"I learned one thing: Don't get hurt in Bridgeton."
There is no arguing that the rules work—and arguments, by the way, are limited to 40 seconds. It's not uncommon for an apoplectic manager to turn on his heels just before the timer hits zero and amble placidly back to the bench. Umpires, meanwhile, can gaze serenely out toward the clock, knowing that time is on their side.
A seven-inning game at Alden Field is almost always over in less than an hour and a half. The tournament's rigorous format—about 32 games played over two weeks—demands nightly doubleheaders. Many twin bills take less time than one Phillies game 50 miles up Route 55 at Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.
The game clock was the brainchild of tournament cofounders Jerry Alden (for whom the ballpark is named) and Ben Lynch. Alden, a local radio sports director who passed away in 1993, discovered a clock in use in a tournament in Wichita, Kans., in the mid-'60s and copied the idea for his tournament. He and Lynch came up with 19 speed-up rules the first year, and over the years, the original rules really haven't changed much. There has been some rewording and renumbering—that's why there are now 20 rules—but no major revisions or additions.
The tournament has won attention not only for its rules but also for the baseball celebrities who make appearances each summer. Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Satchel Paige, Bob Feller, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Roy Campanella and Steve Carlton have all made it to Alden Field, mostly through the efforts of ambitious promoters such as current tournament director Bob Rose. In 1986, after betting Alden that he could lure DiMaggio to Bridgeton—and failing to do so—Rose, as promised, had his beard shaved while sitting in a barber's chair on the pitcher's mound. The Yankee Clipper showed up the following year.
One of Bridgeton's most influential celebrity visitors was Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who was working for Major League Baseball in 1969 when commissioner Bowie Kuhn dispatched him to study the tournament's special rules. Irvin loved Bridgeton and paid close attention to speed-up rule number 15, which begins, "The line-up can contain a designated hitter...."
"[ Major League Baseball] had talked about the designated hitter before," Irvin says, "but that was the first place I'd ever seen it." Bridgeton's DH rule allows the hitter to bat for both the pitcher and the catcher, although not in the same inning. (Experienced strategists realize that the best way to capitalize on this rule is to separate the pitcher and catcher in the batting order, thereby guaranteeing more at bats for the designated hitter.)
Bridgeton's double DH and Alden Field's cozy dimensions—320 feet down the lines and 350 to dead center—help to produce frequent offensive fireworks. Says Philadelphia Stars pitcher George Riley, another ex-major-leaguer, "I love this place." Pause. "But they have got to get a bigger ballpark." The fans, not surprisingly, disagree.
"They want an 11-10 slugfest every night," Gildea says, "and a lot of times they get it."
Although the DH was adopted in the majors, speed-up rules may be a tougher sell. Even among Bridgeton players, the prospect of fast big league games gets a mixed response.