As the sound of “batter up” and “play ball,” resonates on baseball diamonds all over the county. This can only mean one thing, that yes indeed; its Baseball season. This area has had its share of stand-out players that went onto fame and glory. Players like Don Gullet, Larry Hisle, Gene Tenace and Al Oliver, to name a few. When Baseball was in its infancy; a young Al Bridwell – known for his athletic prowess, especially in baseball was introduced to the Major Leagues. I found Bridwell’s story to be noteworthy – especially, one controversial game he played in. Now it’s time go back to days gone by and as the song says – “Take Me out To the Ball Game!”
Al Bridwell – (Albert Henry Bridwell,) was born on Friday, January 4, 1884, in Friendship. Bridwell was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 16, 1905, with the Cincinnati Reds. He died on the 23rd of Jan 1969 and is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, in Holy Redeemer Section, Division B, Lot 21.
(Story compiled in part by Russ Dodge) – Al Bridwell played Major League baseball as a shortstop for eleven seasons (1905 to 1915) for the Cincinnati Reds, the Boston Braves (then called the Beaneaters, and later the Doves and the Rustlers), the New York Giants, the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Terriers of the Federal League. Debuting for the Reds in 1905, he played eighty-two games for them, hitting a modest .252 batting average. During the off season the Reds traded him to Boston for infielder and outfielder Jim Delahanty, and he became the Braves’ regular starting shortstop for the next two seasons. A poor hitter with little power during his time in Boston, he was part of an eight-player trade in December 1907, when the Braves shipped him with outfielder Fred Tenney and catcher Tom Needham to the New York Giants for catcher Frank Bowerman, outfielder George Browne , shortstop Bill Dahlen, pitcher Cecil Ferguson and infielder Dan McGann. For the next three and a half seasons he would start for manager John McGraw’s Giants, with his hitting greatly improving in the new environment, topping off at .294 in 1909.
At the end of the 1908 season he was a key participant in what became known as the “Merkle Boner Game” that cost the Giants the National League Pennant. On September 23, 1908, in a game at the Polo Grounds, New York City, New York with the Chicago Cubs, the Giants and the Cubs were locked in a 1-1 tie, with the winner taking first place. In the bottom of the ninth inning with two Giants on base, Al Bridwell punched a single to center field that ostensibly knocked in the winning run. However, rookie Fred Merkle, failed to touch second base and headed to the dugout as crowds of celebrating Giants fans stormed the field. Cubs – shortstop Johnny Evers retrieved the ball and stepped on second base, among the crowds of fans on the field, Merkle was declared out and the run cancelled. The controversy started with Al Bridwell’s hit reached up to National League President Harry Pulliam, who ruled the game a tie and needed to be replayed. Bridwell went hitless in the make-up game that saw the Cubs defeat the Giants 4-2 and win the Pennant. Halfway through the 1911 season the Giants sent Al Bridwell back to the Boston Braves, trading him and catcher Hank Gowdy for infielder Buck Herzog. He would play a season and a half back in Boston, ultimately sold to the Cubs in December 1912. He started 136 games for the Cubs in 1913, than jumped to the new Federal Baseball League. He played the next two seasons, and was sold to the St. Louis Browns, who in turn sent him to the Minor Leagues, a move that ended Al Bridwell’s Major League career. He soon retired, ending with career totals of 1,252 Games played, 1,064 Hits, 457 Runs, 348 Runs Batted In, and a .255 career batting average. Late in life he was interviewed by sports author Lawrence Ritter, and his interview was included in the 1966 book “The Glory of their Times”.
Bridwell was one of the “Boys of Summer,” who played the game for its purity and enjoyment. Looking back on his Baseball career, Bridwell said: “I don’t really think I’d change a thing. Not a thing. It was fun all the way through. A privilege, that’s what it was, a privilege, to have been there.” On January 23, 1969, the slick-fielding shortstop died at the age of 85, in Portsmouth. (“There was never a more graceful player than Bridwell.” Sportswriter Sam Crane, 1910)
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: [email protected]