SABR

Ed Swartwood

This article was written by Brian McKenna.

By some standards, Ed Swartwood toiled in relative obscurity, playing nearly his entire career in the American Association, an under-appreciated major league in the 19th century. Even the teams he played on weren’t impressive. During the league’s inaugural season, 1882, he came up with the Pittsburg Alleghenys, a poor club during his three summers there. Of the teams he played for, only the 1886 Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers finished as high as third place, yet still a distant 16 games behind.

A versatile right-handed thrower who batted left-handed, Ned Swartwood was a big and powerful guy for the era – just under 6 feet tall and a solid 200 pounds in his early 20s. He struggled with his weight during much of his career and took laxative diet pills at times to control the flab that eventually accrued. After retiring from the game, he was employed as a deputy sheriff in Pittsburgh (the city’s name was spelled Pittsburg from 1890 to 1911), serving warrants, answering calls, and even riding with posses. He must have created a striking figure in uniform as his weight ballooned to upwards of 250 pounds. Perhaps an even more interesting aspect of his policing career: Ned was known as the hangman of Allegheny County and assisted in legal executions throughout the state.

Cyrus Edward Swartwood was born on January 12, 1859, in Amherst, Lorain County, Ohio. This location differs from the sites mentioned in various baseball references (some of which give Rockford, Illinois, as his birthplace), but it is consistent with the Swartwood family’s living arrangements and the 1860 U.S. Census. He was never actually called Cyrus, as he is listed in his first Census as Edward. Cyrus was his paternal grandfather’s name. The surname Swartwood is a derivative of the Dutch name Swartwout.

Edward was the first child of Floyd Johnson Swartwood and Christena Irene (Fannan) Swartwood. Floyd, a salesman born in 1837, grew up in Willoughby, Ohio. Christena, born in 1836, was born in Kentucky but may have grown up in Iowa. They were married on July 31, 1857, in Freeport, Iowa, and then moved to Amherst to live with or next to Floyd’s parents in Amherst. Floyd served in an Ohio unit during the Civil War when Edward was a few years old.

The family included three other children: Ella May, born circa 1861; Mary Diantha, 1866; and Arthur Floyd, 1874. By the time Edward was a teenager, the Swartwood clan, including the grandparents, moved to Cleveland, about 35 miles from Amherst. The elder Cyrus Swartwood was a delegate in the city.

Ed went to secondary school and learned to play baseball in Cleveland, and worked as a substitute fireman at House 9. His first significant club was the independent Cleveland Red Stockings in 1878, when he was 19; he played right field. The following year, Swartwood joined another independent club, Detroit. He appeared in 29 games with the team and batted .319. Both barnstorming teams appear to have been professional.

In June 1879, the city of Akron organized an independent professional team under captain Sam Wise, a local middle infielder. The team entered competition in July and Swartwood soon joined it as its first baseman. Besides Wise and Swartwood, Akron included major leaguers Jack Neagle and Charlie Morton. The club was integrated, fielding an African-American named Ed Johnson.

Swartwood, known by various nicknames, including Ned, Swart, and Swarty, began 1880 with the Decorah, Iowa, club. Around midseason, he rejoined Akron. In August so did future major-league standout pitcher Tony Mullane. At times, Swartwood also caught and pitched for Akron. He was said to be a swift, but straight hurler. The 1881 Akron squad was one of the top Western independent clubs. Swartwood played right field, caught and and even pitched some. Before the season, Morton was named field manager and Swarty was dubbed team captain (a position he would hold with nearly all his clubs). The Cleveland Leader, for one, was pleased with the choice: “The management in appointing him as captain of the nine [has] exhibited good judgment, as he is perfectly acquainted with the game and all its points.” Ned had another attribute that was almost an essential for team leaders during the 19th century; he was a “growler,” which meant that he verbally kept on the umpires, opponents, and even his teammates to push for the best outcome for his club.

The team in 1881 also included catcher Tug Arundel, Billy Taylor, the versatile Blondie Purcell, who had started the season with the Cleveland Blues of the National League, and future Hall of Fame second baseman Bid McPhee. Before the season began, Swartwood was married to 20-year-old Akron native Ella Connell in April. The couple had one child, who died in infancy. Ella soon died as well, in April 1882.

