Bill Swift

This article was written by Bob LeMoine

 William Charles Swift was born on October 27, 1961 in Portland, Maine, and grew up in nearby South Portland. “It's a great place, a small town,” Swift said. “Actually, it's one of the bigger ones in Maine, but a small town compared to other places. It was a great place to grow up. It's real quiet.”1 It is doubtful he had much quiet at home, however, as Swift was the 14th of 15 children born to Herb and Dorothy Swift. “How did I end up with 15 kids?” Herb was once asked. “I had a good woman.”2

Herb organized the family chores like an assembly line. “You just had the older ones take care of the younger ones. Soon as you were old enough to hold a plate and a towel, you had a job.”3 “It was almost like we ate in two shifts,” Billy, as he was called then, remembered.4 But even Herb was hard-pressed to name them all until he consulted Dorothy. Young Billy grew up with sisters Helen, Alice, Arlene, Peggy, Mary Francis, Shirley, Rosemary, Nancy, Cathleen, and brothers Herb Jr., Michael, John, Bobby, and Peter. “I still ask them why they had so many,” Swift pondered in 1992. “They really haven’t given us a good answer. They were good Catholics, I guess. They didn’t believe in birth control.”5

Billy would become a source of pride for his hometown, pitching in the College World Series, the Olympic Games, and 13 seasons in the major leagues. The soft-spoken kid compiled a 94-78 record, and once was runner-up for the National League Cy Young Award.

Herb made billboards for a living to support his large family. “We struggled a little bit,” Billy remembered. “We didn’t have the best of everything, but my parents did good for as many kids as they had to feed. I wasn’t embarrassed.”6 He learned baseball from Herb, who had once been a left-handed pitcher for the Portland Pilots, a Class B farm team of the Philadelphia Phillies, in the New England League. But the rigorous Mainer would pitch anywhere for a few bucks. “I'd pitch doubleheaders. I had a rubber arm. Fifteen dollars a game,” Herb remembered. “Teams would pick me up to pitch for them. Barnstorming. All around Maine. I was all junk. A lefthander, all over the place, no control. A guy would yell, ‘Let me see your fastball.’ I'd say ‘That was it.’” When Billy was born, Herb named him after the greatest Red Sox player of them all. “I named him after Ted Williams. We'd used up all the names of the saints. I wanted William for Ted Williams. My wife wanted Charles. That's his middle name. William Charles Swift.”7

Herb taught Billy how to pitch early on, using some unorthodox methods. “I had him throw a short distance. Then, after he was throwing pretty well, I moved back a few steps. I wanted him to have control. I used a workout with him that I always had used. Had batters stand on each side of the plate and had him pitch between them. The key is making sure the batters don't swing. They'd kill each other.”8 Herb also taught his son lessons about humility. “I always told him, no matter how great you think you are, let someone else tell you,” Herb said. “If you pat yourself on the back, you might break your arm.”9

Billy was known for his quiet demeanor. “When you’re next to youngest out of 15,” he said, “that’s the way you end up. I’ve never been boisterous or loud. I like being laid back and doing my job.”10 Playing baseball was never a problem for growing up, since the family could nearly make up two full teams. “I was lucky enough to have sisters who were great athletes and gave us good competition,” Swift remembered. The family would take over a baseball diamond and play games against each other, with Herb and Dorothy picking teams. They also had memorable trips to Fenway Park, when Herb would load up the van and bring as many of his kids who understood the game. “We’d unload when we got to the game and the back of the van would have popsicle sticks and pieces of bread and wrappers and diapers and all kinds of stuff on the floor.”11

Swift was an outfielder at South Portland High School, just like his boyhood hero Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox.12 He played American Legion Baseball, once throwing a shutout and going 17-for-21 during a championship series. Swift also played basketball and ran cross country.13 He was a four-year letterer at the University of Maine at Orono (UMO) from 1981-1984. Swift was recruited as an outfielder, but coach John Winkin converted him to a pitcher, which changed his life. “Everyone respected him for what he did at Maine,” Swift said, remembering his coach over 30 years later. “He taught me the fundamentals of the game and I still teach them. It’s all from him. He had a great mind for the game.”14

Swift had impressive pitching numbers as a freshman (3-1, 3.56 ERA), sophomore (10-1, 2.58), and junior (9-3, 2.81 in 102 innings). While in college, Swift was a Second-Team All-American and a member of the ECAC (Eastern Coast Athletic Conference) North All-Conference team three times.

