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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How a Gun Shot Impacted the Career of New York Yankees Pitcher Marshall Bridges

Hard-throwing left-handed pitcher Marshall Bridges toiled for six seasons in the minor leagues before earning a call-up to the major leagues at the age of 28 in 1959. He hung around for several years as a journeyman reliever before finding stardom as the closer for the 1962 New York Yankees. Unfortunately, a gunshot wound suffered at a bar during spring training the following year put a damper on what had been a late developing but promising career.

Known as the Sheriff or Fox, Bridges was a veteran of the Negro Leagues before signing with the New York Giants in 1953. He pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds prior to joining the Yankees in 1962. He immediately grabbed the closer role for the eventual World Series Champions, going 8-4 with a 3.14 ERA and 18 saves in 52 relief appearances (spanning 71.2 innings). He permitted opposing hitters just a .194 batting average, including a .169 mark for lefties. New York manager Ralph Houk called him his “lifeline reliever.” “Some pitchers go all to pieces,” explained the skipper. “He just seems to growl and get tougher and madder.”

On February 14, 1963, Bridges was shot in the leg by 21 year-old Carrie Lee Raysor at a Ft. Lauderdale Elks Lodge bar. Accounts differed as to what led to the shooting. She claimed that the married 31-year-old father of three tried to “pick her up” and “put his arm around me and tried to pull me over and I didn’t like this kind of mugging.” She further claimed that he repeatedly offered to drive her home and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Bridges indicated he was nursing a solitary drink while waiting for a friend to pick him up for dinner when he was shot. Regardless of which side was telling the truth, she pulled out a handgun and fired a shot. A bullet lodged in the fleshy part of his left leg, broke a small bone and caused some muscle damage. He elected to leave the bullet in his leg, as this alternative to surgery shrunk his recovery time from the entire season to a matter of weeks.

Although the initial prognosis was that he would miss at least four weeks, Bridges downplayed the injury, stating it “feels good and I can walk now if they let me.”

 Houk even made light of the situation, telling his pitcher, “I’m going to have to get you a holster. You’re too slow on the draw.”

Raysor was arrested on charges of aggravated assault. While Bridges was interviewed he was ultimately not detained. He was not disciplined for his part in the incident and returned to action before the season was over, earning nicknames from his teammates like Bang Bang and Lead Leg. He was 2-0 with a 3.82 ERA in 23 games while striking out more than a batter per inning. He was replaced as the closer by Hal Reniff, who matched his 18 saves from the year before.

Despite it all, the Yankees were not happy. As the preeminent franchise in all of baseball, they were not fans of their players having brushes with the law. It also did not help that he was black at a time when non-white players were supposed to be seen and not heard. He was sold that offseason to the Washington Senators, for whom he pitched for two more nondescript seasons and two more for their Triple-A team) before retiring following after the 1967 season.

Bridges finished with a major league record of 23-15 with a 3.75 ERA and 25 saves in 206 games (five starts) over seven seasons.

(Perhaps for good reason) Bridges elected to not press charges against Raysor. What happened to her was not able to be found. Following baseball, Bridges worked as a handyman for the State Capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi. He passed away in 1990 at the age of 59. While fruitlessly speculative, it’s nevertheless interesting to wonder how his career might have ended if he had not been in that bar on that night and found himself on the wrong end of the barrel of a gun. 

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1 comment:

  1. Excellent write-up, I'm grateful that you dig in and get these kinds of stories for us fans. Love your blog and please do keep up the great work.