In June, Akron bested the tough Louisville Eclipse, who included the heavy-hitting Pete Browning, in a highly-publicized and hard-fought series. Morton’s gang won three of five games, including a 19-inning 2-2 tie on the 26th. The Milwaukee Sentinel exclaimed, “One of the most remarkable games of baseball on record took place in (Louisville) this afternoon. … On the eighth inning the score stood 2 to 2, and the clubs played 11 more innings without either making a run. Nightfall compelled them to cease playing.” The Louisville Courier-Journal wrote, “That man Swartwood can hit anything.”

At home on August 10, Akron defeated Buffalo of the National League, 9-4. Mullane bested the great Pud Galvin, who was knocked out of the box in the second inning. The next day Buffalo faced Cleveland in a league game. Galvin was called home because of a sick child and one of shortstop John Peters’ children died. To help fill out its roster, Buffalo tapped Akron for Purcell and Swartwood. Ned made his major-league debut in his hometown at the age of 22 on August 11, playing right field and going 1-for-3 with a walk. Buffalo won, 8-7.

Purcell remained with Buffalo but Swartwood was returned to the Akron team. The day after the Buffalo-Cleveland game, the Bisons played Akron and won, 17-4. Akron disbanded for the season on September 9. A few of the players, including Swartwood, headed to St. Louis to play in some exhibition contests. By October, Swartwood and the other Akron players merged with the Louisville Eclipse for a series of matches against the St. Louis Browns. After that, they headed south for some barnstorming exhibitions.

A new major league, the American Association, popped up in 1882. The Eclipse joined the league. Swartwood did as well, but not as a member of Louisville. He and Morton were signed by the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in mid-November.

Swartwood became Pittsburgh’s first major-league star. Splitting time in right and center fields, he led the American Association in runs, doubles, and total bases. He finished in the top three in batting average, .329, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS (on-base average plus slugging average ), and hits. It wasn’t only Ned’s bat that was creating havoc in 1882. The Swartwood household back home in Cleveland was shaken by an incident that made the newspapers. The story, which appeared in Louisville in the local Courier-Journal under the headline “A Bad Base Baller,” Said that Pittsburgh manager Al Pratt, a married man, was keeping a young “street walker” in a room at the club’s hotel in Louisville in August. To cover the impropriety, Pratt claimed that she was the sister of one of his players and registered her. He named Swartwood as the brother. Hotel management caught Pratt prowling around the room and summoned the police, as it was a breach of the establishment’s decorum. The supposed Swartwood connection was retold to the investigators and hence made newspapers. Back home, the Cleveland Herald reprinted the wire report and naturally the Swartwoods took offense. An angry Floyd Swartwood felt the need to salvage the reputation of his two actual daughters and sent an irate editorial to the Herald, which it printed.

Swart continued to hit in 1883, leading the league in batting average (.357), on-base percentage, hits, and OPS. As in the previous season, he also finished in the top three in slugging, total bases, and doubles. One problem – the club didn’t know where to place the extra-large slugger in the field. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver illustrated the point in February before spring training began: “The Alleghenys will try to make a catcher out of Swartwood, who is a very poor fielder, but a strong hitter.” He actually ended up splitting most of his time between first base and center field. After the season, Ed remarried – to a Pittsburgh woman named Anna Knethler (or Kuethler) on November 7. A month later, she would be 19 years old. At least by this point, Swartwood permanently moved to Pittsburg, where he would spend the rest of his life. They eventually had seven children but only two survived past infancy: Helen, born on October 28, 1894; and Edward George, November 20, 1895.

On May 24, 1884, Swartwood led off against Philadelphia rookie pitcher Al Atkinson, who hit him with a pitch. Swartwood eventually scored after stealing second base. Atkinson, though, sent the next 27 batters back to the bench for a no-hitter and near-perfect game, and a 10-1 victory. Swartwood tailed off with the bat that season. Observers said he had considerable difficulty hitting left-handed pitchers. However, it’s doubtful if this was a major contributing factor, as only three confirmed lefties (a handful of pitchers are still listed as throwing arm unknown) pitched an appreciable number of innings in the American Association in 1884. It is true that he stood within six inches of the plate, a batting style the Brooklyn Eagle deemed as “extreme” and improper.

The only major batting category in which Swartwood finished in the top ten that season was on-base percentage, which was aided by his seventh-place finish in walks and his lead in being hit by pitches (15). After the season, Pittsburgh offered him terms for 1885 but Ned vacillated as he was also negotiating with a National League club. In January, Pittsburgh sold Swartwood to Brooklyn in the American Association. The Brooklyn Eagle exclaimed that “[Boston National League president Arthur] Soden’s animosity had been aroused by the fact that (Brooklyn team president Charles H.) Byrne had outwitted him in the matter of engaging Swartwood.”