In a 1983 ECAC playoff game, Swift threw 199 pitches over 13 innings in a game Maine won in the 18th. Winkin was criticized by sportswriter Steve Buckley for the perceived overuse of Swift. Two days later, Winkin placed Swift in left field. Swift made a beautiful throw from left to nab a runner at the plate. “It was just a heroic throw, and it saved the game,” Buckley said. “But Swift’s arm was shot. He wasn’t the same the rest of the way. He lost to Michigan in the College World Series, 5-4. (Chris) Sabo hit a home run off him. I remember getting in a lot of trouble, writing that he’d been mishandled, and it caused a big controversy.” But Swift, recalling the event years later, just smiled. “I’m sure it took its toll in the end, but you know how college guys are. They don’t really think of the consequences.”15

After his junior year, Swift was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the second round of the June 1983 amateur draft but declined to sign and opted to stay in college for his senior year. Swift consulted an agent in financial matters, an illegal move at the time for anyone not yet a senior. The Twins, according to Swift, forced the issue, demanding he either sign or they would report him for his actions. By refusing to sign, the NCAA suspended him for one-third of his senior year. “Minnesota wanted me to go to Single A, and I felt I was ready to pitch in Double A, so I decided not to sign,” Swift said. “A lot of people told me I wouldn’t get drafted that high again and my chances of making the big leagues were less. I guess things turned around, didn’t they?”16

Swift’s suspension meant he would only be 5-3 with a 1.77 ERA for his senior year, which was highlighted by a 17-strikeout game against Harvard. He finished his UMO career with 27 wins and 26 complete games, all still UMO records (some tied) as of 2017. Swift helped lead UMO to the College World Series in all four of his seasons at the school. His overall record in the College World Series was 3-4 in 70 innings pitched with 54 strikeouts, while also batting .400 (6-for-15).17 His number 8 was later retired by the baseball program.

Swift was also a member of Team USA when they won Bronze at the 1982 Amateur World Series, Silver at the 1983 International Cup, and Bronze at the 1983 Pan-American Games.18 His experience in international competition prompted Team USA coach Rod Dedeaux to select Swift for the first Team USA baseball team, which competed at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Swift didn’t want to go. He didn’t attend the tryouts. “I think it should be my choice,” Swift said in interviews at the time. “I have to start thinking about my future. I have to start settling down.”19 Swift showed the impatience of most 22-year-olds, especially considering a month later he was selected in the first round (second overall) by the Seattle Mariners in the June 1984 Amateur Draft. By signing later, he was able to play in the Olympics and “when I signed with Seattle, I wound up tripling what I was going to make with the Twins.”20 He expected Seattle to assign him to Chattanooga, Tennessee, the club’s Double A affiliate in the Southern League, so he could bypass the Olympics and get his professional baseball career started. Instead, the team wanted him to go to the Olympics for the experience.21 He was later grateful that they did.

Baseball was solely a demonstration event at the games, but the baseball team was filled with other future major leaguers. “It was just a special time,” Swift recalled in an interview with Lee Goldberg for Portland’s WCSH-TV in 2016. Swift was awestruck living in a dorm with other US athletes. “We were on the same floor as the basketball team with (Michael) Jordan and (Charles) Barkley and all of those guys. I carried the flag for the opening ceremonies, and to be able to walk out there holding the US flag, and we were home and people were going crazy at Dodger Stadium, it was a special time.”22 Team USA went undefeated until losing to Japan in the final game. Swift spent the next few months finishing his studies at UMO, graduating with B.A. in Education.23

Swift arrived at the Mariners spring-training facility in Tempe, Arizona in 1985. He recognized that despite some highlights, such as striking out Reggie Jackson, he still had a lot to learn. “When I came from spring training, I had lost it (confidence),” Swift confessed. “I had been concentrating so much on the hitters.”24 Swift was assigned to Chattanooga. He started seven games and compiled a 2-1 record with a 3.69 ERA, walking 21 batters in 39 innings. “I was sick (with tonsillitis) most of the time in Chattanooga,” Swift admitted. “I gave up a lot of walks, which I don’t usually do.”25

Swift hoped to be promoted to Calgary, the team’s Triple A club, before season’s end. “I got a call at three in the morning,” Swift recalled. It was not about Calgary, but Seattle. “I was surprised. I thought it was kind of a dream at first. They told me to meet the team in Detroit and that I might be in relief against Cleveland.”26 Swift, in very short time, was a major leaguer. Mariners pitching coach Phil Regan thought Swift’s experience in the Olympics prepared him for the major leagues. “He toured all over America and pitched in a lot of the major league stadiums and in front of thousands of people,” Regan said. “Most kids who come from small towns have never had that kind of exposure.”27

Swift made his major-league debut on June 7, 1985 in Cleveland. Starter Brian Snyder broke a blister on his hand and Swift was summoned from the bullpen in the second inning. Swift pitched five innings of scoreless relief, allowing only one hit, gaining his first major-league win. “I had good control,” Swift said. “My slider was breaking well, my sinker was working and I was using my changeup effectively. But I threw mostly the fastball, which I use as my sinker, and was just trying to throw strikes with it and make them hit it on the ground.”28 Seattle manager Chuck Cottier was not surprised with Swift’s poise. “That’s just the way he is. He comes from a family of 15, so there’s not much that shakes him up. He’s such a nice, quiet, self-controlled kid. He handled it like a pro.”29 Swift’s record jumped to 3-1 (3.50 ERA) after strong outings against Kansas City and Chicago.

Swift experienced his childhood dream of pitching at Fenway Park in a matchup against the Red Sox on July 25. He had the game on his mind all day. “I fell back to sleep this morning,” he admitted. “I was going over each hitter in my head––what was I going to throw him, where he hits. Like I could jam (Jim) Rice with a slider and use my changeup because he doesn’t hit a breaking ball well.”30 Although he lost the game, Swift pitched well, going six innings and leaving with a 2-1 lead, striking out six, including Rice and Wade Boggs. “Billy has a great slider and sinker,” Regan said. “The sinker is a very effective pitch for him because it moves so much. He’s also come up with a great changeup and is doing very well with it.”31

As the summer went along, Swift struggled with an 0-5 slump in six starts with an ERA of 6.35 with opponents batting .342 against the rookie. He finished 6-10 with a 4.77 ERA. With his rookie season completed, Swift married Michelle Kenney from Madison, Maine, who was a student at UMO.32

Swift was effective as a middle reliever (3.86 ERA in 18 2/3 innings) early in 1986, but when he was moved back to the rotation he had three forgettable starts in which he didn’t get out of the fourth inning in any of them with a ballooned ERA of 11.45. He was demoted to Calgary at the end of June, making eight starts. He returned to Seattle in August and made eight starts at the end of the year, going 3-7 with a 5.13 ERA. His final numbers were 2-9 with a 6.51 ERA as a starter while having no record and a 2.78 ERA in 12 games in relief.

Swift’s 1987 season was limited to only five games at Calgary as he underwent surgery on June 11 to remove bone spurs in his elbow. He spent several months in rehab, which included pitching in a Seattle warehouse over the winter. But the reality was, at this point in his career he was 8-19 with a 5.11 ERA. “At that point in my career,” Swift reflected, “my major league record was pretty bad. I was hurt, and naturally, I had some doubts about my future.”33

He was relieved to make the Mariners roster out of spring training in 1988. “I wanted to make the team, but the main thing was being able to pitch again without pain. The work I did in the offseason paid off. It helped me to be ready for spring training.”34 Swift was impressive in his first start of the year, a 6-5 win in Oakland, in which he allowed only one unearned run and five hits in 6 1/3 innings. Swift caught fire and threw four straight complete games, winning three of them with a 2.06 ERA. His sinker was really working on May 28 against the Yankees, when Swift set a record by forcing 22 groundball outs.35 At the end of May, Swift was 5-1 with a 3.48 ERA. The second half of the season was another story, however, as Swift went 2-6 with a 5.74 ERA and was sent to the bullpen by the end of the season, where his ERA (2.54) was much better than as a starter (4.98).

Swift spent most of April 1989 on the disabled list and made 13 starts from May 1 to July 6, going 4-2 albeit with a high ERA of 6.44. He was again moved to the bullpen and pitched in 21 games with a 3.02 ERA. Swift settled in nicely as a middle-reliever for the Mariners in 1990. “It's kind of nice to know what your role is and that you can just concentrate on that,” said Swift. “Both [manager] Jim (Lefebvre) and [pitching coach] Mike Paul said they felt I reacted well to the long role or an occasional setup last season, and so far it's worked well.”36 When the Mariners faced injuries in the rotation, Swift stepped in, starting eight games and going 3-2 with a stellar 2.10 ERA. “If they want me to start, I'll do that. If they want relief, that's fine, too. I'm doing well in both, so I can't complain.”37

Swift was in the midst of a 16-inning scoreless streak as a starter when he luckily avoided disaster. On August 5, a line drive by Gary Gaetti hit Swift in the head, dropping him to the ground with the ball caroming at a 45-degree angle into the stands behind third base. “I remember the ball coming back at me,” a fortunate Swift said, “but the next thing I knew I was on the ground holding my head. I knew I hadn’t been hit in the face, but the back of my head hurt worse than where the ball hit me. I got real dizzy and had a headache, but I feel fine now. I was lucky.”38

In the offseason, Swift avoided arbitration and accepted $1.475 million for two years and a $100,000 signing bonus.39

The 1991 season saw Swift become one of baseball’s most dominant setup men despite missing most of April with a pulled calf muscle.40 Finally finding a role with the Mariners and a groove in the hitter-friendly Kingdome, Swift was fourth in the American League in appearances with 71 and an intimidating 1.99 ERA for the year. Swift was mostly used in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings where his combined ERA was 1.49 in 66 1/3 innings, but he was most-often used in the eighth where in 28 2/3 innings pitched his ERA was 0.94. Swift mostly served as the key setup man for Michael Jackson, but Swift also had 17 saves, most coming in the second half of the season when Jackson lost the closer’s role. Swift’s groundball/flyball ratio was 2.39, the highest of his career, while the percentage of plate appearances against Swift resulting in home runs was 0.8 percent.

With statistics like these becoming more popular in the early 1990s, Swift’s value was increasing. Even Swift’s traditional stats were impressive over the past two years: a 2.23 ERA with a 1.173 WHIP and 23 saves. He had spent six seasons (plus one lost to injury) in Seattle, which had never finished higher than fourth. Both Swift and Jackson, the dominating backend of the Seattle bullpen, were traded—along with Dave Burba—to the San Francisco Giants in a shocking deal during the baseball Winter Meetings. San Francisco sent Kevin Mitchell, the one-time National League MVP and power-hitting outfielder, to Seattle along with pitcher Mike Remlinger.

San Francisco’s immediate plan was to place Swift in the starting rotation, a big hole for the Giants in 1991. “He has the potential to become the ace of the staff,” said Giants GM Al Rosen. “Everybody from the American League I talked to asked me, ‘How did you manage to get Swift?’” Swift had grown comfortable in his relief role and wasn’t certain what this all meant for him. “I don't know what to say about starting,” he said. “I got kind of comfortable in the bullpen. It should be interesting. I will have to do some things to strengthen my arm before spring training. I always have done better on grass,” he said, referring to his new home at Candlestick Park, a world of difference from the artificial-turf of Seattle’s Kingdome. “I am a ground-ball pitcher, and the grounder would squirt through a lot of times on turf.”41 Not long after the trade, the Giants signed Swift to a three-year extension for $7.95 million.

Manager Roger Craig tabbed Swift to start Opening Day, which he won with a strong 7 2/3 innings, allowing only one run against the host Dodgers. He followed it up with a complete-game shutout at Atlanta. “I’m not doing anything really different this year,” Swift said. “I’m throwing a few splitters but not as many as I thought I would. I’m actually keeping the same attitude as when I was relieving.” Swift was 2-0 with a 0.54 ERA, but there was another event in his life, as he anxiously awaited the couple’s second child. Somehow, he blocked the anxiety out of his mind when on the mound. “Once you’re in the game, you forget about other stuff,” Swift said. “I wasn’t trying to rush or anything. When it was over, then it was time to rush.”42 Swift’s wife eventually gave birth to Mackenzie, their second of three daughters, joining Aubrey and later Brynlie.43 The rest of the season must have seemed like a rush as well, as Swift rose to celebrity status as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

“What he's got isn't just a good sinker,” Craig said of Swift’s first few starts, “it’s a great sinker. When you talk about most sinkers, they're in the low-to-middle-80s. Swift’s is 92 miles an hour, and it runs and bores in so hard on righthanders he's that rare guy who can get up with it and guys still can't hit it. He’s got that quick, short-armed flip, and it just runs.”44

ESPN came to the Swifts’ Seattle home after their recent addition. Other major media companies were seeking him out, too. Peter Gammons wanted to chat. “After all these years,” Gammons wrote, “Billy Swift is an overnight sensation at the age of 30, eight years after being the second player chosen in the 1984 draft.” After eight starts, Swift was 6-0 with a 1.78 ERA. “On the one hand, it really doesn't seem as if I'm pitching any differently than I did last year,” Swift told Gammons. “But of course, when you're in the bullpen winning one game in Seattle and get off on this kind of run to start the season, everyone wants to know either what I'm doing different, where I came from or, I guess, when it's all going to end.” Despite his new-found fame, Swift was still a small-town boy at heart. “I'm a Mainer. I don't have a lot to say about myself.”45 He told Lowell Cohn of the San Francisco Examiner, “I sit around here and see what everybody does, how they act and talk,” he said of his new environment. “I'm still shy, especially coming over here and being new. I mean, I'm not a rah-rah guy yelling in the locker room and getting on players.”46

An inflamed right shoulder landed Swift on the disabled list and he missed a month. He returned and was 9-3 when a loss to the Mets on August 24 revealed an irritated nerve in his pitching arm. He missed two more weeks.47 When he returned, he pitched mostly in middle relief. Swift was the ERA champion for all of baseball with a 2.08 average, pitching 164 2/3 innings. As a starter he was 9-3 with a 2.18 ERA; as a reliever, 1-1 with a 1.35. But questions remained through the offseason on what Swift’s shoulder could handle in 1993.

