Craig Swan (TRADING CARD DB)

Craig Swan

This article was written by Thomas J. Brown Jr.

Craig Swan (TRADING CARD DB)Craig Swan pitched in 12 seasons for the New York Mets, starting with their pennant-winning 1973 club and ending in May 1984. He got little offensive support while playing on some of the worst teams in Mets history. Nonetheless, he managed some strong performances during that time – most notably in 1978, when he won the National League ERA title.

Swan suffered a number of injuries as a big-leaguer. He bounced back from many of them, including becoming the first player to come back successfully from a torn rotator cuff, an injury that had until then typically ended a pitcher’s career. Injuries eventually cut short his playing days, but they also led him to a new profession as a physical therapist after he retired from pitching.

Craig Swan was born on November 30, 1950, in Van Nuys, California, to Jack and Jackie Swan.1 His father was a draftsman for an aviation company. Swan had one sibling, a sister named Dana.

Swan’s father originally wanted him to “be the quarterback that he never was, so we threw a football from the time I was two until I was eleven. It got my arm to where I could throw a baseball, because if you can make a football spiral, your timing on your body mechanics is pretty good for a pitch.” Swan says that after he was roughed up playing football in his early teens, he told his father, “Dad, I really don’t want to play that, and I was doing pretty good in baseball, so I don’t think he minded.”2

When Craig was 14 years old, he pitched a no-hitter for his PONY League team in Long Beach, California. His team won the 1965 PONY League championship behind Swan’s pitching. He threw a one-hitter and struck out 15 to lead his team past Joliet.3 The team was rewarded with an invitation to attend the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Minnesota Twins.

“The Dodgers called my parents and asked if I would like to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of Game Five. Of course, we said yes. I was just 14, and shaking in my boots out there. I had never seen that many people before,” he recalled.4 The nervous youngster walked to the mound in front of a packed Dodger Stadium. He took his windup and threw. The ball almost sailed over the catcher’s head.

“After I threw the pitch, [the Dodgers] took me into the dugout,” he remembered. “I met Sandy] Koufax and Don Drysdale. I think Drysdale was a little upset in the moment. He was smoking a cigarette, and the Dodgers’ PR guy called him over, to take a picture with ‘the kid.’”5

Swan attended Millikan High School in Long Beach. He had a 20-4 record during his junior year to help the team win the California Interscholastic Federation title in 1967. After his senior year, Swan was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 23rd round of the amateur draft of 1968. He decided to attend college rather than sign with the Cardinals.

Swan enrolled at Arizona State on a baseball scholarship and in four years won 47 games, tying him with Kendall Carter for the most in the program’s history. Arizona State went to the College World Series (CWS) in his senior year, 1972. Swan allowed just one run in 18 innings in the CWS to finish with a 0.50 ERA. That tied him with Jerry Thomas of Minnesota and ASU teammate Jim Crawford for the CWS record. Swan also won a place on the all-tournament team even though the Sun Devils lost in the title game to USC.

Swan married Sandra Kaye Griffitts on January 8, 1971.6 They met at Arizona State and had a daughter, Jamie, and a son, Mark, who played baseball at Dartmouth College. Swan and his wife divorced in 1989.

The Mets chose Swan in the third round of the June 1972 amateur draft. The club sent Swan to the Memphis Blues, their Class AA team in the Texas League. Swan started 14 games for the Blues and posted a 2.25 ERA along with 81 strikeouts in 108 innings.

Swan worked with Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman at the 1973 spring training camp. “Those guys could throw! Koozie gave me more mechanical tips than anything. Seaver gave me more of pitch selection to certain hitters,” Swan said. “I was in awe of Seaver for a while. He was six years older, and I was a right-handed pitcher like he was, and he was just teaching me.”7

The Mets were impressed enough to promote the 22-year-old Swan to their Class AAA club, the Tidewater Tides (International League) in 1973. He had another successful year despite missing 10 weeks after an appendectomy. 8 He started 14 games and finished with a 7-5 record that included eight complete games. His 2.34 ERA was second to Bob Apodaca’s 1.80.

