This article was written by Mike Lackey
Thousands of players have had short major-league careers. Comparatively few have enjoyed long major-league careers. Vernon Monroe “Monty” Swartz had one of the longest short careers on record.
Swartz made his only major-league appearance on October 3, 1920, pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The game went 12 innings and Swartz went the distance. His modest claim to fame is that among hurlers whose debut was also their swan song, he is the all-time leader in innings pitched.1
Measured in miles, Swartz’s journey to the major leagues wasn’t long. In terms of the structure of professional baseball, it represented a single mighty leap — directly from the small-town rivalries of rural southwest Ohio to Cincinnati’s Redland Field, at the time the home of baseball’s world champions. Swartz was born on January 1, 1897, in Montgomery County, Ohio, where he pitched for Germantown High School and later for the City Hall team in Dayton’s Saturday afternoon amateur league.2 After service in World War I, he began making a name for himself in semipro circles.3 By May 1920, he was the object of a tug-of-war between two small towns, and big-league interest wasn’t far behind.
He started the season with the Piqua town team, but after he ran off a string of victories featuring double-digit strikeouts, his employers at the American Rolling Mill Co. in Middletown, 25 miles northeast of Cincinnati, mounted a campaign to lure him away for their factory team. The newspaper in Piqua reported that when persuasion failed, “pressure was brought upon [Swartz and his catcher] in such a manner that their positions with the Armco company depended upon their [playing] in Middletown.”4
Not long after that August “Garry” Herrmann, president of the Cincinnati Reds, received a letter from Charles L. Applegate, manager of an ambitious semipro team in Newport, Kentucky. Applegate touted Swartz’s “more than average speed and fast-breaking curve,” calling him “the best pitcher I have seen during the past two seasons.”5 Herrmann sent scout and former pitcher Gene McCann to take a look and Swartz was signed on his recommendation.
From there, the normal course would have been to send the 23-year-old right-hander to the minor leagues for some seasoning. Instead the Reds kept Swartz and enrolled him in a tutoring program conducted by manager Pat Moran,6 who had gained a reputation as a pitching coach during his 14 years as a major-league catcher.7 Most of the game experience Swartz got came when the Reds lent him out to local semipro clubs.8 In three months, his sole outing with the big leaguers was an exhibition game in Danville, Illinois, the hometown of Reds pitcher Hod Eller; Swartz pitched five innings, striking out seven, as the Reds stifled the local amateurs, 4-0. A week later, when the Reds’ pitching staff was worn thin, Swartz was considered for a start against Philadelphia,9 but Moran went instead with Buddy Napier. Well into September, Swartz had not so much as warmed up for a National League contest.10
Graduation day from Moran’s finishing school for aspiring pitchers finally came on the final day of the season. One newspaper account specified that it was “a beautiful day”11 but a pall hung over baseball, and especially over Cincinnati. Kings of the baseball world a year earlier, the Reds had battled for the pennant throughout the summer of 1920 and held first place as late as September 8. They had slipped into second the following day and into third a few days later, and that’s where they would finish. Only 2,100 fans showed up for the finale and the Cincinnati Enquirer expressed surprise that there were that many, “with absolutely nothing depending on the result of the game.”12 Worse, after months of dark rumors and rumblings, within the past week eight current or former Chicago White Sox had been indicted on charges of conspiring to throw the 1919 World Series, thus casting a cloud over Cincinnati’s first-ever championship.
Nonetheless, both teams put out their regular lineups. The only unfamiliar figure on the field was the rookie pitcher; after half a season around the ballpark, he showed up in one local paper as “Munroe Schwartz.”13 The Cardinals “played as if the game really meant something in their young lives.”14 The Reds, while backing Swartz with the same lineup that won it all in 1919, took the proceedings a little less seriously. The players repeatedly swapped positions, shortstop Larry Kopf going to second base and then to center field, while second baseman Morrie Rath went to third and third baseman Heinie Groh to short, and center fielder Edd Roush took a turn at second. Somehow, though, they “played errorless ball all the way through and refused to make a farce of the combat.”15
Swartz didn’t dominate the Cardinals, but he mostly limited them to singles and kept their hits scattered. He walked only two. He recorded two strikeouts, both at the expense of National League batting champion Rogers Hornsby. Swartz also rapped two singles off St. Louis starter Lou North. The Cardinals forged an early 2-1 lead but Cincinnati scored twice in the sixth inning to pull ahead 3-2. And that’s how things stood when Swartz took the mound in the top of the ninth, needing three outs to secure the victory.
It wasn’t to be. Pickles Dillhoefer led off with a single. Jack Fournier, batting for North, launched a long, high drive that right fielder Greasy Neale lost in the late-afternoon sun. The ball fell for a double, putting runners at second and third. Heinie Mueller tapped to Swartz, who retired Dillhoefer at the plate while Burt Shotton, running for Fournier, moved to third. Next up was Hal Janvrin, who hit a high chopper back to the mound. In that moment the game, and perhaps Monroe Swartz’s future, hung in the balance.
