Nov 29, 2012

Mets 1978 N.L. ERA Leader: Craig Swan (1973-1984)

Craig Steven Swan was born on November 30, 1950 in Van Nuys, California. He was drafted at age 17, but chose to attend Arizona State University instead. There he was a top pitcher, setting a record in the 1972 College World Series allowing only one run over 18 innings pitched.

The six foot three, right handed Swan, had a good moving fastball in the low nineties and a hard slider. He was selected by the New York Mets in the third round of the 1972 draft. He had a brief cup of coffee in September 1973, debuting on against the Philadelphia on September 2nd, where he gave up four earned runs on nine hits in four innings pitched.

His next outing went better, pitching two scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs, two weeks later. He was with the club at the start of the 1974 season, having a great day on May 11th. At the plate he had three hits, driving in a run, scoring another while pitching six shutout innings to earn his first career win. In June he broke his arm and missed the rest of the season finishing up at 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA. He returned to AAA Tidewater in 1975, and was named the International League MVP going 13-7 with a 2.24 ERA.

Swan made the 1976 Mets staff as their fifth starter, behind Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman & veteran Mickey Lolich brought in from Detroit in the Rusty Staub trade. He lost his first decision then pitched a five hit complete game shutout in Atlanta to beat the Braves. He then beat the Big Red Machine in his next outing. He had a horrible May losing five straight decisions, and only won two more games the rest of the year.

He did have good stretch in June pitching into the 7th inning or beyond giving up two runs or less five different times. All he had to show for it were two wins, two losses and a no decision due to lack of run support. The no decision came during a 10 inning three hit shutout against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Over a stretch of three games he allowed just a single earned run in 26 innings (0.35 ERA) with 21 strikeouts. He finished the year 6-9 with a 3.54 ERA, 89 strikeouts in 132 innings pitched.

In 1977 he began the year with a 1-4 record, improving to .500 by the All Star break. His best month was July when he was 3-1, including pitching a three hit shutout against the eventual NL Champion Dodgers in Los Angeles. He finished the year at 9-10, the second most wins on the staff, with a 4.23 ERA & 71 strikeouts in 146 innings pitched, as the Mets sank to last place.

Swan began 1978 with a five hit shutout victory against the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium, in the 5th game of the season. Although he pitched well, he didn’t earn another victory until mid July. He had allowed two runs or less ten times, and had actually allowed no runs pitching into the 7th inning three different times. During that stretch he posted a 2.66 ERA going 1-5, but this was a Mets team that didn’t score many runs. 

He had a 13 strikeout performance on Independence Day, but gave up two 9th inning runs and took the 3-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. He was one of the very few bright spots for the Mets in the summer of ’78, winning seven straight decisions during July & August. On August 15th he pitched a five hit victory at Shea against the San Diego Padres, where he allowed no earaned runs. When he faced the Padres in San Diego on the next road trip he beat Gaylord Perry in a 2-1 pitcher's duel allowing just five hits.

Although he lost to the NL Champion Los Angeles Dodgers on August 20th at Shea, he struck out ten batters. He won eight of his last nine games, posting the league’s best ERA. On September 16th, he allowed one run and three hits over nine innings but again got no decision.

He finished the season leading the National League in ERA (2.43) posting a 9-6 record, pitching in 207 innings and striking out 125 batters. He pitched well at home, posting a 1.67 ERA at Shea Stadium, with a 5-2 record.

Swan was the Mets 1979 Opening Day starter & earned the win in a wild 10-6 win at Wrigley Field. In his next start he allowed just one earned run in nine innings pitched against the Expos but go no decision. On April 25th at Shea Stadium, he tossed a two hit shutout against the San Francisco Giants walking only one batter.

In June he won three straight games, allowing only three runs over three straight complete games. In San Francisco he tossed another shut out against the Giants, this time a six hitter with seven strike outs on July 25th. He won his first three games in August, then suffered four losing decisions.

He finished off the season with two victories at the end of September, giving him 14 wins on the year. That total was more than any of his two team mates combined in that dismal season. He averaged two walks every nine innings which was one of the league's best ratios as well.

For 1979 he led the staff in ERA (3.29) wins (14) strike outs (145) shut outs (3) complete games (10) innings pitched (251) starts (35) as well as HRs, hits & runs allowed. His numbers were pretty much all career bests as by now he had developed into a mature pitcher. In the off season, he became the highest paid Mets pitcher in history signing a large contract that got him $560,000 for the 1980 season.

On Opening Day 1980 he beat the Chicago Cubs at Shea Stadium, with a lineup of Frank Tavares, Eliot Maddox, Lee Mazzilli, Steve Henderson, Mike Jorgenson, Jerry Morales, John Stearns & Doug Flynn behind him. On May 9th he beat the Expos in Montreal allowing just one run on three hits. On May 25th he beat the Atlanta Braves throwing another three hitter, this time a shut out performance.

By mid-June he was 5-4 with a 2.21 ERA on another bad hitting team. After losing his next four decisions, he was placed on the disabled list in what turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. He made two more starts pitched poorly & was done for the season by mid August. He went 5-9 with a 3.58 ERA, pitching 128 innings striking out 79 batters & walking 30.

He started out pitching in 1981 but went down again, missing most of the season, appearing in only five games. In one freak accident he fractured a rib, when he was hit by a throw from John Stearns trying to nail a base runner. He really should be recognized for the amazing accomplishment of being maybe the first pitcher to successfully come back from rotator cuff surgery.

After suffering a loss on April 12th, he earned a win pitching one inning of relief on April 21st at Shea Stadium. By June he was back in the starting rotation, winning his first two starts in the month. After two early season starts he spent some time in the bullpen, earning a save and posting a 1.30 ERA in relief. On August 4th, the day Joel Youngblood made history driving in the winning run for two different teams, Swan hit his only major league HR.  

In September as the Mets were on their way to lose 97 games, Swan won four of his five starts, with a complete game in his final start.

In 1982 he was second for the Comeback Player of the Year Award, leading the team with 11 wins (11-7) with a .611 winning %, pitching in 37 games, 166 innings, 67 strikeouts & a 3.35 ERA. During Spring Training the next season, he Swan felt something pop in his arm but he pitched through the injury.

He pitched the second game of the season after Tom Seavers Opening Day return to New York, and beat Philadelphia 6-2. His arm trouble affected his throwing as he only won one more game on the year, going 2-8 with a 5.51 ERA.

In 1984, while the Mets were competing for the title, Swan managed only ten awful relief appearances before being released on May 9th. The Angels signed him two weeks later but after two bad appearances he was through.

After a 12 season career, he finished up Lifetime 59-72 with seven saves, 673 strikeouts and a 3.74 ERA in 1235 innings pitched. He has that one ERA title to his credit as well. Swan is 12th on the Mets all time list in victories (59) 11th in shut outs (7) 9th in complete games (25) 8th in innings (1230) & 9th in starts (184).

Retirement: As Swan was recovering from rotator cuff surgery he discovered the technique of Rolfing. It helped strengthen his muscles back into shape. He enrolled in the Rolfe institute in Boulder Colorado and went into the practice. His office is located in Greenwich Connecticut and his son has now joined his staff.

Swan now lives in the Riverside section of Greenwich, Connecticut. Among the patients he has helped, is former team mate, Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. Years ago, Swannie lost millions of dollars in bad investments, and credits Fred Wilpon in helping get his daughter into the University of Michigan.

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