Swan’s efforts led to a brief call-up in September as the Mets climbed back into a five-way battle for the NL East division title. He remembered arriving in New York and finding his locker next to Willie Mays. “When I got there, I couldn’t believe how nice [Mays] was to me,” Swan said. I didn’t have much equipment; one pair of cleats, a pair of tennis sneakers. I had this big locker that I hardly used, and it had in it four or five boxes of fan mail – all for Willie.”9

Swan made his major league debut on September 3 against the Phillies. The 6-foot-3 right-hander lasted just 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs and striking out just two batters. Swan struggled in three appearances that month, giving up 16 hits in just 8 1/3 innings pitched.

Swan later recalled his nervousness. “I was pretty scared of New York and had never been to New York,” he said. “I remember my knees shaking quite a bit before my first pitch.” That anxiety led him to have stomach issues. Swan said that he had to go to the hospital “for a week here or there so they could do some things to get me back on the field.”10

Swan weighed as much as 246 pounds in the fall of 1973 but dropped his weight down to 225 in spring training the following year. His size, resulting from weight gained when he was sidelined after the appendectomy, led Swan to earn the nickname “Baby Huey.”11 He remembers M. Donald Grant, the Mets chairman, saying “Send the fat kid back down to Tidewater.”12

Swan started the 1974 season with the Mets, who expressed a lot of confidence in him when the season began. “He’s got more stuff than half the guys pitching in the majors right now,” said Mets player personnel director Nelson Burbrink.13

Swan complained about a sore right elbow in May. The team eventually placed him on the disabled list in early June and after six weeks there, he was sent back to Tidewater to work his way back. At the time, he had a 1-3 record with a 4.45 ERA. The soreness in his right elbow forced him to miss most of the rest of the season. Swan posted a 2-3 record for the Tides in just nine starts.

Swan said that he thought the broken arm might be “the end of my career” He said that he broke his pitching elbow and “I was in pretty severe pain, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong. X-rays didn’t reveal anything because it was too small of a break.” Swan tried to pitch through the pain, but it was difficult. He said that at the end of the season “the Mets called me back up to check my arm again and this time they X-rayed it again and this time they found the break. It had been broken the whole time.”14

Swan returned to Tidewater in 1975 and remained there through mid-August. He helped propel the team to the International League championship with his 13-7 record, 111 strikeouts, and 2.24 ERA in 177 innings. Swan was eventually awarded the International League MVP Pitcher award.

After the Mets recalled Swan, he made six starts and finished with a 1-3 record on a Mets team that finished third in the National League East. His best outing came in his first start as he went 8 1/3 innings to earn the win in a 4-2 victory over the San Francisco Giants on August 16.

Swan became the fifth starter in the Mets’ starting rotation out of spring training in 1976. He joined Seaver, Koosman, Jon Matlack, and Mickey Lolich, who had arrived in New York in a trade for Rusty Staub. More often than not, the club’s strong pitching managed to overcome the Mets’ anemic offense.

Swan’s inconsistency was his biggest problem in 1976. He didn’t earn a win until his third start, when he pitched a complete-game shutout against Atlanta. After another win on May 6, Swan lost five straight games in May and early June. During that stretch, he managed to strike out just 20 batters and his ERA was 6.33. Then over his next six starts he struck out 36 and had a 1.84 ERA. In total, Swan started 22 games and finished with a 6-9 record and 3.54 ERA. Those numbers were slightly below the league average.

Swan developed a new fitness regimen prior to the start of the season. He lost weight, showing up to spring training at just 206 pounds, and worked out with the trainer at Arizona State on a program of diet, nutrition, muscle development and stretching. “I said to myself, ‘You’re 25 and you’d better start making something of your career,” Swan said. “So I dedicated myself to losing weight, getting in shape, and staying in shape.”15

Swan became more important to the Mets in 1977 after Grant, the Mets chairman, traded away Seaver in mid-season. His record improved to 9-10, although his ERA increased to 4.23 as the Mets dropped to last place.

