Bradley, Tom

Position: Starting pitcher
Birthplace: Asheville

First, Middle Names: Thomas William
Date of Birth:  March 16, 1947
Current Residence: Barboursville, WV

High School: Falls Church High School, Falls Church, VA
College: University of Maryland, College Park, MD

Bats: R             Throws: R        Height and Weight: 6-2, 180
Debut Year: 1969       Final Year: 1975          Years Played: 7
Teams and Years: California Angels, 1969-70; Chicago White Sox, 1971-72; San Francisco Giants, 1973-75

 Career Summary
G         W        L          Sv        ERA     IP         SO       WAR
183    55      61        2          3.72     1017.2 691      10.1

Tom Bradley is almost certainly the only major-league pitcher who could read The Aeneid in its original Latin. He could also speak Greek and was such a nonstop conversationalist in his native English, always buzzing about looking for someone to talk to, that his teammates once playfully waved flyswatters at him in the clubhouse as if warding off a bothersome insect.

In a sport where most players don’t attend or finish college, Bradley was a scholar, but he was also a pretty decent pitcher. The big righthander was a durable workhorse, logging more than a thousand innings from 1970-73, his most-productive seasons. His 3.72 lifetime earned-run average, or ERA, is 19th among North Carolina pitchers with at least 500 innings in the major leagues. Had he played for better teams, Bradley would have likely ended with a winning record.

His playing days cut short by injury, he spent almost 30 years as a collegiate manager and minor-league coach. Even in retirement, he helped coach his son’s high-school team.

Born in Asheville in 1947, Thomas William Bradley was an infant when his parents, Dorothy and Claude, moved to Falls Church, Virginia, where they worked for the federal government. Claude, an accomplished amateur pitcher, became his only child’s primary instructor when the youngster started Little League. Bradley played in the youth leagues and at Falls Church High School.

He entered the University of Maryland at College Park in 1966 on a baseball scholarship and developed into one of the best pitchers the school has ever produced. He won 10 games in his two years on the varsity squad and his 1.32 career ERA is still the Atlantic Coast Conference record. As a junior, he stuck out 65 batters in 47 innings while leading the Terrapins to what was then their best record in school history (19-6-1). For the second consecutive year, he was named to the conference’s All-ACC first team.

Bradley was also a star in the classroom. He was the school’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 1968 and would return to the university after his professional baseball career began to finish his studies. He graduated cum laude in 1972 with a major in Latin and a minor in Greek.

The California Angels drafted Bradley in the seventh round of the 1968 amateur draft and he spent the following season pitching for every team in their system, including a couple of innings with the parent club late in the year.

For most of 1970, he played for the Angels’ Class AAA franchise in Hawaii, compiling an 11-1 record with a 2.03 ERA on the pennant-winning Islanders. His manager, Chuck Tanner, took the helm of the Chicago White Sox later that year in what would be his first stop on a 19-year career as a major-league manager. One of the first things Tanner did was engineer a trade for his Islanders’ ace, whom he considered one of the best young pitchers in baseball.[I]

Tanner had his work cut out for him. Since their pennant-winning team of 1959, White Sox fans had little to cheer about at old, dreary Comiskey Park. A few teams since then had finished second or third, but most had been awful. The previous season’s version had lost 106 games, finishing at the bottom of its division. Its best pitcher had lost 17 games.

The 26-year-old Bradley gave those long-suffering fans hope. He started the 1971 season with a flourish, tossing 20 consecutive scoreless innings at one point. Entering May, he was 6-4 with a 1.67 ERA for a team struggling to get out of the basement. Only Oakland’s Vida Blue, the league’s eventual Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player, was better. With a bit more run support and a couple of breaks here and there, Bradley could have easily won 11 games. “The one thing to remember about baseball is that it’s a team sport,” he noted philosophically. “The pitcher doesn’t really win or lose. The team does. It’s a team effort that wins.”[II]

In the end, his team wasn’t very good, losing four more games than it won. As its reflection, Bradley ended up breaking even at 15-15, but he was among the league leaders in games started (39), shutouts (6), innings pitched (285.2) and strikeouts (206).