Those questions would soon be answered as Swift had a colossal season and helped lead the Giants into what was one of the greatest pennant races in baseball history. Swift again got off to a fast start, including eight innings of shutout ball against the Reds on May 21. In a Swift-type game, the Reds managed only three fly balls of the 24 outs Swift recorded. The Giants won 3-0, Swift was 6-1, and more importantly, the team had won seven in a row, and at 29-14, stood alone in first place in the NL West. With eight innings of shutout ball against Colorado on June 27, Swift stood 10-4 with a 2.85 ERA at the end of June.

In July, Swift was nearly unhittable, going 5-1 with a 2.08 ERA, opponents managing a miniscule .300 on-base-percentage against him. An even better streak was his seven-game winning streak from July 8 to August 10, with a 1.66 ERA and opponents only batting .199 against him. On August 10, the Giants (76-38) were the best team in baseball and had a commanding nine-game lead over the Atlanta Braves. Swift (17-5) and John Burkett (17-4) were an amazing one-two punch in the rotation with a combined 34-9 record.

That would change in a hurry. Swift struggled in his next five starts, going 1-4 with a 6.43 ERA. A 9-1 loss to Atlanta was part of a Braves sweep, and Swift didn’t survive the sixth inning in three straight starts. When the dust had settled on September 10, the Braves (90-52) and Giants (89-51) were the two best teams in baseball but were unfortunately tied in the same division. Major League Baseball would institute the first wild card playoff format in each league in 1994. This meant, of course, that in 1993, one team would go home at the end of the season.

Swift took the hill on September 11 and pitched well, allowing three runs in seven innings, but he lost to St. Louis, 3-1. The Giants had now lost four in a row, and with an Atlanta win, the Giants were now, for the first time since May 10, looking up at first place. The Giants lost eight in a row and fell 3½ games behind on September 15. Swift shut out the Reds, 13-0, on September 17 and the Giants went on to win four in a row, but a loss to Houston on September 21 put the Giants 3½ games back on September 21.

Swift pitched the game of his life on September 22 at Houston. The Giants’ bats had gone scoreless for 17 straight innings. They managed to scrape out a run to give Swift a 1-0 lead in the seventh, but Swift felt his lower back go out while batting in the same inning. He took the mound in the bottom half of the frame but gave up a single and a walk. Then he felt his back seize up again, bringing manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Dick Pole out to the mound. “I can go. I want this one,” Swift replied to Baker, refusing to come out.48 Swift stayed in and struck out Eddie Taubensee to end the inning. Swift gutted out another inning, striking out two more before giving way to Rod Beck to close the game out. A masterful 1-0 performance, combined with an Atlanta loss, pulled the Giants back to 2½ games in the division.

The Giants reeled off three straight victories to trim the lead to 1½ games when Swift took the mound against San Diego on September 26 on three days rest. He won, 5-2, with eight innings pitched and only one run allowed, giving him his 20th win of the season. The win was an emotional one for Swift. “I wish my dad had been around to see it,” he said of Herb, who had passed away in the offseason. “The only thing that bothers me is to have this kind of year and not have him around. It would be nice to call him right now.”49

Swift’s final start of the year was another beauty, with two hits and one run allowed in seven innings pitched in a 3-1 victory over the Dodgers. Swift was now 21-8 and the win brought the Giants back into a tie with Atlanta. Both clubs were 101-58, the two best clubs in baseball, with three games remaining. The two teams remained tied on the last game of the season and the Giants held Swift back for a potential one-game playoff with Atlanta if necessary, on Monday, October 4. It was not to be, however, as the Giants were clobbered by the Dodgers, 12-1, and Atlanta defeated Colorado to win the division by one game. If all of this had happened a year later, the Giants would have clinched the wild card and advanced to the playoffs. But for Swift, his 232 innings pitched placed him seventh in the National League, his 7.5 hits per nine innings rate was second, and his 21-8 season was voted runner-up to Greg Maddux for the 1993 National League Cy Young Award.

Swift started strong in 1994 at 6-3 with a 2.61 ERA but then spent two different stints on the disabled list with a strained muscle under his right armpit.50 He returned in July but went 1-3 with a 6.00 ERA before the players’ strike ended the season in August. As he rehabbed and waited for the strike to end, Swift recognized his time in San Francisco was coming to a close. Giants GM Bob Quinn expressed interest in re-signing Swift, but he needed to cut payroll with money already committed to stars such as Barry Bonds and Matt Williams. “Bob called me and said he was going to do what he could to try and get me back, but if not ‘thanks for the three years.’ We’ll just have to see what happens,” Swift said. “I’m not too worried about it. I think I’ve established myself as one of the best pitchers the last few years, and now I have a chance to pick the team I’m going to pitch for.”51