Although the Mets remained in the NL East cellar in 1978, Swan improved over his previous two seasons. He struck out 13 batters, a career high, in a complete-game effort on July 4 but lost the game when José Cardenal hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the ninth. Despite that loss, Swan had a 2.66 ERA. Swan made 14 more appearances that season and posted an 8-1 record despite the weak Mets lineup, posting a 2.20 ERA during that time.

Swan entered baseball history on July 26 when Pete Rose singled off him to set the National League record by hitting in 38 consecutive games, tying Tommy Holmes who had achieved that feat with the Boston Braves in 1945. Rose complimented Swan afterwards, saying, “[He] comes right at you with the fastball. You’ve got to have the trigger set. He’s strong, on some nights he’s as fast as anybody in the league.”16

Swan finished the season with a 9-6 record. His 2.43 ERA was the best in the National League and his WHIP ranked second in the league. Overall, he cut down his number of walks per nine innings from 3.4 in 1977 to 2.5 in 1978. He had 13 no-decisions in 28 starts. A fine example of his season was the game of September 16 at Philadelphia. He gave up just three hits and one run (a second-inning homer by Greg Luzinski) in nine innings, but the Mets could score only one themselves off Steve Carlton. The Phillies won it when Mike Schmidt homered in the bottom of the 10th off reliever Dwight Bernard.

Koosman was traded after the ’78 season, which left Swan as the top Mets starter on the 1979 Mets. Although his ERA rose to 3.29, that was still better than the league average. He set personal records for innings pitched (251 1/3), wins (14) and strikeouts (145), which were the best on a Mets team that went 63-99.

Early in the season, Swan was said that he wanted to stay in New York but was not willing to accept an offer from the Mets that did not reward him financially. “They want me to sign a three-year contract and I won’t,” he said. “That would make me wait an extra year before I could become a free agent. And the money they are offering is not the kind free agents are being paid.”17

Swan said it was difficult pitching for the Mets when they had no offense to support his efforts. “I won 14 games in 1979,” he said. “No one else won more than six. They couldn’t with that team. I had actually pitched better in ’78 when I won only nine. For some reason ’79 was a payback year from the year before. I just got a few more runs when I pitched that year. I just got lucky with the 14, at least compared to the year before, when I got no runs. But we didn’t win because we didn’t score.” 18

Swan began using the “old Don LarsenBob Turley no-windup delivery” when Mets pitching coach Rube Walker thought he was tipping his pitches. “They said I was bringing the ball up in front of my face when I threw a fast ball and behind my head when I threw a curve,” Swan said.19 When the new delivery worked, he stayed with it.

When asked about pitching for the Mets in those years, Swan said, “The team really hit the skids there in the late 1970s and it took a long time to recover. It really affected my morale. Absolutely. I didn’t feel that the team was going to be a winning team, so it kind of turned me in on myself. For a couple of years, I really lost that team concept that I so enjoyed about baseball.”20 Swan may not have just been “lucky.” He received more support – 33 more runs – in 1979 than in 1978 and that may have helped him win more games.

The Mets came close to trading Swan to the Angels in December 1979. General manager Joe McDonald had completed the deal, but manager Joe Torre convinced the owner, Lorinda de Roulet, that the team would do better if they waited until February to consider trading Swan.21 In the end, Swan stayed with the Mets and was eventually rewarded with a new $3.125 million, five-year contract at the end of the season. At the time it was the richest pact the Mets had ever given one of their pitchers.

