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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Steve Swisher, Age and Maturity - Playing Days

In his third major league season, Steve Swisher not only impressed his manager, he also made the 1976 All Star team.

Cubs manager Jim Marshall told UPI that July that he saw Swisher not only as the team's top catcher, but also turning into a team leader.

"He's developed in ability as well as age and maturity," Marshall told UPI. "The confidence and professional way he goes about things really has helped the pitching staff."

Swisher went on to help pitching staffs for parts of nine major league seasons, making that one All Star team. He later went on to help pitching staffs - and hitters - as a manager in the minors and a bullpen coach in the majors.

Swisher's playing career began in 1973, selected by the White Sox in the first round of the draft out of Ohio University. He started that year at AA Knoxville, then hit AAA Iowa.

That off-season, though, the White Sox dealt Swisher to the Cubs with Steve Stone and another player. Going the other way was Cubs icon Ron Santo.

With the Cubs, Swisher debuted in the majors by June, playing in 90 games for the Cubs in 1974. On the final day of the season, though as the Cubs played the Pirates with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Swisher couldn't catch a strike three.

The throw to first didn't make it and the game was tied, a game the Pirates went on to win. In victory, Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh praised the young opposing catcher.

"That young fellow over there doesn't have anything to be ashamed of," Murtaugh told The Associated Press. "He's going to be a fine major league catcher. In fact, we wanted to draft him."

The catcher, though, could have been a shortstop. His college coach switched him from one position to the other, he told The AP in July 1974. He told The AP it was "probably the best move I ever made."

The next year, Swisher started slow and was sent back to the minors, to AAA Wichita. He returned by June, thankful to be back. He told reporters he worked on relaxing, working on his hitting and catching.

"All my life I've wanted to be in the major leagues and this time I hope I'm back to stay," Swisher told reporters.

Swisher got into 93 games that year. Still, after hitting .214 in his first season, he hit .213 his second.

By August 1976, the All Star Swisher was helping the Cubs to a run of six wins in seven games with a three-run home run in one game.

Swisher's manager Marshall believed Swisher had gotten his stroke back after a slump, he told UPI. Swisher credited it to working with hitting instructor Lew Fonseca.

"I talked to him a couple times," Swisher told UPI, "and he told me a few things - to spread out my stance and not try to connect too soon. I was pressing and overswinging and overstriding."

Swisher saw the most time he would see in the majors that year, at 103 games. He hit .236. One more season with the Cubs and Swisher ended up being traded to the Cardinals.

His major league time, though, declined to 45 games his first year in St. Louis, 38 his second and just 18 in 1980. He finished out his playing career frustrated with the Padres, playing just 16 games for the Padres in 1981 and 26 in 1982, all without seeing the minors.

After spending time with the Braves at AAA Richmond, and then selling cars, Swisher returned to baseball for 1984, serving briefly with the Indians as a bullpen catcher. There was talk that Swisher might try to play again. But, as it turned out, he returned to the Indians for 1985, starting his new career as a manager in the minors.

"I miss the game," Swisher told The AP in July 1984 as he returned as the bullpen catcher. "It's something hard to explain. It's nice to walk out in front of a crowd again. That kind of thing never leaves you."

To read about Swisher's managerial career, click here: Steve Swisher, Work and Success

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