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Mets Memories - Ron Swoboda

Barry DuchanSunday, July 22, 2007
By Barry Duchan


Editor's Note: We will publish a post from Barry Duchan every Sunday covering some aspect of Mets history. - M.S.

To most younger Mets fans with a sense of history, Ron Swoboda will always be remembered for his great catch and clutch hits that helped the Mets win the 1969 World Series against Baltimore. But for those of us who remember when he first came up in spring training of 1964, Swoboda represented great hope. Prodigious power, loaded with potential, hard working, bursting with charisma, and yet in need of a lot of experience.

Signed to a $30,000 bonus contract out of the University of Maryland, Swoboda first attracted manager Stengel's attention by hitting some monumental home runs in intra-squad games in spring training in 1964. "Suhboda hits the ball over buildings", Stengel said and was further (likely mis-)quoted as saying that the young slugger could be to the Mets what Mickey Mantle was to the Yankees. Of course, this was rather unrealistic, because aside from his power, Swoboda had none of the skills that Mantle possessed. But it didn't seem improbable that Swoboda could become say, another Ralph Kiner, good for 40 or more home runs and 100 RBIs a season, even if his defense was barely acceptable.

Ron SwobodaSwoboda, as a 19-year old with no professional experience, started his pro career at AAA Buffalo in 1964 and was later sent down to AA Williamsport. His numbers weren't spectacular, but a combined 17 home runs and 72 RBIs at the minors' highest levels for someone so green was impressive. Back then, for some reason I never understood, after a player had spent his first year in the minor leagues, the major league team had to carry him on their 25-man roster the following season, or risk losing him to another organization that could send him out. This rule accounted for the major league status of such otherwise unqualified Mets players as Ron Locke, Jim Bethke, and Danny Napoleon, among others. Occasionally, there was a player who had to be carried under this rule who proved he was ready for the big leagues. Tony Conigliaro was perhaps the best example of this. Larry Dierker was another.

Anyway, the point is, that the Mets knew that Swoboda would be part of the big club in 1965 even though his fielding was still brutal and his judgment of the strike zone, on defense and on the base paths could have all benefited from further minor league seasoning.

And so it was, in 1965, Swoboda, playing a full season with the Mets, although batting just .228, hit 19 home runs, many of them prodigious shots into the left field parking lot. If Swoboda, who appeared to be a truly dedicated player could improve his defense and learn the pitchers around the league, the possibility of stardom was definitely there. Worst case scenario it seemed would be a shaky rightfielder who'd still be good for 25 homeruns and 80 + RBIs and couldn't the Mets build around someone like that?

For whatever reason (but likely the pitchers around the league adjusted to him a lot better than he adjusted to them), Swoboda never even approached the 19 homeruns he hit as a rookie. In his second season, he hit just 8. Then, he'd hit between 9 and 13 a year. And although he worked hard to improve his defense, he was always capable of breaking your heart. I still remember crying myself to sleep the night Swoboda muffed a flyball against the Cardinals with 2 outs in the ninth inning, causing 3 runs to score, and turning a sure win into a crushing defeat.

In 1969, of course, things sort of came together for Swoboda, leading to his memorable performance in the World Series. His regular season numbers were nothing special, 9 homeruns and a .235 average, but he did have some big games, notably against Steve Carlton, and of course, he was an instrumental piece of the Miracle.

Swoboda played one more season with the Mets before the organization gave up on him, sending him to the Expos even-up for Don Hahn, who was no more than a defensive replacement type. Mets fans half-expected Ron's career to blossom after he was dealt away, but instead, Swoboda played sparingly without doing much of anything. In the end, his career numbers were sadly disappointing.

But there was 1969, and for that, Met fans will always be grateful. Shortly after his active career concluded, Swoboda surfaced as a sports anchor on CBS Channel 2 in New York. He was very raw at the time and didn't last long, but he's since moved to New Orleans where he's been a popular on-air sports personality for many years. With the Mets' AAA club now relocated in New Orleans, Swoboda who serves as color commentator for Zephyrs games resumes his association with the Mets and that's nice to hear.

For a recent interview with Swoboda, check this out.

Note: More of Barry Duchan's writings can be found on his own Metscentric blog.

About Barry Duchan: I've been following the Mets since 1962. Have to admit I was a Yankee fan as a kid, but I found it to be so much more interesting to see how a young team could build itself up rather than following a team where the season didn't really begin until October. I remember them all - Casey, Marv, ChooChoo, Don Bosch, The Stork, etc. As the years went on, I became more and more of a Mets fan, and a Yankee hater once Steinbrenner and Billy Martin entered the picture.   Read More -->

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Comments (9)

I thought Swoboda was going to be something special after he hit all those home runs in 1965. At the very least he was just one of those diverse peices of the puzzle that led to a most improbable championship in 1969. His catch made possible Tom Seaver's only World Series win.

