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Monday, January 16, 2012

Greg Swindell: Representing the Best of Texas


Texas is best known for producing great beef and the best football in the world, but they have another commodity that they export with similar regularity; pitchers. Highlighted by the likes of Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Greg Maddux, the Longhorn State has had 431 pitchers appear in a major league game. One of the best left-handers in that group was Greg Swindell, who enjoyed a 17 year big league career and is still closely connected to his home state.

Swindell followed up a stellar high school career by attending the University of Texas, for all intent and purposes replacing Roger Clemens, who left for the pro ranks after the 1983 season. The three seasons (1984-1986) that Swindell played at UT rank amongst the most dominant of all time in college baseball. He posted a sparkling 43-8 record in 77 games, with a 1.92 ERA and 501 strikeouts. He was the National Player of the Year as a sophomore in 1985, and still holds many Texas and NCAA records.

Given his collegiate success, it is little wonder that Swindell was one of the most highly sought after players in the 1986 MLB draft. He was taken with the second overall pick in the first round by the Cleveland Indians, who had gone just 60-102 the year before, and had one of the worst pitching staffs in baseball.  The Indians wasted little time in using their new weapon, as they gave Swindell all of three minor league starts before bringing him up to stay in 1986.

Swindell spent the first ten years of his career as one of the most dependable starters in the game. However, in 1996 he made a successful conversion to relieving, and became a stalwart in that role as well. All told, he pitched for the Indians, Astros, Twins, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks before hanging it up following the 2002 season. He compiled a 123-122 career record in 664 games, with a 3.86 ERA, and 12 shutouts and 7 saves. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/swindgr01.shtml.

Swindell was integral as the left-handed specialist on the 2001 Diamondback team that shocked the New York Yankees in the World Series. He was unscored upon in his three Series appearances, including 2 holds and closing out a Game 1 win that set the tone for the entire series. His last appearance on a major league mound came during the 2002 NLDS, a fitting end to a fantastic career.

These days, while Swindell is primarily a family man, he is also still heavily involved in sports. He was inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, and has worked as an analyst for major league baseball, the Little League World Series, and most recently was added to the Longhorn Network team. Despite his busy schedule, he recently took the time to answer some questions I had about his time in baseball.

Greg Swindell Interview:

How did you first become interested in baseball?: I was a six-year old bat boy for my brother’s team; Sharpstown Little League in Houston. Lived it ever since.

What was your experience like in being the 2nd overall pick in the 1986 draft?: Had no idea where I would be drafted. To be the second overall was very humbling. I was excited to start my professional career.

What was your experience like on the 1984 Olympic baseball team?: I didn't make it to Los Angeles. I had to go to summer school and pass a class. But the tour and being with all those great players was an experience that helped me in my college career.

How did you feel about getting called to the major leagues after just three games in the minors?: It was a dream come true. I never thought it would happen so quick; and when it happened it was surreal

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Winning!!! And being able to pitch in a World Series.

Who was the toughest hitter you ever faced?: Marquis Grissom. He owned my ass. He knew it and I knew it!

How much pressure did you face following Roger Clemens at the University of Texas?: I never felt pressure. Actually the pressure came from just pitching at UT. The tradition speaks for itself.

How difficult was it to transition to relieving after so many successful years of starting in the majors?: My arm bounced back pretty easy, so relieving came natural. I lived it, and it gave me a chance to pitch almost every day.

Who was your most influential/favorite coach or manager?: I liked all my coaches and managers, but probably Charlie Manuel. He was a hitting coach, but awesome to be around because of his knowledge of the game.

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: I would probably have taken or had someone take pictures, and collected more things from my career. 

As far as playing; not a thing. I feel I respected the game and played the game as professional as I could!

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