For several decades, infielder Andy Swan, who played eight games in the 1884 American Association, was accorded a dread distinction. He was believed to be the first major-league ballplayer to have become a murder victim. In time, however, it was discovered that Andy had been confused with Albert D. Swan, a prosperous businessman and a standout Pioneer Era amateur first baseman in his youth. The by-now middle-aged victim was shot dead in his office by a disgruntled business associate in August 1885.1
At the time of Albert’s demise, 26-year-old Andy Swan was alive and well, but his brief career in Organized Baseball was nearing its end. Thereafter, Swan led an obscure, generally unremarkable life, drawing occasional press mention for his skill as a telegrapher. The ultimate fate of Andy Swan is currently undiscovered, the best evidence suggesting that he died from unknown cause sometime between late 1900 and early 1903 in Washington, DC.
Most biographical data about our subject — his middle name, family origins, religion, education, etc. — have been lost to time. Nor has a photograph of Swan been uncovered to give us an idea of what he looked like. All that can safely be said is that Andrew J. Swan was born around 1858 in Falls Township, Pennsylvania, a bustling Bucks County river port and railroad hub situated on the Delaware River.2 He was the youngest of five children born to itinerant inn/hotel keeper Francis W. Swan (1826-1877) and his wife, the former Julia Hibbs (1829-1883).3 By 1865, the Swan family had moved to Amity, a small town on the western tier of upstate New York where father Frank operated a hotel.4 Five years later, the Swans relocated to operate yet another hotel, this one in Hopewell, New Jersey, a train stop north of Trenton.5
On April 2, 1876, Andrew J. Swan married 19-year-old Annie A. Serviss in Wrightstown, New Jersey.6 A year later, his father died at age 51. Andrew and Annie Swan were not located by the writer on the 1880 US Census, but by that time his older brother Frank was living with wife and infant child in Camden, New Jersey, and working as a telegrapher in nearby Philadelphia. His closeness in age and apparent attachment to Frank, plus the fact that Andy became a telegrapher, too, suggest that Andy may also have taken up residence somewhere in the vicinity.
Next to nothing is known about Andy Swan’s baseball beginnings. Nor do we have such basic information as his height/weight and how he batted and threw. The first likely press mention of Swan as a ballplayer appeared in Sporting Life coverage of a July 30, 1883, game between nines representing striking New York and Philadelphia telegraph operators, wherein Andy is likely the “Swan” playing left field and getting two base hits for the victorious New York side.7 Swan entered the professional ranks the following year, signing with the Newark Domestics of the minor Eastern League. In 34 games, he batted a soft .211 (28-for-133, with only six extra-base hits), while playing all but one of those contests at first base defensively.
Like a multitude of other marginal talents, Swan benefitted from the proliferation of major leagues for the 1884 season. No fewer than 32 clubs (National League: 8; American Association: 12; Union Association: 12) took the field that year and Swan, his unimpressive minor league stats notwithstanding, was given a mid-season audition by the woeful (10-46, .179) Washington Statesmen of the AA. Making his debut on July 23, Swan performed to seeming club standards, going 0-for-4 against Baltimore Orioles right-hander Hardie Henderson, and committing two errors in six chances at third base. Still, the Statesmen posted a rare victory, 7-6. Two games later, Swan broke into the base-hit column, going 2-for-4 against Orioles righty (and future NL umpire) Bob Emslie in a 13-8 Washington loss.
Swan’s tenure with the Statesmen, as well as that of his new teammates, came to an end shortly thereafter. Non-competitive on the field (final record: 12-51, .190) and no longer able to meet player payroll, the Washington franchise folded on August 2. In five games played for the club, Swan had posted a .143 (3-for-21) batting average, while fielding a substandard .812 (seven errors) between first and third base.
While Swan sought new employment, the Eastern League Richmond Virginians assumed the place of the departed Washington club in American Association ranks. And before the 1884 campaign was out, the Virginians would give Swan a second shot at major league ball. This time, his performance was markedly improved. In three late-season games, Andy went 5-for-10 at the plate, while handling 27 chances at first base flawlessly. Swan’s brief stint with Richmond elevated his overall American Association statistics to a respectable .258 batting average and raised his final fielding percentage to .894 in eight games played, total. Although he was only 26, Andy Swan’s time as a major leaguer was now behind him.
In 1885, the contraction of the American Association to an eight-club circuit and the dissolution of the upstart Union Association eliminated any realistic chance that Swan would gain a major league roster spot for the coming season.8 Instead, Andy returned to the Eastern League, signing on as player-manager for the newly-organized Norfolk club. At first, his reception was cordial, with the Norfolk Virginian heartily welcoming to the city “Mr. Andy Swann, manager of the Norfolk baseball team.”9 But his time in Norfolk would prove brief and disagreeable. Before the season began, he was criticized for being too slow to secure players for the upcoming season.10 Then, one of the players whom manager Swan did manage to recruit, pitcher John Henry, late of the National League Cleveland Blues, quickly proved a major headache. Although the NL and AA had jettisoned the prohibition on overhand pitching, the Eastern League had decided to retain it for the 1885 season. Henry, however, was unable to conform his pitching motion to the EL rule and was ineffective in the box. His post-game sulks also affected team morale. Ten days into the campaign, Swan acceded to Henry’s request for his release and let him go, unconditionally.
