Swisher Fits Perfectly in Cleveland
By Mike Brandyberry
Since Nick Swisher agreed to his four-year, $56 million contract on Sunday, baseball analysts and fans have wondered, “Why would he want to go to Cleveland?”
Swisher seems like the perfect fit for Cleveland. He’s hit more than 20 home runs in eight consecutive seasons and becomes the replacement to Shin-Soo Choo in right field for the next four seasons. Swisher just turned 32 years old a month ago and will be only 35 when his contract with the Tribe expires, 36 if the fifth-year option vests.
But why would the trendy, husband of an actress, glamour boy who has been a part of the New York scene for the last four years want to come to Cleveland? New York stars don’t leave the Yankees for the Indians for more money very often, like ever. In any regard, it is bizarre at least.
Maybe Cleveland fits Swisher perfectly.
The switch-hitting slugger heads to Cleveland as one of the biggest free agents to ever sign in any sport in this town. And while Kerry Wood (2009) and Larry Hughes (2009) each came to the Lakefront for supporting roles, not since Jamal Lewis (2007) or Jeff Garcia (2004) has a player come to town and been expected to be a leader of any team and greatly impact their record.
It’s almost certainly the biggest free agent signing for the Tribe since they inked Roberto Alomar in 1999. To be fair, while Alomar was a star, he joined a team full of stars and leaders—including his brother Sandy—and did not have the pressure to be the team leader, just a run producer on an already high-powered offense.
Swisher joins a team of young players with very little postseason experience and only Asdrubal Cabrera having played in a playoff game in Cleveland. No longer is he one part of the high-powered Yankee offense destined for the playoffs. He, along with Manager Terry Francona, become the face of the franchise before ever taking the field.
And while his New York swagger will be needed to instill confidence inside the Indians’ locker room, he has a whole lot more Cleveland attitude than we realize.
Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics drafted Swisher in 2002, the first piece of the infamous Moneyball draft. Beane wanted only experienced, college players with good statistics. He wasn’t concerned about physical tools or attitude—some of the things scouts normally overvalue. Swisher was a position player from the North, raised in West Virginia and playing at Ohio State. It was ill-advised to draft position players from the North, considering the difference in amateur competition versus what could be found in the South.
In that draft, Swisher was Beane’s top choice of any player in the draft. The Athletics drafted Swisher with the 16th overall pick, but would have taken him first if they had the top pick. The New York Mets passed on Swisher with the 15th pick, electing to go with Scott Kazmir—their sixth favorite selection in the draft. Swisher headed to Oakland with the confidence of a first round pick, yet the chip on his shoulder of knowing he was passed over and doubted by many. You don’t have to look far for that combination in Clevelanders.
In 2005, when Swisher’s grandmother Betty died after a battle with cancer, he had her initials tattooed over his heart and grew his hair out for more than a year. In May 2007, he flew his father across the country to make the emotional haircut on the field in Oakland before donating his locks to make wigs for women who were battling cancer and going through chemotherapy.
He once dyed his goatee pink in Oakland on Mother’s Day to bring awareness to breast cancer and blue on Father’s Day for prostate cancer awareness.
“I lost my grandmother in 2005 and my mom is currently going through leukemia,” Swisher told ESPN in 2007. “So when someone says cancer, I come running. Everyone knows someone — a friend, relative, co-worker — who’s dealt with cancer.”
Loves his family and supports a cause with passion. Sounds like Cleveland.
Swisher also never forgot where he came from. He donated $500,000 to Ohio State to help renovate its baseball stadium and install new field turf. His donation was honored when the field was dedicated on Nov. 3, 2011, as Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium. “Never forget where you came from,” could be the Cleveland motto.
However, what might be most Cleveland-like of Swisher was his choice to sign a five-year, $26.75 million contract with Oakland in May 2007. He was content to stay in Oakland and compete, despite a small team payroll and even smaller attendance and fan support. Cleveland is much like Oakland; fans support their baseball team when it wins—not so much when its doesn’t. Times are tough, good jobs aren’t easy to find.
Swisher didn’t choose to go to Oakland when he was drafted in 2002, but he did commit to them long term. He didn’t choose to be traded to the Chicago White Sox just seven months after signing his long-term contract, nor did he choose to be traded to the New York Yankees in November 2008.
“He was great for us. We’ll miss him, but I’m happy for him. I think Cleveland got a bargain,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said this week to the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand.
Cashman most likely knows something about Swisher that Clevelanders don’t. Cashman must know Swisher has the willingness to lead, along with the chip-on-your-shoulder attitude, long-term dedication and love for family that most Clevelanders have. However, as much as Swisher might fit in Cleveland, he also has a trait most Clevelanders do not that might make him even more endearing.
He chose to come to Cleveland.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images