slump," he says. "I'm the only man in the history of the game who began his career in a slump and stayed in it. I could play here as well as manage, but I have no guts. In 1947 I hit .183 for Santa Barbara and I'll be damned if I'll try again. I always wanted to be a baseball player. Now that I've quit playing, I still entertain that idea."
No man ever had a greater love for the game of baseball than Rocky Bridges. He considered it a privilege just to sit on the bench in the big leagues, which is a good thing because that was his usual position. "It was like being a little boy forever," he says. "I got a big charge just out of seeing Ted Williams hit. Once in a while they let me try to field some of them, which sort of dimmed my enthusiasm." Rocky's glove was mightier than his bat, but he could always handle a one-liner better than a line drive.
Rocky played (more or less) in the majors for 11 years and coached for two more. All told, he was on seven different teams: Brooklyn (1951-52), Cincinnati (1953-57), Washington (1957-58), Detroit (1959-60), Cleveland (1960), St. Louis (1960) and the Los Angeles Angels (1961-63). "I've had more numbers on my back than a bingo board," says Rocky. "My wife had to write to me care of Ford Frick. He was the only one who knew where I was. It's a good thing I stayed in Cincinnati for four years—it took me that long to learn how to spell it."
August 16, 1964
Rocky was a shortstop and second baseman by trade, a third baseman out of desperation and a left fielder for a third of an inning. "If I did anything funny on the ball field it was strictly accidental," he says. "Like the way I played third. Some people thought it was hilarious, but I was on the level all the time. When Charlie Dressen asked me if I could play third, I said, 'Hell, yes. I'll mow your lawn for you if you like. I want to stay up here.' "
Rocky endured in the majors because of his enthusiasm, his versatility and his hustle. "If I told him to go up and get hit on the head," Birdie Tebbetts once said, "he'd do it." For the most part, Rocky was a utility man, cheerfully accepting bit parts as a pinch runner or late-inning defensive replacement. For instance, in 1956 he appeared in 71 games but had only 19 at bats. And hustle, he says, "is not running out of the dugout, as some of my troops at San Jose think."
Rocky's best year was 1958, when he was chosen for the All-Star team. "I was hitting .307 at the break," Rocky recalls, "but then I checked out Frank Lary's fast ball on my jaw. The trouble with having a wired jaw is that you can never tell when you're sleepy—you can't yawn." Rocky didn't play in the All-Star Game, nor did he play in the 1952 World Series, when he was with the Dodgers. "I've been a paid spectator at some pretty interesting events," he says, "and I've always had a good seat. I guess they figured there was no point in carrying a good thing too far."
Rocky has a .247 lifetime average and hit 16 home runs during his career. In fact, about his only statistical distinction is that he started triple plays in both leagues. "There used to be a rule against hitting me or walking me," Rocky says. "They had a lot going for them if I swung. I never figured myself an out man—I always swung, let it go wherever it wanted. Like I tell my troops, swing the bat. You never know what might happen. Two might get together." In 1961, after hitting his first homer in two seasons, Rocky said: "I'm still behind Babe Ruth's record, but I've been sick. It really wasn't very dramatic. No little boy in the hospital asked me to hit one. I didn't promise it to my kid for his birthday, and my wife will be too shocked to appreciate it. I hit it for me."
All of which adds up to the kind of record that leads a man whose life is baseball back to the California Leagues of the world, and Rocky is not crying in his Lucky Lager. He was asked the other day whether he thought he had reached his full potential as a baseball player. "I might have gone beyond it," he said.
Rocky finds that the league has changed a shade since he compiled an .884 fielding average in 39 games for Santa Barbara before being put out of his misery with a broken leg. "Reno wasn't in it," Rocky says. "That helped. The last time the Bees were in Reno, I lost the bus and two outfielders, but I won a shortstop and a bat."
The bus is leased from the Santa Cruz Transit Company. "It's not a brand-new-bus," says Jack Quinn, general manager and president of the Bees, "but it's not an antique. I don't want to put any laurels in my pocket, but it's as good as any bus in the league."