Swart split his time between left and right fields in ’85. Sporting Life noted in May, “Swartwood … whose record as a batter and fielder is excellent, has made a good impression, but although his position in left field is a little new to him, his natural ability and ambition to excel in anything he undertakes will very shortly place him again in the lead [for the batting title].” Unfortunately, Swartwood’s bat never did come around and his batting average dropped to .266, from .357 just two years before. He was, however, named captain towards the end of the season.

Over the winter, Swart worked out at home in Pittsburgh with teammates Germany Smith and Steve Toole at a “large rink.” In March 1886, the Brooklyn Eagle looked forward to a new season from Swartwood: “He gave such satisfaction as captain of the team last year that the management has determined to place the team in his hands again this year. His fairness and considerate treatment have won him the respect and goodwill of all the players and it is believed good teamwork will naturally result. He is a good coach for his men, a powerful batter and last year he made a great reputation as a base runner.” He appeared in 122 games in 1886, mostly in right field, and led the league in bases on balls with 70. After the season, he was chosen as one of the players to sit on the combined National League and American Association rules committee.

Swartwood continued as Brooklyn’s captain in 1887. At the age of 28, he began struggling with his weight. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported in April, “[Bill] Phillips, Swartwood and [Hardie] Henderson are so fat that after running a short distance they are completely run out and forced to rest before going on the field. It is a common sight to see one of these players sit down upon the bag after a two-base hit completely prostrated.” Swartwood’s weight comfortably topped 200 pounds. It didn’t help that Swart was a big fan of alcohol. The weight troubles led him to take diet pills during several seasons in the late 1880s. He got the pills, the herbal laxative cascara sagrada, from a druggist on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh. As captain, he recommended them to his players and even to opponents.

At midseason Sporting Life wrote, “It is hinted in Brooklyn circles that this will be Swartwood’s last season upon the diamond.” The rumor may have had something to do with a note in the same publication during the previous winter: “The genial captain has become quite economical, and is said to be the possessor of a bank account running into several thousands of dollars.” In truth, he stayed in the game as long as possible, umpiring into the new century.

Swartwood appeared in 91 games for Brooklyn in 1887, all in right field. His batting average dropped to a career-low .253. Towards the end of season, he came under fire for supposed “listless play,” which is ambiguous and could mean any number of things or nothing at all. He was still a popular ballplayer, though, and tended bar after the season finished, collecting a salary and a percentage of sales. However, it soon became obvious that the Brooklyn management wasn’t going to renew Swartwood’s contract. In December he was released and claimed by the New York Metropolitans of the same league. However, New York ended up folding and Brooklyn purchased the rights to its territory and players; so Swartwood was again Brooklyn’s property. In January 1888, he was supposedly sold with a handful of teammates to the Kansas City Cowboys for $7,000. In the shuffle of players, though, Swartwood wasn’t needed in Kansas City. Brooklyn had no plans for him as well. He asked for his outright release and it was granted in March. Rumors immediately placed him with Des Moines, which was managed by old Akron teammate Charlie Morton, but they secured George Shafer and thus didn’t need another outfielder.

Swartwood remained without a club during the spring and through April. He stayed in shape, and Sporting Life wrote, “Ed Swartwood says that he is lighter this season than for the past three years. He weighs but 198 pounds and is ready to play ball at a moment’s notice.” At the beginning of May, Swartwood signed with Hamilton, Ontario, of the minor International Association and was named team captain. He appeared in 109 games at first base and right field, batting .297. Hamilton finished third with a 66-44 record. Over the winter, Swartwood re-signed with the club, now as player-manager. He also agreed to a winter engagement with Los Angeles.

Swartwood fell ill with pneumonia and didn’t travel to the West Coast. He stayed home and planned for his coming management duties, fine-tuning his roster. But Hamilton tanked in 1889, ultimately finishing last in the league with a 35-74 record. Much of the blame was put on Ed, who lost control of his men. In fact, he so despised supervising their extracurricular activities that he moved to a boarding house a mile away from the rest of the players. Sporting Life pronounced, “Ed Swartwood was perfectly satisfied when the directors relieved him of the management [position in mid July]. The trouble with Swartwood was that he was too lenient with the players, who imposed upon his good nature.” The newspaper also said, “The Pittsburgh players – Swartwood, [Pete] McShannic and [Bill] Blair – are blamed as responsible for Hamilton’s poor showing, through their alleged [cliquishness].” Abner Powell was brought in from New Orleans to oversee the club. Swartwood remained to play the outfield and, for the season, batted .283 in 105 games.