Swan’s action drew swift rebuke from club backers who classified Swan as no more than “acting manager” and without the authority needed to release players. That authority was reposed exclusively in Norfolk club president W.A. Graves. The release of pitcher Henry was therefore declared null and void.11 Immediately thereafter, Norfolk fined Henry $50, expelled him from the Eastern League, and placed his name on the blacklist, thereby barring the pitcher from playing for any other professional baseball organization that was party to the National Agreement.12 Henry then sought redress from EL President W.C. Seldon, alleging that his blacklisting “was an afterthought” of Norfolk club overseers taken only after he had already been released and “inspired by a feeling of spite and malice.” The club responded in kind, impugning the conduct of field leader Swan in the process: “[Henry] was playing for his release, threw a game in Washington, and acted in a generally rebellious manner, subversive of discipline, and obtained his release through collusion with Acting Manager Swan who had no power to grant such release.”13
Notwithstanding its accusations against Henry, Norfolk expressed a willingness to take the pitcher back. But Henry, who claimed to have received contract offers from National League and American Association clubs, insisted upon his reinstatement by the league and release from Norfolk. Not wishing to provoke hostilities with the majors, president Seldon sided with Henry (who subsequently joined the AA Baltimore Orioles).14 By this time, Andy Swan was long gone from Norfolk. He had submitted his resignation as manager as soon as the Henry controversy had erupted. Same was immediately accepted, with the Norfolk board of directors informing the press that Swan had “given them entire satisfaction and that he resigned of his own accord.”15 And, club brass announced, Swan would be retained as a Norfolk player.16 But not for long. Days later, left fielder Swan was given his release, having batted an anemic .162 (7-for 44, with six runs scored) in 12 games played.17
On September 10, 1885, Andy Swan returned to Eastern League action, playing left field for an erstwhile Norfolk rival, the Richmond Virginians.18 A 0-for-4 day against Bridgeport lowered Swan’s final season batting average to .145, and brought his time as a professional baseball player to a close.19 Apart from very occasional press mention, he then receded into the anonymity of private life.
To the extent that it can be uncovered, the remainder of Swan’s life appears to have been unremarkable. By 1886, he had taken up residence in Washington, DC, and resumed work as a telegrapher.20 The following year, Andy married Catherine Hogan, a DC resident and the daughter of Irish immigrants.21 By 1890, the couple had relocated to Camden where their son Frank Raymond Swan was born in February.22 Andy, meanwhile, continued work as a telegrapher in across-the-river Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, sharp-eyed baseball fans might have detected the name Andrew J. Swan of Philadelphia listed among the leading contestants scheduled to compete in a national telegraphers’ competition to be staged at Hardman Hall in New York City.23
Over the ensuing decade, Swan’s name occasionally appeared in newsprint. In December 1892, for example, it was reported that Andrew J. Swan had posted $1,000 bail to secure the pretrial release from jail of Thomas J. Hogan (likely a brother-in-law) pending disposition of a Washington, robbery charge.24 By that time or shortly thereafter, Swan, wife Katie, and their infant son had moved to the nation’s capital, where Andy continued working as a telegrapher. In March 1900, Swan filed suit against business partner James Klein. Two months earlier, the two men had become partners in a fledgling brokerage business, Swan’s experience as a telegrapher having purportedly provided him insight into stock trading. The Swan petition for dissolution maintained that Klein had physically ousted him from their business premises. Klein’s answer claimed that Swan had violated their partnership agreement “by drinking liquor during business hours and otherwise conducting himself improperly.”25 The disposition of the lawsuit is unknown (but like almost all civil litigation, it was presumably settled between the parties without trial).26
The last discovered trace of our subject appears in the 1901 Washington, City Directory: Andrew J. Swan, 803 K Street NW, telegrapher. Thereafter, he disappears. But respected baseball historian David Nemec has written that by 1903 “Swan’s wife was listed as a widow and still living in Washington.”27 While far from conclusive, this suggests that Andy Swan died sometime between the compiling of the 1901 city directory in late 1900 and early 1903, probably in Washington, DC.28 Cause of death is unknown, and to date, efforts to discover more about his passing have been to no avail.
This biography was reviewed by Norman Macht and fact-checked by Chris Rainey.