"The bus isn't air conditioned," says Rocky. "It is if you open the window. Every so often we have to tell the driver to throw another log on the air conditioner. We take a lot of interesting trips in our bus. Reno to Bakersfield—that's 10 hours. We stay at a lot of interesting hotels, too. In one hotel lobby they have an artificial plant. Now, it wasn't always artificial. It's just that it's been there since the Stone Age. In another hotel they have television sets which only receive vertical lines. We play in some interesting ball parks, too. In one—well, I don't want to say the mound's high, but when I pitch batting practice I got to chew gum.
"There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than anybody else," says Rocky Bridges, "build a fire, run a hotel and manage a baseball team." Managing in the California League is something else, however.
"In one game," Rocky recalls, "there is a man on first, one out and my pitcher is up. 'If you don't bunt him over on the first pitch,' I tell him, "hit-and-run on the second.' He misses the bunt, takes the next pitch and the guy's thrown out. 'How can you blow a sign when I told it to you?' I ask him. "Well,' he says, 'I forgot.' Four days later there's a man on first, one out and my pitcher is up. Different pitcher. 'If you don't bunt him over on the first pitch,' I tell him, 'hit-and-run on the second.' He misses the bunt, takes the next pitch and the guy's thrown out. 'How can you blow a sign when I told it to you?' I ask him. 'Well,' he says, 'I forgot.' Now, some guys might get teed off at that, but it halfway struck me as kind of funny. For the life of me, I couldn't see how they could do it twice within a week."
Rocky manages the Bees from the third-base coach's box. "I pick one of the older guys on the club, 22 or 23—one thing that bothers me about this job is that I might come down with the croup—and put him on first base. I don't think anyone listens to him. I try to dream up strategy and things on third—like please hit the ball. The first game I managed good, but boy did they play bad.
"You got to treat the troops as pros but in the back of your mind remember they're novices. They do things you probably did and forgot. Of course, some of them it's safer to tell to go out and get an honest job. The other day my left fielder saw some guys rob a liquor store near the ball park and chased them until he got their license number. Afterwards, he told me that he'd always wanted to be a cop. 'Don't give up hope,' I said."
Rocky is an admirably patient and gentle manager. "I always said I'd never forget I was a player if I became a manager, but I wanted to see if I would. How many times you hear of a manager keeping the guys sitting in front of their lockers for an hour after the ball game?
That's an insult to their intelligence. I can't see bringing out the tambourine and jumping up and down, either. You can be a good guy and still have their respect. Of course, if they start to goof off they can be handled in a different way."
"I know when Rock's mad at me," says Lon Morton, a San Jose pitcher, now hors de combat with a sore arm. "He puts his arm around Lon Morton and says, 'I'm mad at you.' " Morton alternately fascinates and exasperates Rocky. "There's a questionnaire all the players have to fill out," Rocky says. "One of the questions is what is your ambition. Every player but Morton put down 'big-league ballplayer.' Morton wrote, 'Hall of Fame.' Then there's Peraza, my left-handed pitcher who can also throw right, and Cotton Nash, the big Kentucky basketball star I got on first. Nash could be an interesting individual. I'm small, but I still like the big ones. Nash offers an interesting target for some of my infielders. Some of my infielders make interesting throws. It makes it very interesting, but then I was sent down here to learn the pitfalls of managing—not winning."
Rocky Bridges was born in Refugio, Texas on August 7, 1927 under the name of Everett LaMar Bridges Jr. When he was one, his maternal grandparents took him to Long Beach, Calif., where he has lived ever since. Rocky never learned to swim, however. "My uncle dumped me in the ocean when I was 6," he says. "I think I walked back underneath the water. I know I didn't walk on top." But then Bridges has always been a prodigious walker. He did not own a car until he got married. The day he signed with the Dodgers he had previously signed with the Yankees, but walking home he thought it over and tore up the Yankee contract. He then took a bus to the Dodger scout's house and walked all the way home with that contract intact—a total of four miles.
Rocky has always had to scuffle. "When I was a kid," he says, "I sold newspapers, delivered them, stole them." Even when he was a big-leaguer, he was still making it the hard way. He worked winters for a foundry pouring centrifugal die castings, for Boraxo cleaning out furnaces and sacking soap, and for a pipeline outfit. "I drove a Mexican diesel," he says, "that's a wheelbarrow. I was on a jackhammer. I dug holes. It not only kept me in shape but, more important, it kept me in money." Since he has been with Los Angeles (the Bees have a working agreement with the Angels) life has been sweeter. Last winter, for instance, Rocky worked for Oscar Gregory, a Paramount, Calif. Chevrolet dealer. "I do lip flappers [luncheon and banquet speeches]," he says. "I'm very big with the Elks."