Near the end of the 1889 season, Swartwood agreed to take a $100 reduction in salary for his outright release from Hamilton on December 1. He then began negotiating with other clubs. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote, “He has received offers from Toledo, Detroit and other cities, but will wait to see what the outcome of the Brotherhood [union] movement will be.” The Milwaukee Sentinel concurred: “Milwaukee, Toledo and Detroit all have lines out for Swartwood.”

Beginning in the winter of 1889, Swartwood worked as a city agent for the R.W. Jenkinson Company, a wholesale tobacco product manufacturer and distributor. He traveled around the country representing the company. He sold cigars for much of the 1890s. Even during the baseball season, Swartwood carried a sample case and hawked his wares. He had saved his money, and over the years he invested in several small businesses in Pittsburgh, including a saloon. In 1895, he purchased a share in the Fairview Gold Mining Company in Cripple Creek, Colorado. He made a decent return on investment but not nearly as much as some wild speculators claimed. Swartwood’s His time at Cripple Creek paid off in another way as well. Trekking in the mountains for a couple of months, he lost nearly 30 pounds.

In January, the Hamilton club brought charges of tampering against the Detroit Wolverines of the National League, claiming that Swartwood was still its property. The move shocked Swartwood, who thought he had been released from his responsibilities. The sides blasted each other in the press. For his part, Swartwood exclaimed, “Hamilton has no right to hold me and I feel certain (Hamilton) president Dixon, who has always treated me kindly, will keep up the agreement we made. Near the close of the season he came to me and said if I would accept $400 instead of $500, my salary for the balance of the season, he would give me my unconditional release.” Hamilton, though, wouldn’t relinquish its claim, so Ned brought the matter to the Board of Arbitration of the American Association. On February 20, the board ruled in the player’s favor, saying that affidavits by Dixon corroborated Swartwood’s claim.

A free agent, Swartwood signed with Toledo of the American Association, an expansion club, and was named captain for 1890. Old friend Charlie Morton was the club’s manager and helped bring in the new captain. Swartwood didn’t disappoint. He had his best year with the bat since 1883, hitting .327 in 126 games. He also notched career highs in runs, hits, walks, and on-base percentage. He was hit a pitch 17 times, a number that still was only half of the league leader’s figure. The right-field wall at Toledo’s ballpark, Speranza Park, was 20 feet high and a considerable distance from home plate. On May 3 off Jack Easton, according to Sporting Life, “Swartwood was the first player to knock a fair ball over Toledo’s right field fence.” For the feat he won a new suit, a hat, and haircuts through the summer.

Toledo was the smallest city in the major leagues in 1890; consequently, the expansion club didn’t survive to see a second season. Over the winter, Swartwood dickered with Sioux City (Iowa) of the Western Association and Pittsburgh. In mid-March of 1891, he settled with Sioux City after being formally released by Toledo and the American Association. After the season, Sporting Life wrote, “Ed played good ball in Sioux City and is very well thought of in the Western Association.” He hit .286 in 109 games. The club finished in fifth place but had a tremendous postseason. Swartwood noted, “Yes, we have quite a club out there in Sioux City. We beat Anson’s crowd [National League Chicago Colts] four games out of six, and beat the [American Association] St. Louis Browns five games, so you can see we were in it. This man [Al] Buckenberger, who managed us last season, is my ideal of a manager for making men earn their salaries. … There is no foolishness about him. … Buck will manage an American Association team next season … and I would not be surprised if old Swart would sign with him for next season.”

Swartwood did indeed sign with Buckenberger, on November 10, but in the National League with Pittsburgh. For the first time in over a decade, the major leagues were pared to only one circuit in 1892. Officially, the National League and American Association merged. The cumbersome name chosen for the new league would soon be pared by newsmen back to the familiar National League.

In March the Olean Democrat commented, “It will seem like old days revived to see Ed Swartwood once more at bat in the major circuit. Swartwood always was a heavy hitter, and he has already gone into training.” It didn’t last. Swartwood and Billy Earle were released near the end of May. Ned had been having shoulder troubles and became expendable as Pop Corkhill solidified his spot on the roster. Swart appeared in 13 games (the last being on May 21) at the age of 33 to finish out his major-league career. His final numbers include 724 games, all but 14 of which were amassed in the American Association, a .299 batting average, and a surprising – for a big man – 63 triples.