Swift was hoping the upstart Colorado Rockies franchise, having completed their first two seasons, would be interested in him. “The Rockies have a good team and a really good group of guys,” Swift said. “Watching them play, they are real competitive. They play good defense and are going to score runs with anybody. Obviously pitching is one of their weaknesses.”52 There was no doubt about that. The Rockies complied the worst ERA in the National League in their first two seasons and were looking for any help they could find on the mound. Swift thought he had an advantage: in two career starts at Mile High Stadium, he was 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA with the Rockies batting only .231 against him. He thought his success would carry over to the new Coors Field. “I don’t worry about elements. I have pitched well there. I keep the ball down. I don’t give up that many home runs. It’s not a great place for a high-ball pitcher to pitch. But I’m not a high-ball pitcher. I think Denver would be a good opportunity for me.”53

Colorado signed Swift to a three-year contract for $12 million while the labor dispute lingered into 1995.54 “They (the Rockies) were No. 1 all the way, and the money was fair,” Swift said about the offer. “I feel like I’m finally earning the money I deserve, and I can go out and try to help the Rockies become a contender. I’m a groundball pitcher. I keep the ball low, and Coors Field is big enough.”55

On April 26, 1995, Swift was the Opening Day starter for the inaugural game at Coors Field in front of 47,228 shivering fans on a wet and chilly day. Swift gave up a leadoff single to Brett Butler of the Mets, the first official player to bat at the stadium. The Rockies staked Swift to a 5-1 lead into the fifth, but he surrendered a grand slam to Todd Hundley and was left with a no-decision. The Rockies won the game, 11-9, in the 14th inning on a walk-off home run by Dante Bichette. This was a typical game at Coors Field, where even the best pitchers were victimized in the high Denver altitude. Swift had an 8.75 ERA in his first seven starts, surrendering five home runs at Coors Field, already 15 percent of his total home runs over three years in San Francisco.

Plagued again with arm problems, Swift was back on the disabled list, missing all of August. He returned in September and went 3-1 with a 2.33 ERA as the Rockies made the playoffs as a wild card. Swift took the mound in Game Three of the National League Division Series in Atlanta, with Colorado having their backs to the wall, down two games to none. Swift was staked to an early 3-0 lead but surrendered three runs to the Braves in the fourth. With a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh, Swift surrendered a leadoff single to Ryan Klesko before being relieved. Klesko scored the tying run and Swift got a no-decision, but the Rockies stayed alive with an extra-inning win. The Braves clinched the series in Game Four and went on to win the World Series. That would be Swift’s only postseason appearance.

In the offseason, Swift had arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder to repair a damaged labrum.56 He was plagued with setbacks over the winter. Swift made his return on June 3 at Pittsburgh but lasted only 4 1/3 innings and returned to the DL. He made two rehab starts in Single A Salem in the Carolina League, then returned to Denver on August 26, allowing four earned runs in five innings against the Reds but still picking up his first win of the year. But Swift was clearly not the pitcher he once was. “Here was a millionaire who has been to the doctor more often than the mound in his two seasons with the Rockies,” wrote Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post. “There's so little left in his 34-year-old arm that his lobs actually hurt to watch.”57 He pitched five games in September, started only one, and earned two saves.

Swift started well in 1997, going 4-1 with a 4.75 ERA in seven starts, but his recurring shoulder problems returned. He was placed on the DL with a torn pectoral muscle.58 He made rehab starts at both Salem and Triple A Colorado Springs, then returned to the Rockies in July. Swift made seven appearances with six starts, going 0-5 with an 8.28 ERA. He never lasted beyond 5 1/3 innings in any of the six starts. “It seems like I cruise for four or five innings,” Swift said, “and all hell breaks loose. My velocity still is way down from what it used to be. Half the time I can't get the ball there. It seems to die at the plate.”59

Club ownership was tired of waiting and cut their losses, releasing Swift in late August. “There's not much else you can do,” Rockies GM Bob Gebhard said. “I still say that when we signed Bill, it was the right thing to do. He was the best pitcher out there. Unfortunately, a series of injuries kept him from being 100 percent.”60 Swift was signed at the end of August by the Baltimore Orioles organization, which assigned him to Triple A Rochester (New York) with intention of recalling him in September. Those plans changed when in two relief appearances Swift was clocked at 82 mph. Swift walked off the team when he learned he would not be recalled.61

Now in his 13th season at age 36, Swift returned to where his career started: Seattle. In February 1998, Swift signed a minor-league contract with the Mariners, earning $325,000 when he made the team in spring training.62 He made 26 starts for the Mariners, going 11-8 in those games, but with a high ERA of 5.57. He finished the season in the bullpen, his last major-league appearance coming on September 11 when he gave up five runs in an inning of relief. But, in a fitting end, he received the Mariners Unsung Hero Award.63

He was signed to a minor-league contract with Seattle in January of 1999 and was invited to spring training as a non-roster player. Swift had a very poor spring with a 7.20 ERA with nine earned runs and 13 hits in 10 innings pitched, which led to his release. “We did not feel Bill fit into our plans for the 1999 season,” Mariners GM Woody Woodward said. “We have made a commitment to our younger pitchers.”64 At 37 years of age, Swift retired from baseball.