Rocky is married to the former Mary Alway. "We're just like everybody else," he says, "cat, dog, four kids and debts. I used to lead the league in windows [the envelopes that bills come in]." His children are: Melinda, 11, Lance, 9, Cory, 6 and a baby, John Roland. Rocky cannot recall where the name Lance came from. "I don't remember a bar by that name," he says. "I married my wife on her birthday to cut down on expenses. One kid was born on December 30 so I could claim the deduction. We're a family of conveniences."
Rocky is not handy around the house. "I couldn't fix a track meet," he says. He does like to cook, however. He carries a recipe for veal parmigiana in his wallet that he clipped from a home magazine. Rocky's major diversion is golf. "I play at it," he says. "I know that people who have seen me out on the course find it mighty hard to believe that golf's my hobby. Actually, it's not a hobby. It's an ordeal. I'd do much better if they'd build golf courses in a circle. You see, I have this slice...."
This season Rocky Bridges is living alone at a Holiday Inn in Sunnyvale, 11 miles from the Bees' ball park. "It's a more lonely life than I'm used to," he says. "You can't run around with the troops, and I miss my wife and kids. I write her, but she says I put more on the envelope than in the letter." Rocky sits by the motel pool with the papers until Larry Klaus, the team trainer, comes by to pick him up. In the majors, Rocky was always the first one in the clubhouse. He's still an early bird, getting to the park at 3 for an 8 p.m. game. "Rocky's lost away from a ball park," says Klaus.
At Municipal Stadium, Rocky puts on a pair of shorts and shower clogs, sticks a chaw of Beechnut in his cheek, sets up a chair in the sun behind third and reads Better Homes and Gardens or House Beautiful. His view is the outfield fence, which is decorated with ads for Berti's Bail Bonds, Robbie's Wheel Service and the Moderne Drug Co., and beyond it the Santa Cruz Mountains.
"I started chewing in this league," Rocky says. "Guy got me chewing tobacco and smoking cigars the same night. I like a fat cigar. It's easier to chew. I used to have my trips measured by cigars. From Cincinnati to Long Beach was 40 cigars. It was 50 from Washington. I can't chew much around the house. I'm a closet chewer. I always liked to chew when I played ball. When you slide head first, you're liable to swallow a little juice, though. A lot of my troops be chewing lately, but not many be buying. I expect to get irate letters from their moms any day now. It's like a PTA meeting when the moms come around. I always manage to think of something good to tell them their sons are doing." The moms try to please Rocky, too. One day he got a note from a mother thanking him for letting her son off to go to his sister's high school graduation. Accompanying the note was a gift-wrapped five-pack of cigars.
One afternoon, as Rocky was climbing into his uniform, Al Coutts, an All-America second baseman from Los Angeles State, joined the team.
"Here's our new stooge, Larry," said Rocky.
"What size uniform you take?" asked Larry.
"Thirty-two," said Coutts.
"We got 38s and 40s," said Larry.
"You'll never make it on this club," said Rocky. "We go by sizes."
"Anyone we can option out wear a 32?" asked Larry.
"Don't be surprised by the umpires, Coutts," said Rocky. "I'm tired of complaining. What I'm really tired of is running. I pick my spots now. When they're close by. Another thing, you won't hear too much yelling out there. It's kind of a mutes' convention. As long as they play good, though, I don't care if they yell good."
"What time do I report here tomorrow?" asked Coutts.
"Around 6," said Rocky. "This is a kind of a do-it-yourself ball club."
"I don't have a sweat shirt," said Coutts.
"Here, take one of mine," said Rocky, reaching in his locker. "I hope you don't mind if it's a little damp."
