SABR

Bruce Edwards

This article was written by Ralph Berger.

The Brooklyn Dodgers had great teams in the immediate post-war years, teams that would win pennants or fight for them until last day of the season (and sometimes beyond). No team can be successful, though, without a significant presence behind the plate. In the early part of the 1946 season, the Dodgers were struggling to find that presence. Manager Leo Durocher knew the men he had—Ferrell Anderson and Don Padgett—were not the answer. Durocher was desperate to trade for a catcher, even approaching the Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer. Dyer demurred, telling Leo he was not going to help his closest rival.

Sometimes the trade not made is the best move and such was the case for Durocher and the Dodgers in 1946. Forced to go to their farm system, Brooklyn called up young Bruce Edwards from their Mobile team in the Class AA Southern Association. Edwards, fresh from Military service and mature beyond his years, would be just what Leo needed, solidifying the defense and contributing greatly to the Dodgers successes of 1946 and ’47.

Charles Bruce Edwards was born in Quincy, Illinois on July 15, 1923, to Wade and Elsie Edwards. Wade was a truck driver and Elsie a housewife. The family moved to Sacramento, California in time for Bruce to attend Sacramento High School.

Dodgers’ scouts Tom Downey and Bill Svilich signed the seventeen-year-old Edwards in 1941 at a tryout camp in San Mateo, California. The Dodgers sent him to the Santa Barbara Saints of the Class C California League. Edwards, a right-handed hitter, batted .259 with ten doubles, a triple, and a home run in fifty-three games. After a brief stay with Santa Barbara in 1942, where he was converted from an outfielder to a catcher, he moved up to the Durham Bulls of the Class B Piedmont League. It was the last professional baseball for Bruce Edwards for three years. Bruce enlisted into the army in January 1943 and served in a tank destroyer unit in Holland, France, and Germany.

Back from the service in 1946, Edwards began the season with Mobile, where he was batting .332 in sixty-two games for the Bears. Looking for help behind the plate, the Dodgers called him up, and on June 23 he played his first big-league game. Edwards had an RBI double in his first major league at bat. The hit came in the second inning off Cardinals’ left-hander Harry Brecheen and helped the first place Dodgers defeat the second place Cardinals, 4–2.

The twenty-three-year-old Edwards caught in ninety-one games in 1946, including one stretch of thirty-four games in which no opposing runner stole a base. On August 15 he had three assists in one inning. Edwards had his first major-league home run on September 8, off Mike Budnick of the Giants at Ebbets Field. Three days later he caught all nineteen innings of a 0–0 suspended game against Cincinnati at Ebbets Field, the major league’s longest scoreless game ever.

The Dodgers ended the season tied for first place with St. Louis, but lost the first two games of the three-game playoff. Edwards batted .267 with thirteen doubles and twenty-five runs batted in after joining the team. Arthur Daley, of the New York Times, thought that during the second half of the season, Edwards might have been the best catcher in either league. Eddie Dyer, perhaps regretting a trade not made, believed the youngster almost won the pennant for Durocher.

Nicknamed “Bull,” Edwards stood five feet seven and weighed 175 to 185 pounds at various stages of his career. His first full season with the Dodgers, 1947, showcased his talent behind the plate and at bat. Rookie Dixie Howell was supposed to challenge Edwards for playing time, but the challenge never materialized. By April 2 manager Durocher said only three men were certain starters for the upcoming season: Eddie Stanky, Pee Wee Reese, and Bruce Edwards. A week later Bruce was sidelined with right shoulder soreness, an unfortunate harbinger of his baseball future.

Edwards was well enough to play in Brooklyn’s historic season opener on April 15. He was the Dodgers’ starting catcher in Jackie Robinson’s first major-league game. Bruce was 0-for-2 at the plate, but he did have an RBI in Brooklyn’s 5–3 victory. He had a much better game on May 21, against the Cardinals. Edwards had a single, double and a home run against Brecheen in a game at St. Louis the Dodgers would eventually win in ten innings.

The next day, when the Dodgers returned from their western swing, Edwards went to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to have his sore shoulder evaluated. Roscoe McGowen of the New York Times said the team would miss Edwards if he were sidelined for any length of time. As it turned out, Edwards missed no time. He started the next game, in which he had two hits and threw out two would-be base stealers.

Another of Edwards’s offensive highlights of the 1947 season came on July 2, at home against the Giants. His three-run home run sparked a nine-run fourth inning and led to a Brooklyn victory. On July 31 the sore-shouldered Edwards threw out Stan Musial in a key situation. The Dodgers had blown a ten-run lead but managed to prevail in the tenth inning, 11–10. His first career grand slam home run came on August 15, against the Phillies’ Schoolboy Rowe at Shibe Park.

Edwards played in 130 games in 1947, hitting .295. His eighty RBIs were third-best on the Dodgers, exceeded only by Dixie Walker and Carl Furillo. He established career highs in most offensive categories, including hits, home runs, triples, walks, and runs scored. Defensively, Bruce led all National League catchers in chances, putouts, and double plays for the pennant-winning Dodgers. He was selected to the National League’s All-Star team, and played two innings the All-Star Game as a replacement for starter Walker Cooper.