Swan pitched well early in the 1980 season. At the end of June, his record was 5-5 with a 2.60 ERA. But he missed most of the second half of the season after tearing his rotator cuff. Swan tried to pitch through the injury but that only made it worse. “This was the first time I ever made really big money,” he said. “I had waited five years for Seaver and Koosman to leave and make room for me. So now I didn’t want the Mets to think, we’re paying this guy and he’s throwing 80 percent. That was my big mistake.”22 He finished the season with a 5-9 record and 3.58 ERA.

Swan appeared only five times in the strike-disrupted 1981 season, his five appearances scattered across April, June, and October. He continued to struggle with several injuries besides the rotator cuff problem that hadn’t fully healed. In late April, Swan suffered a broken rib after being hit with the ball when his catcher Ron Hodges tried to get a Tim Raines, who led off with a single, out at second.

Swan went on the disabled list in August after four “unimpressive innings” where he faced 13 batters and gave up nine hits. His wife said he was “very discouraged.” Joe Torre expressed concern that Swan might not pitch again, saying, “When he tried to put something on the ball, it was straight down the middle.”23

After one and a half frustrating seasons primarily on the sidelines, Swan bounced back in 1982. Mets manager George Bamberger wanted to use a four-man rotation and decided that Swan fit better in the bullpen early in the 1982 season. Swan accepted his new role but felt like he could eventually earn his way back into the starting rotation.

“I’ll be needing more time to get my velocity back to close to what it was. There hasn’t been all that much of an adjustment for me [coming out of the bullpen] since I’ve been throwing no more than 70-80 pitches, which was the cutoff point in spring training when I was trying to test my arm without reinjuring it. Still, I’m confident I can come all the way back and I’d like to think I could be one of those four starters,” he said in May.24

Swan eventually returned to the starting rotation and led all Mets starters in wins (11) and ERA (3.35). He finished the season with a complete game win against the Phillies. “It was one of the easiest games I’ve ever caught,” said his catcher, Bruce Bochy. “Wherever I was sitting was where he put the ball.”25

Another high point in the season for Swan came on August 4 when he hit the only home run of his major league career, a two-run blast against future Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins. “I’ve got to work on my home run trot,” he said afterwards. “I was wobbling too much.”26

Swan said of this season, “In ’82 I had a very good year. I picked up one or two wins in long relief, and about a third of the way through I started. I was happy with that year. I was pitching, and my arm wasn’t hurting that bad. I had lost a little, but I was still able to get up to 91 or 92 and spot it. That was how I survived.”27

Swan’s performance that year earned him 11 of 51 votes in the Comeback Player of the Year balloting. He finished second to Joe Morgan, who received 14 votes.

Swan was hurt again during spring training in 1983, which hampered him when the season started. “I’m actually throwing harder but the ball isn’t going that hard,” he said. “I had a slight injury in spring training – a cartilage pull in the right rib side – that seems to be working itself out now.”28

Swan suffered a triceps injury in August but remained in the Mets rotation. By mid-August his struggles on the mound and ongoing failure to recover from the injury led Swan to say that the season was “the most frustrating year of my life. I mean including my years in the minors. Even when I had my injuries it wasn’t as frustrating as this. My ERA, my lack of control, all the walks. It’s horrendous. I’ve never been this wild in my life.”29

Swan’s ERA rose to 5.51 and his record dropped to 2-8. At the end of August, the Mets sent him to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. Swan took the change in stride, saying, “I’m going to go back to the pen and try to figure things out again. [And] this winter I’m going to go back to the program I had in 1977 and 1978 to strengthen the triceps muscle with free weights. I’ve concentrated on the rotator cuff the last two or three years and maybe I didn’t concentrate enough on the other muscle groups.”30 After moving to the bullpen, he didn’t make any more appearances that season.