In 1994, Swift was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame and the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000.65 Sports Illustrated in 1999 listed Swift as number six on its list of the 50 greatest athletes from Maine.66 In 2014, Swift was inducted into the New England Baseball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. “I am very honored and blessed to be included with such a wonderful and talented induction group,” Swift said. “To grow up in the state of Maine and to be able to get noticed is an accomplishment in itself! God blessed me with the ability to throw a baseball and I am humbled to be recognized with these other great ballplayers.”67

Bill and Michelle’s daughters are now grown and the couple currently lives in Arizona. Swift served as baseball coach at the Scottsdale Christian Academy from 2001-2013. Swift revitalized the school’s baseball program from 11 players to 32. He also revitalized two junior high baseball programs, renovated their home facility, established the school’s first booster club, and implemented fundraising and other promotions. Under Swift’s leadership, SCA won four Metro League championships and appeared in 10 state playoff tournaments.68

In 2013, Swift was hired as the head baseball coach at Arizona Christian University. ACU President Len Munsil praised Swift for spending “more than a decade building an impressive Christian high school baseball program and investing in the lives of young men. He has the combination of baseball knowledge and steady, mature Christian leadership we desire for the student-athletes in our baseball program.”69 Swift was also thrilled with the position. “I am so excited to be stepping into this next chapter in my life! God has opened the door to ACU, and I am so pleased to be part of this university. I look forward to passing on my knowledge of the great game of baseball to this group of young men.”70

Will he ever take a position in the majors again? He seems to be happy right where he is, despite being asked by Dusty Baker whether he would consider such a move. “It’s a grind. I’ve talked to guys who coach in the minor leagues. They don’t make a lot of money and it’s a long day and you’re away from your family. At this point I have no desire for that again. I think this is a good fit for me.”71 Swift remained with ACU for five seasons, building the program to 89 wins, the most of any coach in the school’s history.72

Swift’s life could perhaps be best described through the words of his favorite singer, Frank Sinatra, also a favorite of his dad.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way
.73

 

Last revised: August 15, 2018

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Joel Barnhart and fact-checked by Kevin Larkin. Special thanks to Bill Swift for reviewing this article for accuracy prior to publication.

 

Other sources

“2013 University of Maine Baseball Guide” https://issuu.com/maineathletics/docs/13baseballguide/42

 

Notes

1 “Touching Base with the Rockies’ Bill Swift,” Denver Post, August 28, 1995: D-05.

2 Larry Stone, “Everybody Knows His Name,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 17, 1992.

3 Leigh Montville, “Ball in the Family in the Swifts’ Place,” Boston Globe, May 24, 1989: 93.

4 Stone.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Montville.

8 Ibid.

9 Stone.

10 Ibid.

11 Montville.

12 “Touching Base.”

13 Ibid.

14 Larry Mahoney, “Legendary Maine Baseball Coach John Wikin Dies at 94,” Bangor Daily News, July 19, 2014.

15 Bruce Jenkins, “Swift Nearly Wrecked Arm in College,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 1, 1992.

16 Tracy Ringolsby, “Fast-Rising Olympian Swift Showing He Belongs in Big Leagues,” Kansas City Times, June 24, 1985: C-5.

17 “Baseball-University of Maine” https://umaine.edu/mclub/files/2011/07/10-Baseball.pdf Retrieved July 12, 2017.

18 “Former MLB Pitcher Bill Swift Hired as ACU Head Coach” Victory Sports Network, June 18, 2013. https://victorysportsnetwork.com/Clip/news/former-mlb-pitcher-bill-swift... “Bill Swift,” https://baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Bill_Swift_(swiftbi02); “1983 Intercontinental Cup,” https://baseball-reference.com/bullpen/1983_Intercontinental_Cup

19 Steve Kelley, “Slow Start for Billy Swift,” Seattle Times, July 15, 1984: B6.

20 Jenkins.

21 Kelley.

22 Bill Green, “Maine Olympic Moment: Billy Swift,” August 6, 2016. https://wcsh6.com/sports/olympics/maine-olympic-moment-bill-swift/289517223. Retrieved July 12, 2017.

23 “Former MLB Pitcher Bill Swift;” Stan Isle, “Maine Pitcher Ruled Ineligible,” The Sporting News, February 13, 1984: 33.

