Top 100 Mets # 82: Craig Swan

Craig Swan was the Mets ace in the dark ages of the late 1970's and early 1980's. He more or less bridged the time that followed the departure of Tom Seaver and the coming of Dwight Gooden. He was a good pitcher, sometimes very good, on very poor teams. He also was very injury prone and that was responsible for his shortened major league career as well. He was, however, the team's one true hope in the rotation in those years. Thus he earns the distinction as our Greatest Met #82.

Swan actually had three cups of coffee, in 1973-1974-1975, before establishing himself at the major league level. Entering the 1976 campaign, he had a lifetime record of two wins and seven losses. He simply couldn't break into a starting rotation that still featured pitching stalwarts Seaver, Jerry Koosman and Jon Matlack.

In 1976, he became the fifth starter behind the Big Three and Mickey Lolich who had been acquired for Met favorite Rusty Staub following the 1975 season. Swan posted a record of 6-9 in his first full big league season.

Year

Team

W-L

IP

Hits

BB

K

ERA

1973

Mets

0-1

8.1

16

2

4

8.64

1974

Mets

1-3

30.1

28

21

10

4.45

1975

Mets

1-3

31

38

13

19

6.39

1976

Mets

6-9

132.1

129

44

89

3.54

1977

Mets

9-10

146.2

153

56

71

4.23

1978

Mets

9-6

207.1

164

58

125

2.43

1979

Mets

14-13

251.1

241

57

145

3.29

1980

Mets

5-9

128.1

117

30

79

3.58

1981

Mets

0-2

13.2

10

1

9

3.29

1982

Mets

11-7

166.1

165

37

67

3.35

1983

Mets

2-8

96.1

112

42

43

5.51

1984

Mets

1-0

18.2

18

7

10

8.20



In 1977, the rotation began opening up. Lolich couldn't take it anymore and temporarily retired before ending his career in San Diego, and Jon Matlack was traded to Texas. And of course, on June 15, 1977, Tom Seaver was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for four players in the "Midnight Massacre". Thus, Swan's stock rapidly rose.

But the times they were a changin' at Shea. Extremely frugal management led by the DeRoulet family, which featured the daughter of original owner Mrs. Joan Payson, didn't have a clue about how to manage a major league baseball franchise. Ironically, it was New York hero Joe Torre who managed the team during this period, but he was given very little with which to work.

Nevertheless, Craig Swan pitched reasonably well for a team that featured little offense and probably worse defense. He was 6-9 with a solid 3.55 ERA in 1976, and followed that with a 9-10 mark (4.22 ERA) in 1977.

In 1978, with only Jerry Koosman left from the Mets glory days still in the starting rotation, Swan had an outstanding season. A horribly anemic offense caused Koosman to suffer through a second consecutive catastrophic season (3-15), and signaled his departure that winter to Minnesota.

Swan, however, flourished despite the pitiful offense. He won only nine games, but his 2.43 ERA was good enough to nab the NL ERA crown. Thus, with Koosman no longer present, Swan was now the uncontested ace of the pitching staff.

In 1979, while the Mets offensive woes continued, as well as the losing, Swan had the finest year of his major league career. He went 14-13 for a team that had to win its final six games to avoid losing 100 games, finishing the year at 63-99. In addition to his 14 victories, Swannie established career bests across the board: 251 innings pitched, 145 whiffs, 10 complete games and three shutouts. There is no doubt that with a little more offensive support that Craig would have come close to 20 wins in 1979.

Other teams took notice, and that winter a deal with the California Angels was in the works. Swan would go to the Angels for first baseman Willie Mays Aikins and outstanding shortstop Dickie Thon. The DeRoulets, however, were in the process of selling the controlling interest of the team, and their attitude was "let the new management make their own trades, "so the deal for Swan was never consummated.

Meanwhile, following his excellent 1979 season, Swan's body began to break down. A rotator cuff injury marred his next two seasons. He went 5-9 in 1980 with a 3.59 ERA. His 1981 season was all but wiped out. The players' strike plus the injury limited him to a record of 0-2.

He came back in 1982 and had a fine season, the last of his career. He went 11-7 with a 3.35 ERA, pitching both as a starter, and in relief. But clearly he was no longer what he was before the injury.

1983 signaled the beginning of the end of his career. His ERA swelled to 5.51 and he stumbled through a 2-8 season, pitching only 96 1/3 innings. The end was definitely near. With the emergence of Davey Johnson as manager in 1984, it was quickly decided that the Mets would go with a kiddie corps which featured such luminaries as Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, Walt Terrell and Sid Fernandez. Johnson weeded out elder statesmen Swan, Mike Torrez and Dick Tidrow, and sent them packing. Swan pitched briefly for the California Angels and then called it a career.

Swan's final line as a Mets featured 59 wins against 71 defeats. His career ERA was a decent 3.75. He did, for the most part, successfully bridge the gap between the Seaver and Gooden eras. It was just unfortunate for him that he was unable to hang on long enough to experience the Mets winning seasons of the 1980's. The fact that he was able to pitch well and succeed, with little or no support, in one of the darkest periods in the history of the New York Mets, earns Swan our designation as Greatest Met #82.

Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories