By MARK NELKE
On a national level, Rocky Bridges may have been known as the king of the one-liners during a long career managing at the minor league level.
But to his kids, he was known as a pretty good dad.
“Dad was a great coach, and a very good teacher in life,” said Lance Bridges, Rocky’s oldest son.
“I think he really gave all of us kids the right way to live your life — enjoy life, and do the best you can,” Lance added.
Everett Lamar “Rocky” Bridges, who moved his family to Coeur d’Alene in 1970, in the midst of a baseball playing and coaching career which spanned some 40 years, died Wednesday in Coeur d’Alene. He was 87.
Rocky’s wife, Mary Bridges, died in 2008. They had four children — Mindy, Lance, Cory and John. Lance is the longtime recreation director for Rathdrum Parks and Rec. Cory and John went on to become high school baseball coaches — Cory at Lake City High, John at Idaho Falls High. All four kids graduated from Coeur d’Alene High.
Rocky Bridges played 11 years in the major leagues from 1951-61, with the Brooklyn Dodgers (1951-52), Cincinnati Reds (1953-57), Washington Senators (1957-58), Detroit Tigers (1959-60), Cleveland Indians (1960), St. Louis Cardinals (1960) and Los Angeles Angels (1961).
He was once quoted as saying, “I’ve had more numbers on my back than a bingo board.”
He once said he was hesitant about being traded to Cincinnati because he couldn’t spell it.
He once said he wouldn’t eat snails because “I prefer fast food.”
An infielder who was a right-handed batter and thrower, he batted .247 over his major league career, with 16 homers.
Following his playing career, he was third-base coach for the Angels from 1962-63 and from 1968-71, and for the San Francisco Giants in 1985.
He was a minor league manager in the Angels, Giants, San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations. In 21 seasons that stretched from 1964-89, Bridges’ teams won 1,300 games and lost 1,358.
Lance Bridges remembers being just old enough to hang out with his dad when Rocky was a coach with the Angels in the early 1960s.
“It was great, because we were blessed to be in that kind of environment,” Lance said. “It was great to be able to go down into the dugout before games. Dad was one of those guys that believed in true baseball — ‘have fun, work hard and get dirty.”
Rocky Bridges was born in Texas but raised in Long Beach. He signed with the Dodgers after graduating from Long Beach Poly High.
“It got me off riding my bicycle delivering The Times,” Bridges said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “I was the best peddler The Times ever had. I worked five years there and never missed a morning.”
Rocky Bridges was featured in Jim Bouton’s book “I Managed Good, But Boy Did They Play Bad,” a quote attributed to Bridges. Because of Bridges’ attitude toward the game, Bouton said Bridges was “my all-time favorite manager,” even though Bouton never actually played for him.
Rocky-isms are all over the Internet. John Bridges recalled one of his dad’s lines, “There are three things the average man thinks he can do better than everybody else: build a fire, run a motel and manage a baseball team.”
Another: “The main quality a great third base coach must have is a fast runner.”
And: “I got a big charge 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.”
Growing up in Coeur d’Alene, John Bridges recalls visiting his dad when the team he was managing, the Phoenix Giants of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, would visit the Spokane Indians.
“The big influence he had on us kids was, we’re all very grounded,” John said.
John said his dad influenced him and his brother, Cory, when they went on to become high school baseball coaches.
“He always smiled at the game,” John recalled. “As a high school coach, the thing I always told my players was, the first thing the umpire said was ‘Play ball,” not ‘Work ball.’ Major league baseball is serious stuff, but he always managed to remember that it was a game. That affected me as a player and, definitely, as a coach.”
Those one-liners Rocky Bridges was famous for during his managerial career? He saved a few of those for the offseason, when he was back home.
“I can tell you a few meals where I couldn’t finish dinner because I was laughing so hard,” John Bridges said. “He was a funny man at heart. He was just as funny at home, but you also knew when it was time to ‘ten-hut.’”