24 Larry Woodward, “A Swift Premium Pitcher,” Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, July 28, 1985: B1.

25 Ibid.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Associated Press, “Swift Takes Win in Stride,” newspaper clipping of unknown origin from the Rosella Loveitt Collection at the South Portland Historical Society marked 6/8/85. Retrieved July 12, 2017 https://sphistory.pastperfectonline.com/archive/A704FBEF-AEB4-44FD-99C5-...

29 Ibid.

30 Woodward.

31 Ibid.

32 Ibid.

33 Peter Gammons, “Swift Start Maine Product Finally Getting Chance to Star,” Boston Globe, May 15, 1992: 49.

34 Jim Street, “Swift’s Recovery Swift,” article of unknown origin dated 4/18/88 in Swift’s file from the Bartlett Giamatti Research Center, Cooperstown, New York.

35 “Yanks Grounded as Swift Sets Pitching Mark,” Poughkeepsie Journal, May 29, 1988: 3D.

36 Marvin Pave, “Swift Happy as the Man in the Middle,” Boston Globe, May 1, 1990: 67.

37 Larry Whiteside, “After Slow Start, Swift is on the Rise,” Boston Globe, August 12, 1990: 49.

38 The Sporting News, August 20, 1990: 13, 16.

39 The Sporting News, February 18, 1991: 29.

40 The Sporting News, April 22, 1991: 22.

41 David Bush, “Giants Dump Mitchell. Slugger Traded to Mariners for Three Pitchers,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 1991: B1.

42 Associated Press, “Giants’ Swift Delivering, Now Hopes Wife Does,” Newark-Star Ledger, April 16, 1992.

43 “Former MLB Pitcher Bill Swift Hired as ACU Head Coach”

44 Gammons.

45 Ibid.

46 Lowell Cohn, “Swift Would Rather Fade Into the Woodwork,” San Francisco Examiner, May 1, 1992: F5.

47 Tim Keown, “Swift Put on DL; Heredia Promoted,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 26, 1992: C5; Tim Keown, “Giants Place Swift on DL––Nerve Trouble in Pitching Arm,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 26, 1992: C8.

48 Scott Ostler, “Gutty Swift Triumphs, 1-0––Win over Astros Trims Deficit to 2 ½,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 23, 1993: B1.

49 Tim Keown, “Giants Remain 1 ½ Back—Swift Wins 20th in 5-2 Victory; Bonds Stays Hot,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 1993: E1.

50 Tim Keown, “Swift Visits with Jobe, Goes on DL,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 28, 1994: D2.

51 Tracy Ringolsby, “Swift Says Rockies are High on His Wish List,” Rocky Mountain News, October 25, 1994.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid.

54 “Moving Swift-ly,” New York Daily News, April 9, 1995.

55 Woody Paige, “Swift Lives up to Name on Mound,” Denver Post, April 9, 1995: B-12.

56 Irv Moss, “Swift Shoulder Operation OK; May Be Ready for Spring Drills,” Denver Post, October 13, 1995: D-04.

57 Mark Kiszla, “Swift May Be Unarmed, But He’s Dangerous,” Denver Post, August 27, 1996: D-01.

58 John Henderson, “Rocks Roll, Lose Swift,” Denver Post, May 13, 1997: D-01.

59 John Henderson, “Hell Breaks Loose Against Bill Swift; Mets Saddle Him With Fifth Loss in a Row,” Denver Post, August 8, 1997: D-07.

60 John Henderson, “After a Three-Year $13.15 Million Investment to their Biggest Free-Agent Pitching Acquisition, the Rockies Have Given Him a... Swift Release,” Denver Post, August 21, 1997: D-01.

61 Jim Mandelaro, “So Far, Wings Player Losses to O’s Minimal,” Democrat & Chronicle, September 1, 1997: 5.

62 “Big Pettite Pact,” USA Today, February 16, 1998.

63 https://m.mlb.com/player/123053/bill-swift

64 Associated Press, “Seattle,” New York Times, March 30, 1999.

65 “William Swift,” https://mshof.com/bios2/#tabContent3_stacks_in_6914_page18 Retrieved July 12, 2017.

66 “The 50 Greatest Sports Figures From Maine,” https://si.com/vault/1999/12/27/274002/the-50-greatest-sports-figures-fr... Retrieved July 12, 2017.

67 “Bill Swift Elected to New England Baseball Hall of Fame,” December 8, 2014. https://gsacsports.org/article/1454.php Retrieved July 12, 2017.

68 “Former MLB Pitcher Bill Swift Hired as ACU Head Coach”

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid.

71 Mike Lowe, “Swift Moves to Take Job at a College,” Portland Press Herald, June 19, 2013.

72 “Swift Resigns, Search Begins for ACU Baseball Coach.” Arizona Christian University, May 17, 2018. Accessed July 5, 2018 https://acufirestorm.com/article/1291.php

73 https://azlyrics.com/lyrics/franksinatra/myway.html; “Touching Base.”