Catching Up With Greg Swindell
Steve Eby | On 25, Jun 2014
When it comes to baseball prospects, there are some players who get on the fast track to the Majors—and then there’s the fast track that former Indians starting pitcher Greg Swindell got on.
“I loved the fast track,” Swindell said. “It was all a blur.”
Swindell, after an outstanding collegiate career out of the University of Texas, was drafted second overall by the Indians in the 1986 Draft. By August of that summer, Swindell was toeing the rubber at Cleveland Stadium against the Boston Red Sox.
“I was very surprised at being picked number two after having never being drafted before,” Swindell remembers. “Then, after a few starts I got my first win and I felt like I belonged in Cleveland.”
Swindell may have been the only person on the planet who was surprised that he went so early. While a member of the Longhorns baseball program, Swindell put together one of the finest pitching careers in the history of college baseball. After being named Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year in 1984, Swindell put together a sophomore campaign where he posted a 19-2 record with a 1.67 ERA and 204 strikeouts over 172 innings. In addition, he compiled 15 complete games and six shutouts. Over his Texas career, Swindell went 43-8 with a 1.92 ERA in 77 games.
After getting drafted, Swindell pitched in only three minor league contests before getting called up to the Tribe. He finished the ’86 season in the Indians’ rotation, winning five out of his nine starts for Cleveland’s improving team.
Swindell did come down to earth somewhat the following season, as did the Indians. He missed some time with an injury, but the season was not lost by any stretch of the imagination.
“I remember sitting in bullpen and watching Steve Carlton throw a session in between starts,” Swindell recalled. “I just listened to his knowledge. My teammates were always special…Bud Black and Tom Candiotti were my mentors.”
As Swindell listened to and learned from his veteran teammates, the young lefty continued to grow as a pitcher. During April and May of 1988, the 23-year old Swindell had a breakthrough.
On May 30, Swindell made his 11th start of the season and was victorious after working seven innings against the Kansas City Royals. The win pushed Swindell’s record to 10-1 and he had a sparkling 2.11 ERA. With the Indians and their fans thinking “All-Star”, the unthinkable happened as Swindell’s switch just seemed to turn off.
“In 1988, I started 10-1,” Swindell remembers, “and then I lost eight straight leading into the All-Star game. I didn’t feel snubbed. I felt that if I had won at least one of those eight I would’ve been on the team.”
Swindell rebounded mid-summer to finish the season with a very solid 18-14 record and a 3.20 ERA. He came back and reached his All-Star goal during the 1989 season, his only nod to the Midsummer Classic in his 17-year career.
“My favorite memory was pitching 1.2 innings,” Swindell recalls, “but even more than that was being on same team with Nolan Ryan, my childhood idol.”
The Tribe kept Swindell atop their rotation for the following few seasons, as the workhorse worked over 210 innings during three of his four summers as a rotation regular. After the 1991 season where Swindell went 9-16 for a 105 loss Cleveland squad, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for pitchers Joe Turek, Jack Armstrong and Scott Scudder.
“It feels weird to get traded,” Swindell said. “But at the time, that’s what Cleveland was doing. They’d say that they tried to sign someone but couldn’t. So they traded them. (The same happened with) Black and Candiotti.”
While Swindell learned the frustrations that so many Cleveland fans already knew the hard way, he still holds no grudge against the organization that gave him his first chance.
“I had no hard feelings,” Swindell said. “They had to do what they had to do. Eventually, it was fun to watch them win.”
And win they did. Starting in 1992 the Tribe showed signs of life with a nucleus of young, talented hitters and by 1995 they had put it all together and became a model franchise for the rest of baseball. Swindell, meanwhile, spent only the ’92 season in southwestern Ohio before he signed a free agency deal with the Houston Astros for 1993. Swindell was a regular in the Astros rotation into 1996 when he was released and looking for a new home. He found one again with the Indians.
“I was on the rebound in ’96,” Swindell said. “I was released and was looking for a good fit. “I thought that since I played in Cleveland that that was a good fit…but it wasn’t. We all live and learn.”
Swindell pitched in only 13 games for the Tribe that summer and made two spot starts. He struggled with a 6.59 ERA and was left off of the postseason roster.
“They were in a winning direction and had no room for me,” Swindell said of the 1996 Central Division Champs. “But I enjoyed seeing Jacobs Field so electric and exciting. I liked Jacobs Field a lot. It was very electric.”
Spending the previous half decade in the National League didn’t allow Swindell to get a look at his former team’s new ballpark until he was brought back in ’96. As Clevelanders all know, it was quite different from the cavernous Municipal Stadium.
“I loved the old stadium,” Swindell said fondly. “It was exactly that…old. Jacobs Field kind of rejuvenated the city of Cleveland, though. Downtown and all.”
Swindell spent 1997 with the Minnesota Twins and was then traded to the Boston Red Sox during the ’98 campaign. It was during his time in Boston that he made his first appearance in the postseason, as the BoSox were bounced by the Indians in the American League Division Series. Following the postseason elimination, Swindell found a new home and loads of success in the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen.
The Diamondbacks used Swindell over 60 games each season from 1999-2001 and the southpaw reliever saw the D-Backs grow into a powerhouse. Swindell was privileged to be a part of history as well, as Arizona won the classic, seven-game 2001 World Series over the New York Yankees.
“You can’t ever describe winning a World Series unless you do it,” Swindell said fondly. “It’s the most awesome thing ever.”
Swindell appeared in three games during the Fall Classic, allowing just one walk, one hit and zero runs in 2.2 innings of work. His outstanding work helped his outstanding, overall postseason numbers as Swindell worked in a total of 13 playoff games over four seasons and had a dazzling 1.86 ERA with two holds.
“To eventually make a World Series, pitch in a World Series and then win a World Series is very special.”
Having reached baseball’s pinnacle, Swindell retired after the 2002 season finishing a 17-year career as the Diamondbacks were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.
After retiring, Swindell did not take long to get back involved with baseball, as he returned to his alma mater where he has found even more success.
“I have helped volunteer coach twice at the University of Texas,” Swindell said. “In 2005, we won the National Championship.”
Currently, Swindell continues to be involved and tries to spend some time with his family as well.
“My oldest daughter, Hayley, has graduated from UT,” Swindell said proudly. “Now I work for the Longhorn Network as the baseball analyst doing games. So life is good!”
Photo: The Plain Dealer