SABR

Len Swormstedt

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Right-handed pitcher Len Swormstedt played in the major leagues in 1901, 1902, and 1906, with a 2.22 career earned run average. However, he only pitched in eight games. His professional career got off to the most confusing of beginnings: the first time he was mentioned in a national publication occurred in the February 17, 1900 Sporting Life, which reported “Pitcher Swormstedt accepted terms offered by the Albany Club, and the next day signed a contract with the Indianapolis team.” He denied he’d agreed to terms with Albany, but Baseball-reference.com lists him on the Albany team.

A note in October said he planned to stick with Cincinnati in 1901.i In December, a few more notes said that he had been signed up for Sioux City.ii Yet, it was with Minneapolis that he trained in the springtime and worked for during the season, notably throwing a one-hitter on September 15 against Denver. He finally did get to Cincinnati after the Western League season was over, and debuted in the second game of a doubleheader on September 29, holding Pittsburg to just three hits and winning the game, 2-1.

On October 1, he “pitched good ball but was miserably supported” in the second game of a doubleheader, losing to the Phillies, 6-2.iii The twin bill in Cincinnati drew only 600 fans.

He won the October 6 game, the first of another pair, beating the Cardinals, 3-1. He’d thrown three complete games, with an ERA of 1.73, striking out 13 while walking five, and given up two home runs. Cincinnati finished in last place.

The Queen City – Cincinnati – was his place of birth. Leonard Brodbeck Swormstedt was James M. and Martha Ellen (Woodburn) Swormstedt’s third child. “Woodie” was the oldest and Willie the middle child. Leonard was born on October 6, 1878. At the time of the 1880 census, James was a clerk in a fire insurance firm. The Swormstedt family considered themselves of Norwegian ancestry.

Len remained on the Reds roster over the winter and pitched two games for them in 1902: Opening Day, which he lost, 6-1, to the Chicago Cubs, and on April 27, a 5-3 loss to the Cardinals. Every one of his games was a home game. At least once, he was left home rather than be taken on a road trip, given the extra expense of going on the road. He was released in early May, and his “release was no surprise. He asked and got a limit salary in the winter and then pitched ‘10-20-30’ ball.”iv

He spent the rest of the season with the Milwaukee Creams, appearing in 37 games for manager Hugh Duffy. He found time in July to become “secretly married” to Anna Harper of Cincinnati. “The announcement of their wedding was made last week by Swormstedt’s mother at a church social.”v

Swormstedt pitched for Milwaukee again in 1903, and this time saw his team win the pennant. Pitcher Ed Kenna won 28 games and lost just 9.

In 1904, Swormstedt wound up pitching in the American Association with Louisville. It was not a successful engagement. He pitched in only 12 games. He suffered a badly injured leg in mid-June and was released by Louisville in early August. He finished with a 4-4 record. We have no data on his record for Milwaukee.

In 1905, it was back to the Western League, pitching for the Colorado Springs Millionaires. The team went through three managers and the relocation of the franchise, which moved to Pueblo on July 15. When the club relocated, it left him behind and told him to remain in Colorado Springs for further instructions – which apparently never came. He presented a claim for the $202.00 due him to the National Commission, but the Commission referred him to the courts for collection of the money. The league also removed him from the Western League’s reserve list and rendered him a free agent, while making it clear that the Commission believed he was entitled to the money.vi

In 1906 Swormstedt signed with the Troy Trojans of the New York State League. This was to be his home club for the next four years, save for a very brief sojourn with the Boston Americans. He appeared in 38 games for Troy and then three more at the very end of the year for Boston. The Boston club needed all the help it could get.

For years afterward, Swormstedt could have told people that he’d relieved Cy Young in a ballgame. Young started the September 27 game in St. Louis and gave up nine runs in three innings. Swormstedt threw the final five innings, allowing no runs on just three hits. His last two major-league games were both starts. On October 3, he worked the second game of that day’s doubleheader in Washington, a game that both clubs agreed in advance would be a seven-inning game so that the Bostons could get their train back home. Each team had three hits, and Boston won, 2-1, a complete game win. He also pitched the last game of the year and lost 5-4 to the visiting New York Highlanders. The Boston Globe remarked that he “had a dreamy delivery and with perfect support would have looked much better,” adding that he “was very weak at the bat and lost his head on a simple play, altogether he was far from the big money.”vii

So was Boston. This was the year the team finished just 49-105. Swormstedt’s 1-1 won/loss record was far better than the team’s .318 winning percentage. Cy Young himself was 13-21.

In 1907, 1908, and 1909, Swormstedt stuck with Troy; the only year for which we have records is 1908 when he was 22-15 in 40 games.

Come 1910, he pitched for the Lynn Shoemakers of the New England League, then divided his time in 1911 three clubs – Lynn, Haverhill, and then Worcester. He had a combined 16-12 record, with two of the best games being the 11-inning 2-1 Lynn win over Fall River on May 19 and the one-hitter he threw for Worcester against the visiting Lawrence team on August 18.

He was on the Lynn roster again in April, 1912, but pitched for New Bedford, finishing 12-19.

In 1913, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound right-hander was signed by Holyoke in March, but was released early in the season. He tried to secure the job of manager for the Keene, New Hampshire team in the Twin State League, but wound up pitching in 11 games for the Meriden Hopes (4-7) in the Eastern Association. These were his last recorded games in baseball.

After baseball, Swormstedt worked primarily as a machinist. When he registered for the military draft at the time of World War I, he was working as a riveter machinist at the American Car and Foundry Company in Detroit, a business which built rolling stock (passenger and freight cars) for railroad companies. He was still married to Anna at the time. Three years later, he was working in Lynn, Massachusetts as a machinist in a shoe factory. And in 1930, he worked in Salem, Massachusetts, as a machinist in a machine shop. He may have remarried, to the former Julia Phelan, at this time. However, he is listed with wife Anna, who worked as a game maker in a game factory, almost certainly Parker Brothers, the company which created Monopoly.

When he registered for the draft in World War II, he was employed by Ruggles-Klingemann, a company which today still specializes in the engineering, design, and manufacture of valves and associated fluid control equipment. At a later time, and before his retirement, he worked as a machinist for Atwood & Merrill.viii

Len Swormstedt died of an aneurysm in Salem on July 19, 1964, and is buried there. His wife at the time of his death was the former Julia Phelan.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Swormstedt’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

i Sporting Life, October 27, 1900. For some unknown reason, he was often referred to as Leonard Jordan Swormstedt, this in an era when even including first names was less than common in sports stories.

ii Sporting Life, December 8 and December 29, 1900.

iii Washington Post, October 2, 1901.

iv Sporting Life, May 24, 1902.

v Sporting Life, November 1, 1902. Confusing the situation a bit is the player questionnaire in the Hall of Fame, which indicates Swormstedt married a Julia Phelan in the late 1890’s – but the questionnaire was completed by a great-great nephew, Wade Swormstedt, who also indicated he was unsure of Leonard’s first and last years in professional baseball.

vi Sporting Life, August 12 and October 7, 1905.

vii Boston Globe, October 7, 1906.

viii Salem Evening News, July 20, 1964.

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