The mid 1980’s was a time for misplaced optimism in Cleveland. The Cavaliers seemed to be putting together a great team, the Browns were knocking on the Super Bowl’s door and the Indians were assembling a superteam.
Well, we all know that no title was won by a Cleveland team in the 1980’s. Even the Indians in the movie Major League couldn’t win the World Series.
Greg Swindell was a name right in the middle of the optimism for the Indians. In 1986, Cleveland saw a lot solid offensive players emerge almost simultaneously. Pat Tabler was a .326 hitter, Tony Bernazard was a .301 hitter with power at second, Julio Franco and Brook Jacoby rounded out an outstanding infield. Meanwhile Joe Carter, Brett Butler, Cory Snyder, Mel Hall, Otis Nixon and Carmelo Castillo were part of the deepest outfield outside of Toronto.
They had a winning record in 1986 (If there was a Central Division, they would have been champs.)
The biggest question was their pitching staff. Knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Tom Candiotti ate up innings and Ken Schrom won some games but the rest of the staff had inflated ERAs. They needed an ace.
That role seemed to be Greg Swindell’s for the taking. While Roger Clemens was dominating the AL in 1986, the Indians had a left handed fireballer from the University of Texas ready to be their answer to the Rocket. He won 5 of 7 decisions in 1986 and seemed poised to take it to the next level in 1987.
His name is all over the University of Texas record books, was a first round pick and barely played in the minors before joining Cleveland.
With Sports Illustrated picking Cleveland to win the pennant, optimism was sky high for the Indians. Swindell injured his elbow, however and was not much of a factor as they lost 100 games, saw the firing of manager Pat Corrales and had the worst attendance in the American League.
I wonder how much of that 1987 season besmirched the reputation of Greg Swindell. He never did become the next Roger Clemens (who has been?)
But any objective look at Swindell’s career shows he had a very successful MLB life, one that checked off virtually every box on the proverbial big leaguer bucket list.
In 1988, he put up ace like numbers, throwing 242 innings and posting a 3.20 ERA, winning 18 games for a losing squad and throwing 12 complete games along the way.
In 1989, Swindell was named to the AL All Star Team at age 24. He continued to be a work horse, going more that 210 innings in 1990, 1991 and 1992, where he pitched for the Reds.
He cashed in and became a millionaire with the Astros. After 4 seasons in Houston and a brief return to Cleveland, he reinvented himself as a left handed reliever.
He became effective out of the pen for the Twins, Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, pitching in the 1998 post season for Boston (ironically losing to Cleveland) and with the Diamondbacks in 1999.
In 2001, he returned to the playoffs with the Diamondbacks, throwing 1 2/3 shutout innings in the Division Series. After Arizona took the Division Series and NLCS, he finally pitched in the World Series. He threw the final inning of the 9-1 Arizona blow out winning Game 1. He kept the Yankees scoreless in Games 3 and 5 as well. When the Diamondbacks rallied in the 9th of Game 7, Swindell checked World Series champion off his list.
His final major league game was Game 3 of the 2002 Division Series for the Diamondbacks.
Since then, he returned to the University of Texas. He was elected to the College Baseball Hall of Fame and is an analyst for Longhorn Baseball on TV.
Looking back, he had a 17 year career that saw him become an ace, an All Star and a World Champion. Not a bad legacy I say.