Jack Lang, writing in The Sporting News, wondered if Swan’s days with the Mets were numbered. “They cannot go on paying Swan the $600,000 a year his contract calls for and have him taking a spot on the roster while eager kids are waiting their turn.”31

His struggles continued in 1984 while remaining in the bullpen. After 10 appearances with an ERA of 8.20, the Mets released him on May 9. The team had begun to part with its aging players and Swan was one of the first victims. “It was a tough to have to tell him. I know he meant a lot to this club. It’s the only team that he’s ever pitched for. I made it short and sweet. There is not much you can say to a man at a time like this,” said Mets manager Davey Johnson.32

Swan said that it was difficult to leave the Mets. “I started the ’84 season in the bullpen, but it wasn’t long before Davey got rid of me, Mike Torrez and Dick Tidrow. It was ‘All three of you old guys, get out.’ Yeah, he was cleaning house. It was hard for me because the Mets were the only team I’d been with. But I knew it was coming.”33

Swan said that he’d learned to throw a spitball in the offseason. He said, “it is the kind of pitch that is not as effective in cold weather as it is in warm weather.”34 Swan felt that if he could have remained with the team a little longer, the new pitch – which was illegal – might have worked to keep him on the team.35

Swan signed with the California Angels two weeks later. He fared no better and was injured again in early June, two weeks after he’d joined the team. Swan had surgery to repair a problem in his right arm where a muscle was restricting an artery. He was expected to be out only a few weeks but never returned. The Angels officially released him in November.

Swan tried to make one more comeback in 1985. He made several appearances with the Angels in spring training, but the team decided to not give him a contract when the season started.

When he got the news, Swan said that he called the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado, from the airport before his flight home. He had decided that he wanted to learn the therapy that had helped him return from his rotator cuff surgery. Rolfing is a method of manipulating the muscles and fascia throughout the body to return to structural balance and help an individual move without pain. It is designed to help the entire body maintain health and not just relieve pain in certain areas, which is done with massage.

“After playing sports for most of my life and practicing Rolfing for the past 20, I have an understanding of how the human structure works…from the toes to the muscles in our jaw, I know what muscles are to be used and more importantly when to use them to enhance the basic mechanics of the human structure,” said Swan.36

After completing his training, Swan returned to Greenwich, Connecticut, where he had resided since joining the Mets. Seaver had encouraged Swan to move there when they played together, telling him, “If you move up to Connecticut you save some money in taxes.” Swan was an avid racquetball player but after moving to Greenwich, Seaver introduced him to squash, “which I really enjoyed. We had a great time playing squash together for years.”37

He started Greenwich Rolfing and practiced there until 1999. Swan retired to Fort Myers, Florida, where he lives with his second wife, Kelly McCoy, whom he met in 1993. He still owns the business, but his son Mark, who is also a professional Rolfer, was running it.

Swan expressed his love for his second career, saying in 2009, “I look forward to work every day,” he said. “When I found Rolfing, it was kind of a combination of the mechanics I had worked so hard on in pitching, with geometry. I just love it.”38

Last revised: December 2, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Rory Costello and David Bilmes and fact-checked y Paul Proia.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, I used the Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org websites for box score, player, team, and season pages, pitching and batting logs, and other pertinent material.

 

Notes

1 His mother’s maiden name was Jocelyn Hyde.

2 Golenbock, Peter. Amazin’: The Miraculous History of New York’s Most Beloved Baseball Team. New York: St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2016, 349.

3 “National Junior Title to Long Beach Team,” Long Beach Press Telegram, August 30, 1965: C1.

4 Don Laible, “Swan’s Happy Days: 1965 World Series, Tom Seaver, and RC Aircraft,” Utica (New York) Observer Dispatch, September 7, 2020. https://www.uticaod.com/ZZ/blogs/20200907/swans-happy-days–1965-world-seriestom-seaver-and-rc-aircraft

5 Laible.

6 “Wedding vows read,” Arizona Republic, January 10, 1971.