Jack Quinn, the general manager, came in. Jack is the son of John Quinn, the general manager of the Phillies, and Rocky says Jack's so thin he could tread water in a test tube. Jack came to San Jose in 1962, the first year the franchise had been active since 1958. Jack won the pennant, drew 62,000 and was named minor league executive of the year (lower division) for performing these feats "in the shadow of Candlestick Park." The Giants' park is only a 45-minute drive up 101 from San Jose. ("We ought to advertise that there's good reception for all Giant games at Municipal Stadium," says Rocky.) Carried away, Jack bought the franchise and sold 300 season tickets. ("He ought to have a saliva test," says Rocky.) The Bees finished seventh in 1963, and last winter Jack could only sell 204 season tickets to such San Jose concerns as The Nite Kap, Ann Darling Bowl, Unicorn Pizza, Mid City Magnesite and O'Brien's Almaden Liquors. By mid-season Jack Quinn always seems to be looking forlornly over his shoulder. He gets that way watching foul balls vanish into the parking lot. "There goes another $1.50," he has been known to sigh many times a night. Jack's baseball bill is $1,700 per annum (see box).
"How'd you come out to the park, Coutts?" Jack asked.
"Cab," said Coutts.
"Stop by the office later and I'll reimburse you for your cab fare," Jack said. "Unless you want it in stock certificates," he added hopefully.
"No game Monday, Jack?" Rocky asked.
"Monday night's usually the roller derby," Jack explained. "It packs them in. No, Rock, it's an off night. The stadium's empty, but they're not used to us playing on Monday—or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But Monday's bad. Well, I better be off. I got to check the downtown ticket locations."
This was a joke. There are no downtown ticket locations in San Jose.
There was no batting practice that night for the Bees or their opponents, the Modesto Colts, as the field was being used first for a Pony League game and then for a Little League game. "You know what the Little League is?" Rocky said, watching the kids play. "Something to keep the parents off the street. I bet you don't know what's the first question Little Leaguers always ask me. 'How much money do you make?' "
After infield practice Rocky joined his troops for a supper of hot dogs and Cokes at a concession stand. Then the Bees went out and beat the Colts 18-0. The first man dressed was Vic LaRose, a utility infielder. Two nights before, when the Bees lost 1-0, LaRose had finally gotten into the game as a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth but had been stranded on first. He was the first man dressed then, too.
"He do get dressed remarkable quick," Larry had said when LaRose came in for his watch and wallet.
"It's amazing," said Rocky. "He ran all the way in from first."
"You better take a salt pill," Larry told LaRose. "You're bound to get dehydrated dressing so quick."
When he was dressed Rocky joined some of the fans, the two umpires and the Modesto manager in the Bee Hive. The Bee Hive is a club for box-seat holders which has been set up in an old trainer's room under the stands. Free whisky and beer are served for an hour before and an hour after each game.
"Eighteen to 0!" a fan said. "What happened, Rock?"
"I don't know," said Rocky, "but I'm for it."
Someone spilled a beer on the floor and asked the bartender for a sponge.
"Give me that sponge," said Rocky. "I'm the manager here." He bent down and mopped up the floor.
An hour later, Larry was driving him back to the Holiday Inn.
"I haven't got it made yet," said Rocky. "You know when you know you got it made? When you get your name in the crossword puzzles. But I've gotten a big charge out of it. The troops don't come to you asking advice about getting married when you're coaching for the Big Club. I'm a white-knuckle artist when I fly, so I don't mind the bus. There's a good pinball machine in Modesto, too. I'm real lucky to be here. But, as Branch Rickey said, 'Luck is the residue of design.' "
BEES' BALANCE SHEET FOR 1963
Ushers (3): $12 a night
Ticket takers(3): $12 a night
Ticket seller: $12 a night
Scoreboard man: $4 a night
PA announcer: $6 a night
Official scorer: $7.50 a night
Bat boys (2): $3 a night
Special policemen (2): $2 an hour
Bee Hive bartender: $4 a night
Park rental, upkeep: $5,000
Bus and driver: $3,500
Cleaning uniforms: $850
Hotels, meals on road: $7,000
Legal and auditing: $600
League dues: $4,800
Public relations man: $6,000
Office supplies: $400
Sign painters: $2,400
Towels and linen: $350
Bees' portion of salaries: $3,700*
Clubhouse supplies: $150
Bee Hive liquor: $800
Quinn's salary: $7,200
TOTAL EXPENSES $60,300
Season tickets ($70 a chair): $21,000
Fence and program advertising: $15,000
Concession (25% of gross): $7,500
Special nights (3): $2,100
Paid admissions: $14,000
TOTAL INCOME $59,600
*Angels provide uniforms, pay 90% of team salaries. Minimum salary is $275 a month.