A week or so later, Swartwood joined his old Akron teammate Sam Wise with Rochester of the Eastern League. Ed played with the club from June 8 through September 16 of 1892 and then joined Providence of the same league from September 17 to the 27th. In 100 games in the Eastern League that season, Swartwood batted .306. Rochester won the pennant in a very tight race; the sixth-place team finished only nine games out.

Swartwood returned with Providence in 1893, for 40 games through June. With that, his active career ended. In July, he secured an umpiring position in the Eastern League and kept it through the end of the season. In 1894, he umpired 40 games in the National League. From 1895 to 1897, he returned behind the plate for the Eastern League. He umpired in the National League from 1898 to 1900. He was set to return to the Eastern League in 1902 but other responsibilities took precedence. He did oversee some games there the following year. Again he was set to return in 1904 but his other job duties prevented it. Wrote The Sporting News in July, “Swartwood hates to disappoint [president] Pat Powers but the veteran fears that he will be unable to go to the Eastern [League] and help out in umpiring. Swarty is the right-hand man of Sheriff Dickson, and the big fellow is needed here [in Pittsburgh]. He officiated at the execution of two men last week and has more legal punishments to handle within the month.”

Like all umpires, Swartwood performed to mixed reviews. Sporting Life declared in 1896 that “Umpire Ed Swartwood is an efficient official and has the respect of the players.” The following year, the publication called him “the premier of the Eastern League.” Often with umpires, these opinions varied game by game, situation by situation. Sportswriter Frank Hough of the Philadelphia Inquirer was particularly unimpressed. He declared that Swart “was incompetent, always had been incompetent, and promised no better for [the future].”

There were a couple things that made Swartwood stand out. For one, he was huge. Soon after he left the majors, Sporting Life observed, “Swarty is bigger than ever. He weighs at least 240.” Secondly, he wore a unique chest protector. In 1898 Sporting Life wrote, “Umpire Swartwood has a peculiar shield which he uses for a chest protector while behind the bat. The shield is buckled to his left arm so that when he folds it on his chest the shield protects him from foul tips.” Unfortunately, it was later stolen.

Swartwood kept busy after leaving baseball. He was always a big hunter and fisherman, like many ballplayers during the era. Throughout his time in baseball, he spent much of the winter hunting with friends, teammates, and opponents. He was considered one of the top marksmen among baseball men. He was a member of several sportsmen’s associations with his good friend Elmer Smith. Swartwood competed in target shooting events and even refereed them. He also officiated at bicycle races and liked to draw. He was a frequent spectator at football and baseball games and boxing matches, and was among the many who dove into the automobile craze after the turn of the century.

Swartwood was involved with local lodges in Pittsburgh. The major activity, though, seemed to be drinking. He did try to play ball for the Pittsburgh Elks in 1904 with fellow professionals Ad and Bill Gumbert, Tom Quinn, and Joe Steen, but he had to quickly beg off because of his weight. As Sporting Life announced, “Ed Swartwood could not stay out of the game. Though he has a fifty pound paunch in front, he is playing for the Elks.”

In June 1901, Swartwood was appointed sergeant of police of Allegheny County. The Pittsburgh Times wrote, “The big outfielder has shown aptitude for the work incumbent on a fly cop and has been assigned to look after the police in the lower part of this city and to do general office work. Last night at 7 o’clock, when it was reported that there was ‘foul’ play in an ice house on Concord Street, Swartwood made perhaps his first run since he abandoned the ball field.” Within a short time, Swartwood was appointed deputy sheriff of Allegheny County, working in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Ad Gumbert was elected sheriff soon after Swartwood took office.

The deputy job led to involvement in local Republican politics. A list of other local politicos included baseball men Gumbert, John Tener, and Honus Wagner. In another baseball connection, Swart served papers on Federal League executives in 1915 when Chief Bender sued over a salary issue. In a famous incident in western Pennsylvania, Swartwood was a member of a posse that chased accused murderers Ed and Jack Biddle after they escaped from the Allegheny County Jail in 1902. The warden’s wife was smitten with one of the brothers and aided in the escape. But the Baltimore Sun wrote that while the Biddles were captured, Swartwood, unfortunately, “was not near enough to get a slice of the $5,000 prize money.”

As early as 1904, Swartwood was assisting during legal executions. He became known as a local executioner or hangman. Over the years, he assisted during many locally and even traveled to neighboring counties to assist in others.

On May 15, 1924, Edward Swartwood died “after a long illness” at the age of 65. He was buried at the Union Dale Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

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