Sources for the biographical information provided above include US and local census data; Swan family posts accessed via Ancestry.com; certain of the newspapers mentioned in the endnotes; and David Nemec, The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball: Biographies of 1,084 Players, Owners, Managers & Umpires (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2012). Unless otherwise noted, stats have been taken from Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet.
1 For more detail on the fatal shooting of Albert D. Swan, see the Boston Journal, August 27, 1885, and Sporting Life, September 9, 1885. As is too-often-the-case, the original source of the confusion of the two Swans is The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, by Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1st ed. 1951), which gave Albert’ Swan’s 1845-1885 life span to Andy Swan. That attribution was jettisoned by subsequent reference works like the Macmillan encyclopedia and Total Baseball, but to this day various baseball websites erroneously list Andy Swan as an 1885 homicide victim.
2 Modern baseball authority like Baseball-Reference and Retrosheet give Andy Swan’s place of birth as Falls, Pennsylvania. This is incorrect. Falls is an unincorporated community lying within the bounds of Falls Township, a sparsely-populated municipality located in Wyoming County about 10 miles northwest of Scranton. There is no evidence that Swan ever set foot in this rural outback. As reflected in 1855-1860 Pennsylvania tax records and the 1860 US Census, the Swan family resided in the much larger and 160-miles distant Falls Township situated in Bucks County at the time that Andy was born.
3 Andy’s older siblings were Mary (born 1849), Margaretta (1851), William (1853), and Francis (1855).
4 As per the 1865 New York State Census.
5 As per the 1870 US Census.
6 Per New Jersey marriage records accessible via Ancestry. Com. We cannot be certain that this Andrew J. Swan is our subject, but Wrightstown is not that far distant from Hopewell and the identification of the groom’s father as Frank Swan makes it seem likely
7 See Sporting Life, August 6, 18883. The game was played at Recreation Park in Manhattan and enjoyed “very good attendance” of around 1,500, with all gate proceeds going into the telegraphers’ strike fund. The final score: New York 23, Philadelphia 6.
8 The Richmond Virginians returned to the minor Eastern League for the 1885 season.
9 Norfolk Virginian, February 17, 1885. The local press would print Andy’s surname as Swann throughout his short stay in Norfolk.
10 As per Peter Stewart, Early Professional Baseball in Hampton Roads: A History, 1884-1928 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Inc., 2009), 14.
11 As per “Norfolk Mention,” Sporting Life, June 6, 1885.
13 “No War: Eastern League Takes Sober Second Thought — Changes in Rules Made,” Sporting Life, June 3, 1885.
14 Henry went 2-7 in limited appearances for the 1885 Orioles, and concluded his three-year stint as a major leaguer with the NL Washington Nationals the following season. Overall, Henry posted a dismal 4-14 log, with a 4.09 career ERA. The Eastern League, meanwhile, promptly abolished the throwing-motion balk rule that had stirred up all the trouble, harmonizing its pitching regulations to those adopted by the National League and American Association.
15 Norfolk Virginian, May 17, 1885. Swan was succeeded by first baseman Jim Powell, whose appointment “seemed to overjoy” some of the Norfolk players.
17 As per Eastern League stats published in Sporting Life, August 19, 1885. Swan had fielded decently, however, making only one error in 21 chances in left field.
18 The Norfolk club had disbanded on August 29.
19 Swan’s combined Norfolk-Richmond final season batting average as published in Sporting Life, November 4, 1885.
20 As per the 1886 and 1887 Washington, DC City Directory.
21 As per Washington, DC marriage records. Whatever became of Swan’s earlier marriage to Annie Serviss is unknown.
22 According to US Census, military, and other government records, Frank Raymond Swan was born on February 28, 1890. The website Find-A-Grave, however, gives his birth year as 1888.
23 See e.g., the Cincinnati Commercial-Tribune and Omaha World-Herald, March 24, 1890, and Knoxville Journal, April 12, 1890.
24 As per the Washington Post, December 7, 1892.
25 As reported in the Washington Post, March 26, 1900. See also, the Washington Evening Star, March 26, 1900.
26 Whatever the case, the accusation that Swan had been drinking or otherwise misbehaving on the job likely went untested in court.
27 Nemec, The Rank and File of 19th Century Major League Baseball, 149. Widow Catherine Swan subsequently remarried. She and her bricklayer/building contractor second husband William Harris lived in Washington, DC, into the 1940s. So did our subject’s son Frank Raymond Swan. He remained resident there until his death on May 17, 1952.
28 Swan is designated the Mystery of the Month in the SABR Biographical Research Committee Report of May/June 2018, which notes that a telegraph operator named Andrew Swan was arrested in Chicago in 1903. But strangely enough, a second telegrapher named Andrew J. Swan, born in New Jersey in 1867, single, and a Washington, DC boarding house resident, is identified in the 1900 US Census. The man arrested in Chicago is likely this younger Swan, not our subject.