Edwards played in all seven games of the World Series, as the Dodgers fell to the New York Yankees. He batted just .222, had only two RBIs, and hit into a double play that ended the Series. Edwards figured to remain as the Dodgers’ first-string catcher in 1948, but another injury and the emergence of rookie Roy Campanella diminished his playing time in Brooklyn. He appeared in ninety-six games, batting .276, with eight home runs.

Durocher and Burt Shotton, who replace Leo as manager in midseason, played Edwards at several different positions in 1948. In addition to his catching forty-eight games, he played twenty-one games in the outfield and fourteen at third base, but struggled at both new positions. The forty-eight games behind the plate were the most Edwards would have in a major-league season from that point on. He remained a backup for the rest of his major-league career.

Edwards batted .209 in sixty-four games in 1949, and just .183 in fifty games in 1950, as the experiment to make him an outfielder or third baseman was cancelled. He played just five games at those positions in 1949 and none in 1950. Bruce made his last World Series appearance in 1949, getting a single in two pinch-hitting opportunities in Brooklyn’s five-game loss to the Yankees.

On June 15, 1951 the Dodgers traded Edwards, along with pitcher Joe Hatten, outfielder Gene Hermanski, and infielder Eddie Miksis, to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Johnny Schmitz, catcher Rube Walker, outfielder Andy Pafko, and infielder Wayne Terwilliger. The Dodgers were in Chicago at the time of the trade. The next day Carl Erskine was on the mound for Brooklyn and Edwards, in his new Cubs’ uniform, got a small taste of revenge. He slammed Erskine for a three-run homer, snapping a 3–3 tie, and batted in four runs to lead the Cubs to a 6–4 victory. Overall, Edwards hit a combined .237 in sixty-eight games in 1951, including .363 as a pinch hitter.

Edwards, playing in just fifty games in 1952, batted .245; but he continued to be a reliable pinch-hitter, going 7-for-24 (.291). Even with his limited playing time, Edwards was valuable to the Cubs, serving as a pitching coach without portfolio. Bob Rush credited Bruce with helping him develop his hard curve ball. Armed with the new pitch, Rush won seventeen games for the fifth-place Cubs and shaved more than a run off his 1951 ERA.

In 1953, Edwards, now thirty years old, was named the player-manager of the Springfield (Massachusetts) Cubs of the Class AAA International League. He played only first base for the last-place team, hitting .286. Relieved of his duties during the season, he became the player-manager of the Des Moines Bruins of the Class A Western League.

In 1954 the Cubs brought him back as a player, but after appearing in only four games, they sent him back to the minors, where he batted a healthy .298 in 106 games for the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League. Edwards also played sixteen games with the Des Moines Bruins in ’54, batting .353.

On December 11, 1954 the Washington Senators purchased Edwards from the Cubs for $15,000. Washington manager Charlie Dressen, who had coached and managed Bruce in Brooklyn, hoped Edwards could light a fire under the team because of his credibility in the clubhouse as well as on the field. Bruce spent the entire 1955 season with the Senators, but appeared in only thirty games and batted an anemic .175. There was, however, one positive development that season: On September 20, Edwards married Geraldine Peterson.

After Washington released him in February 1956, Edwards started the new season with the Vancouver Mounties of the Pacific Coast League. He was hitting .295 when the Cincinnati Redlegs signed him as a free agent on July 18. Bruce appeared in only seven games for Cincinnati, including his last major league game on September 13, 1956. He also played in ten games for the Southern Association’s Memphis Chicks that year.

Cincinnati released Edwards on January 18, 1957, ending his major-league career. Though Bruce had mostly been a backup, he did have his moments of glory. In 1946, while appearing in fewer than 100 games, he finished fourteenth in the voting for the National League’s Most Valuable Player. The next year, 1947, his best season ever, Edwards was fourth in the MVP voting. In 1947 and 1951, he was named to the National League All-Star squad.

After releasing him, the Redlegs hired Edwards to manage their Visalia team in the California League. As their player-manager, Edwards led the team to the pennant in 1957. He hit .309 in eighty-seven games for the class C club. In 1958 he was relieved in midseason as the team finished in fourth place.

In his ten major-league seasons, Edwards appeared in 591 games, with a .256 batting average. In addition to his contributions on the field, he was valued for his savvy handling of pitchers and his general knowledge of the game. New York sportswriter Dan Daniel offered this praise: “For catching skills, handling hurlers, general mobility, and general value to his club, give me Bruce Edwards of the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

After retiring from baseball, Edwards was an inventory control analyst for thirteen years at an aerospace firm in Sacramento and then a movie projectionist at several movie houses in the area.

Bruce Edwards died on April 25, 1975, in Sacramento of a heart attack at the age of fifty-one. He was survived by his wife, Geraldine, daughters Muriel and Cindy, and sons Kim and Michael. Edwards is buried in the Memorial Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento.

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