7 Golenbock, 351.

8 Augie Borgi, “Swan Glides Nicely Using Curves,” New York Daily News, April 1, 1974: C26.

9 Laible.

10 Jimmy Scott, “New York Stress: The Downfall of Former Mets Manager Joe Frazier?,” NYSporstday.com, March 17, 2009. https://www.nysportsday.com/2009/03/17/new-york-stress-the-downfall-of-former-mets-manager-joe-frazier/

11 Augie Borgi, “Yogi Asks – Will Diet Kill Fatted Swan,” New York Daily News, March 12, 1974: C23.

12 Pack Bringley, “Top 50 Mets of All Time: #32 Craig Swan,” Amazin’ Avenue.com, August 19, 2013. https://www.amazinavenue.com/2013/8/19/4584104/top-50-new-york-mets-of-all-time-32-craig-swan-swannie

13 Jack Lang, “Mets Expecting Big Rookie Splash From Swan,” The Sporting News, April 6, 1974: 35.

14 Golenbock, 352.

15 Marty Noble, “Diet puts Swan in great shape,” Bergen Record, March 15, 1977: B-5.

16 Joseph Durso, “Gets 3 Blows As Reds Lose To Mets, 9‐2,” New York Times, July 26, 1978: B5.

17 Jack Lang, “Met Moundsmen Are Trying Torre’s Patience,” The Sporting News, May 12, 1979: 6.

18 Golenbock, 357.

19 Jack Lang, “Mets’ Miserable Hitting Masks Sharp Hill Jobs,” The Sporting News, June 2, 1979: 12.

20 Golenbock, 355.

21 Dick Young, “Lady’s prerogative in baseball, also?.” Binghamton Press, December 8, 1979: C1.

22 Joseph Durso, “Swan Calls Himself Lucky, Even With a Sore Pitching Shoulder,” New York Times, February 23, 1981: C6.

23 Jack Lang, “Mets Swan Song,” The Sporting News, August 29, 1981: 22.

24 Bill Madden, “Swan Enjoys Relief But Misses Old Job,” New York Daily News, May 11, 1982: 94.

25 Marty Noble, “Mets Old Hand Proves His Arm Is Sound,” New York Newsday, September 26, 1982: 259.

26 Phil Pepe, “Steinbrenner About to Bite Bullet on Oldies,” New York Daily News, August 8, 1982: 67.

27 Golenbock, 373.

28 Joe O’Day, “Swan-Arm Injuries, Control Problems, Accompany Rainouts,” New York Daily News, April, 20, 1983: 57.

29 Jack Lang, “Pirates Nip Mets, 3-1, As Swan Falters Again,” New York Daily News, August 17, 1983: 52.

30 Frank Brown, “Swan Moved to Bullpen After Rout,” New York Daily News, August 30, 1983: C27.

31 Jack Lang, “’83 May Be Craig’s Met Swan Song,” The Sporting News, September 12, 1983: 22.

32 Jack Lang, “More Mets Mound Moves – Ditch Swan, Recall Gorman,” New York Daily News, May 10, 1984: C26.

33 Golenbock, 405.

34 Lang, “Mets Make Mound Moves.”

35 The spitball had been illegal in baseball since 1920 when baseball forbade the use of foreign substances on baseballs. The spitball is associated with the “deadball era” from 1900 to 1920, a time of low scoring with the emphasis being on pitching and defense.

36 Craig Swan, “Greenwich Rolfing,” Accessed August 16, 2021. http://greenwichrolfing.com/craigswanrolfer.html

37 Ken Borsuk and David Fiero, “Like a Real Townie: Greenwich Remembers Tom Seaver,” Greenwich Time.com, September 3, 2020. https://www.greenwichtime.com/local/article/Like-a-real-townie-Greenwich-remembers-Tom-15540700.php

38 Anthony McCarron, “Where are they now? Former Met pitcher Craig Swan,” New York Daily News, April 4, 2009. https://www.nydailynews.com/sports/baseball/mets/met-craig-swan-article-1.359365

Full Name

Craig Steven Swan

Born

November 30, 1950 at Van Nuys, CA (USA)

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