This article was written by Bill Nowlin
The sort of biographical information which would help us better document the lives of former ballplayers is subject to the same vagaries that affect us at times in our lives. In 1974, two of SABR’s founding members were in contact with Bill Swanson’s daughter Doris Montalto of Jamaica, New York. Joe Simenic of the Cleveland Plain Dealer had received a questionnaire about Swanson back from Ms. Montalto. He forwarded it on to Cliff Kachline, serving as Historian at the National Baseball Library in Cooperstown, who wrote Montalto asking a couple of questions about it. She thought Swanson’s middle name has been Albert, but was uncertain about that. She wrote back, “I am very uncertain. If the baseball records have it as ‘Andrew’, use it. Many years ago, when we moved, the moving company lost several large boxes of family pictures and memorabilia.” 1
William A. Swanson was born in New York City on October 12, 1888 to David Swanson and Katherine Bruce Swanson. His ancestry was Scottish American, Doris said, adding that he had attended elementary school and four years of high school but that she did not know the names of the schools in question. He married Anne Barrett, Doris’s mother, on October 14, 1908.2
Bill Swanson was a switch hitter who threw right-handed and in the course of 11 games with the 1914 Boston Red Sox played second base, third base, and shortstop. He stood 5-foot-6 or 5-7 and weighed 140-156 pounds. He had green eyes and brown hair.
Bill Swanson came from New York City semipro baseball, and was “said to be one of the best independent players in Greater New York.”3 Red Sox scout (and former manager) Patsy Donovan had recommended the Red Sox sign him, and it was Vice President John I. Taylor who did the honors.
Swanson had been optioned to the Utica ballclub, the Utes, of the New York State League, but the Boston Globe reported that “Swanson refused to play with Utica, as he did not care to give up a New York position for a minor league berth.”4 The new prospect arrived at Hot Springs, Arkansas, on March 24 and reported to manager Bill Carrigan. Veteran Boston scribe Tim Murnane’s report from the very next day attracted a subhead “Swanson, New Sox Infielder, Makes Fine Impression.” Murnane wrote, “He is rather a stockily built fellow, who handles himself gracefully and stands up at the plate like a real hitter. Both Manager Carrigan and Pres Lannin was delighted with the showing made by Swanson, who looks like a real find.”5
Swanson was first assigned to the Lewiston, Maine team in the New England League, but “didn’t like it, so went back to Utica, his old club.”6 Apparently, he was now prepared to accept the assignment to Utica.
Whether it was the promise of a September callup, the salary he attracted, or for other reasons, the infielder was somehow convinced to report to Utica and played for the Mike O’Neill’s Utes during the 1914 season. He’s listed as W. A. Swanson, but it was clearly our man who appeared in 87 games, batting .255. As late as mid-July, he’d been leading the Utica team in batting.7
On August 30, “infielder Billy Swanson started for Boston to rejoin the Red Sox.”8 He arrived on September 2, which the BostonGlobe noteded: “Young Swanson, back from Utica, was in uniform yesterday. He will remain with the team and will come in handy in case of an accident, as he has been playing fine ball this year.”9 Manager Carrigan got Swanson in a game the next day at Fenway Park, playing third base and giving Larry Gardner a bit of a break at the end of the first of the day’s two games against the visiting St. Louis Browns. Swanson did not have an at-bat, but he allowed Gardner to get a bit more rest before playing out the full second game.
Though there was another doubleheader the next day, Swanson’s second appearance had to wait until September 14. The Red Sox were in second place at the time Swanson joined them, but were 12 ½ games behind the league-leading Athletics. They were eight games ahead of the third-place Washington Senators, so it’s not that the team was in a pitched battle for final position in American League standings. Starting with the second game on September 2, the Sox launched a six-game winning streak and Carrigan didn’t juggle lineups.
On the 14th in Philadelphia, Swanson came in later in the day’s first game, spelling Janvrin at second base. He had his first at-bat, but had to wait for his first base hit. He added another at-bat on the 25th and he pinch-hit for Gardner on the 27th. By this time, the standings were all but resolved, and there was more room to give the September acquisitions more of a chance to play.
He finally collected that first hit in Chicago on September 28, getting his first start as well, playing second base and reaching base three times in four plate appearances, with a walk, a single, and a double. By the time the Red Sox season was over, Swanson had appeared in 11 games, including the year’s last game on October 7, and collected four hits (two singles and two doubles) in 20 at-bats, for a .200 average. He also drew three bases on balls. He was thrown out the only time he attempted to steal a base. He was deficient in the field, committing three errors (all while playing second base) in 25 chances.
Swanson’s record in baseball ended at that point. Whether he was invited back in the spring of 1915, we do not know. In fact, what he did from 1915 to 1930, we do not know – other than his daughter informing us that he had never served in the armed forces. That year he began work in civil service for New York State and worked for 25 years until his death.
A resident of Queens at the time, Bill Swanson suffered a heart attack in early October 1954 and died 12 days later in New York City of a heart attack on the 46th anniversary of his marriage: October 14. He was survived by his wife and daughter, and was buried in Calvary Cemetery, Queens County, New York.
In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Swanson’s slim player file from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Letter from Doris Montalto to Cliff Kachline, December 5, 1964.
2 A search of United States census records turns up a David and Catherine Swanson in 1900, David a stone setter. Both David and Catherine were born in Scotland and had come to the United States in 1887. They had three sons born in Scotland, their first child being William, born in New York (but listed as born in May – not October – 1888, and therefore perhaps not the correct Swansons), and two daughters and a son who followed.
3 Boston Globe, March 15, 1914. A first glance at existing records indicates that he never played a game in the minor leagues. From 1912 through 1914 there was an outfielder named William Swanson who played all three seasons for the Dubuque Dubs in the Class B Three-I League (Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League), but this was another man.
4 Ibid. The nature of the agreement – playing on option – is mentioned in the September 2, 1914 Christian Science Monitor.
5 Boston Globe, March 26, 1914.
6 Sporting Life, September 5, 1914. His assignment to Utica was reported in the June 13 issue.
7 Sporting Life, July 25, 1914.
8 Sporting Life, September 12, 1914.
9 Boston Globe, September 3, 1914.