As he fielded the ball, Swartz glanced toward third base. With Shotton making no move toward home, Swartz turned and lobbed a high, slow throw to first. As soon as the ball left Swartz’s hand, Shotton took off. It took a moment for first baseman Jake Daubert to “get the situation in his grasp.”16 He fired a throw home but Shotton slid safely under the tag and the score was tied, 3-3.
After that, the Reds were “helpless”17 (and hitless) against reliever Bill Sherdel. Swartz gathered his composure and held the Cards for two more innings, but by then he had given up 13 hits. In the 12th inning, Janvrin singled and scored on Milt Stock’s double. Hornsby, hitless in his first five at-bats, singled to plate Stock. Austin McHenry forced Hornsby but after another single by Doc Lavan, McHenry capped the scoring on the front of a double steal.
Despite the loss and 17 hits yielded, Swartz made a favorable impression. Attributing his critical fielding lapse to lack of experience, the local writers insisted he “showed plenty of nerve”18 and “pitched some corking good ball.”19 The Cincinnati Post classed him with three other recently acquired pitchers who “seem capable of helping the Reds regain the National League championship next year.”20
But that, too, was not to be. In Swartz’s case, he was sent to Seattle in the Pacific Coast League in January 1921 as part of a deal in which the Reds received infielder Sammy Bohne in exchange for Morrie Rath. Swartz subsequently wandered the minor leagues for several years. Stops included Calgary in the Western Canada League, Greenville and Macon in the South Atlantic League, and Atlanta in the Southern Association. One of the last reliable sightings places him close to home, with the Springfield (Ohio) Buckeyes in the Central League in 1928.21
The nearest Swartz came to returning to the major leagues was St. Petersburg, Florida, where he went to spring training with the New York Yankees in 1925. He survived the first round of cuts and the New York Times credited him with “some neat and nifty pitching,”24 but he was ultimately unable to crack a pitching staff that was already loaded with Herb Pennock, Waite Hoyt, Bob Shawkey, Urban Shocker, and Sad Sam Jones.
1 Monty Swartz “Bullpen” entry at Baseball-Reference.com, https://www.baseball- reference.com/bullpen/Monty_Swartz
2 Dolores A. Grunwald, “The Town Crier,” Germantown Press, June 5, 1980. See also “Dayton Boy Makes Good on Mound,” Dayton Daily News, September 25, 1921: 44; and George Harr, “Redleg Hurler Succeeds Frost,” Dayton Daily News, June 8, 1944: 10.
3 Baseball-Reference.com shows Swartz pitching one game for San Francisco in the Pacific Coast League in 1919, but a contemporary newspaper account makes it clear that the author of that 10-inning victory over Portland was a West Coast left-hander named George Swartz. See George Bertz, “Portland Breaks Even,” Oregon Daily Journal, October 6, 1919: 10.
4 “Baseball Scores and Piqua Shorts,” Piqua (Ohio) Daily Call, May 27, 1920: 3.
5 Charles L. Applegate to August Herrmann, June 1, 1920, letter on file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library. Applegate’s letterhead advertised “The Famous Wiedemann Base Ball Club, the Recognized Leaders in Semi-Professional Base Ball, Playing Only the Strongest Independent and League Clubs.”
6 “Pat’s School Still On,” Cincinnati Post, August 3, 1920: 13.
8 See, for example “Brewers Beat Norwood,” Cincinnati Post, July 12, 1920: 8; and “North Bend in Title Series,” Cincinnati Post, September 27, 1920: 8.
9 “Moran Hard Pressed to Find Starter for Second Phillie Game,” Richmond Indiana Palladium-Item, August 24, 1920: 9.
10 “Swartz Has Not Even Seen Bull Pen,” Cincinnati Post, September 11, 1920: 6.
11 Bob Newhall, “Reds Defeated in Final Game by St. Louis, 6-3,” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, October 4, 1920: 6.
12 “Notes of the Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1920: 8.
14 Jack Ryder, “Redlegs Drop Final Game,” Cincinnati Enquirer, October 4, 1920: 8.
19 “New Hurlers Will Aid Reds,” Cincinnati Post, October 4, 1920: 14.
20 “New Hurlers.”
21 As of November 4, 2019, Baseball-Reference.com maintained 12 pages for players named Swartz in Organized Baseball in the 1920s, six with no first names. Contemporary sources make it clear that some of these pages refer to the Swartz who pitched for Cincinnati in 1920.
22 The Reds’ October 3, 1920, starter is identified by both Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org as Monty Swartz, but that name didn’t crop up during his Cincinnati sojourn. When he pitched for Macon in 1923 it was reported — apparently as a new development — that fans there called him “Monty.” See “Beckmen Win First Game 6-4 and Lose Second 21-0,” Greenville (South Carolina) News, July 22, 1923: 13.
23 This nickname is listed by Baseball-Reference.com. In research for this article, the only “Dazzy” references were found in funeral notices. See “Deaths, Funerals,” Dayton Daily News, January 14, 1980: 21; and “Valley Deaths,” Dayton Journal Herald, January 14, 1980: 22.
24 “Ruth Again Hitting Ball Hard in Camp,” New York Times, March 15, 1925: 115.