Short of pitching in 1972, Tanner flaunted convention by relying on three starting pitchers, instead of the usual four. Bradley, Wilbur Wood and Stan Bahnsen started 130 of Chicago’s 154 games in a strike-shortened season.[1] They got three days’ rest between starts, though Bradley pitched with just two days seven times. An unproven Rich Gossage was one of the pitchers who picked up the slack when needed.[2]

Bradley roomed with the 19-year-old, rookie fireballer and gave him his famous nickname. “He pitched in a game early in the season, and I think he threw like two or three innings, and I looked at the scoreboard and said, ‘Look at all the goose eggs,’” he explained. “This was one of his first appearances in the big leagues. Rich kind of had a gangly motion, all elbows and arms and legs, which must have been awful tough on hitters, so I put two and two together and started calling him “Goose.”[III]

The three-pitcher strategy paid off. The White Sox won 20 more games than it lost and finished in second place, just 5.5 games behind the A’s. Bradley pitched more than 260 innings and won another 15 games.

That didn’t prevent Chicago from trading him for outfield help at the end of the season. Bradley learned of the trade to the San Francisco Giants while in the White Sox business office where he had volunteered to call potential season-ticket holders. “I come to work to sell tickets and before the cream was in my coffee I was in San Francisco,” he said.[IV]

Though blessed with sluggers Bobby Bonds, Willie McCovey and Dave Kingman, the Giants’ thin starting pitching consisted of a young Ron Bryant and an old Juan Marichal. “The way I see it,” a Jewish fan wrote in the local newspaper, “it’s the old ‘Spahn and Sain and two days of rain,’ only in this case it’s ‘Bradley and Bryant and pray to Mount Zion.’”[V]

Hobbled by an ankle injury that sidelined him for a month, Bradley won 13 games in 1973, but his ERA was a full run higher than it had been in Chicago.

In a windy, dank Candlestick Park on May 17 of the next season, Manager Charlie Fox called on Bradley in the ninth inning to finish a game against the San Diego Padres that his team was losing 5-3. Bradley had started two days earlier. He was ineffective, giving up two runs. Ominously, his pitching shoulder hurt after the game. “They asked me to pitch in relief and like a dummy I said yes,” he recalled years later. “I felt something pop in my shoulder and I wasn’t the same again.”[VI]

He kept pitching, changing his delivery to compensate for the pain. That led to a more-serious rotator cuff injury that would ultimately end his career.

Bradley was so bad at the start of the 1975 season that no team was interested in picking him up on waivers. Horace Stoneham, the Giants’ owner, told him he could go down to Class AAA Phoenix, Arizona, or be released. Bradley chose Phoenix. On the plane ride there he told a newspaper columnist: “It was a blow to my ego, my pride. But I realized it could have been a lot worse. I couldn’t even get picked up on waivers. The Giants could have released me. But Mr. Stoneham was willing to stick with me. He was very good to me.”[VII]

He was recalled in June and made his last major-league start two months later. He retired at the end of the season.

After a year as a pitching coach for a small college in California, Bradley became the head coach at Jacksonville University in Florida. He developed the school’s baseball program over the next 12 seasons, winning 432 games in the process. Three of his teams won 40 games and none won fewer than 30. He was the winningest coach in the school’s history at the time of his induction into its Hall of Fame in 1996.

When he wasn’t on the university’s ballfield, Bradley was back in its classroom studying for a master’s degree in athletics teaching, which he earned in 1980.

Coaching his alma mater was the next goal. He realized it in 1991 when he became the Terps’ head coach. He won a school record 29 games the first season, but it was downhill from there. The school didn’t renew his contract after 10 years and a losing record, though it would induct him into its Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.

Bradley ended his baseball career as a minor-league pitching coach, first for the Padres and then for the Toronto Blue Jays.

He retired in 2010 and lives with his wife, Kathy, a retired schoolteacher, in Barboursville, West Virginia. They have two children.

Footnotes
[1] The 1972 season was the first to have games cancelled by a player strike over pension and salary arbitration. The strike erased the first week and a half of the season, and the leagues decided to not make up the games..
[2] Rich “Goose” Gossage debuted with the Chicago White Sox in 1972 and would become one of the dominating closers of modern baseball. He saved 310 games in a 22-year career and was an All-Star nine times. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

References
[I] Borsch, Fred. “Bradley Writes Prize Thesis as Islander Pitching Scholar,” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), July 4, 1970.
[II] Munzel, Edgar. “Fast-Talker Bradley Silences Big Bats.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), June 26, 1971.
[III] Laurila, David. “Prospectus Q&A: Tom Bradley.” Baseball Prospectus, October 29, 2008. https://www.baseballprospectus.com/news/article/8270/prospectus-qa-tom-bradley/.
[IV] Gabcik, John. “Tom Bradley.” Society for American Baseball Research, https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/tom-bradley/.
[V] Twombly, Wells. “A Depressing Setting for an Opener.” Sporting News (St. Louis, MO), April 23, 1974.
[VI] Gabcik.
[VII] Ibid.