The song came along only a few years too late, but since Rocky always had a Knack for being in the right place,...

Who's that wearing Number 4, Number 4,
Slap him with a cap and he'll Don it, Swoboda

Saving a World Series win, Series win
He stole an RBI from Brooks Robinson, Swoboda

I know that he platoons, he platoons
With Art Shamsky
But there's no one to come up, to come up
But our Rocky

Then they traded him, Bye! Bye! Bye! I yi woo!

R-R-R-Ron Swoboda,
R-R-R-Ron Swoboda

It was a great thrill when, as I remember, in 1965 rookie Swoboda started off the season leading the National League in home runs through the entire month of April. Mets never led the league in anything good back in those days. Because of that April and that catch in the 1969 series, I'll always love Ron Swoboda. Better than anyone else except Kranepool, he stands for the essence of the early Mets: a beloved disappointment who could sometimes surprise you.

anyone got film of Swoboda's '69 series catch? is it available? i'd love to buy it.

mike

Ron Swoboda was a great part of my childhood. I thank him and the other Mets for some really great memories. Even to this day, I enjoy talking about the Mets of that era.

When I was a kid in Little League in Rockville Centre, NY, Ron Swoboda came out to Carl Hopple's restaurant in Baldwin to give trophies and host the Little League dinner. I was getting some trophy and went up to get it from Mr. Swoboda. He was striking out a lot that year and on my hand I wrote, "Hey Ron, how many times did you strike out this year?" He read it, laughed, and patted my head. What a great response to an obnoxious comment. That is one of my best memories of Little League. He could have gotten annoyed, or just harrumphed. Instead, he seemed to be in a good mood about it. That is class!

Damon LaBarbera

Ron Swoboda was a great part of my childhood. I thank him and the other Mets for some really great memories. Even to this day, I enjoy talking about the Mets of that era.

When I was a kid in Little League in Rockville Centre, NY, Ron Swoboda came out to Carl Hopple's restaurant in Baldwin to give trophies and host the Little League dinner. I was getting some trophy and went up to get it from Mr. Swoboda. He was striking out a lot that year and on my hand I wrote, "Hey Ron, how many times did you strike out this year?" He read it, laughed, and patted my head. What a great response to an obnoxious comment. That is one of my best memories of Little League. He could have gotten annoyed, or just harrumphed. Instead, he seemed to be in a good mood about it. That is class!

Damon LaBarbera

"...after a player had spent his first year in the minor leagues, the major league team had to carry him on their 25-man roster the following season, or risk losing him to another organization that could send him out."

I never heard of such a rule. If this were so, wouldn't every team have had dozens of players every year who had to be on the ML roster??

TO JOE H. -

Yes, there was such a rule in the early '60's before the amateur draft. Many, many players after one year in the minors were drafted or claimed by another organization because they were not brought up to the big leagues. Some of the more significant ones were Paul Blair (drafted by Orioles from Mets), Jim Wynn (Houston from Cincinnati), and Felix Millan (Braves from A's). Also, Greg Goossen (Mets from Dodgers, but that didn't work out quite as well as some of the others). If you drafted or claimed a first-year player, you could send him out, but you had to keep him on the 40-man roster. That's why there weren't "dozens" of players who changed teams every year through this process - but there were quite a few.

Some of those who were kept on the 25-man major league roster after one year in the minors certainly weren't ready (Ross Moschitto, Yankees or Danny Napoleon, Mets to name just two), but that was the rule ! Actually, each team could send out ONE second-year player and had to keep all the others up. The idea - pre-draft-era - was to prevent big-money teams from signing and keeping all the best talent. Houston wanted to keep all its young talent so they had a bunch of teenagers in the majors in 1965 like Staub, Morgan, Dierker, Sonny Jackson, as well as the drafted Wynn. I'm pretty sure the player they chose to send out was an infielder named Glenn Vaughan.

It was in 1965 that the amateur draft began, and this knucklehead rule was changed.

Anecdotes regarding Swoboda's defensive abilities run the complete spectrum, and include many stories of great catches in addition to the '69 World Series. To see how Swoboda stacked up against the other Met rightfielders, I computed the annual ratio of putouts per inning for the Met rightfielders.

The analysis is for Met rightfielders with at least 100 annual innings at that position, and does not include 1966 since Swoboda did not reach the 100 inning level in RF during that year.

As the following ratio's show, Swoboda's ability to get to flyballs and line drives was usually the best on the team, or close to the leader. During his two years with the Yankees he had the highest ratio for rightfielders, and bested such a defensive expert as Johnny Callison.

1965 Mets

Swoboda .276 putouts per inning
Lewis .222
Christopher .199

1967 Mets

Luplow .223 putouts per inning
Swoboda .206
Reynolds .206
Jones .179

1968 Mets

Stahl .209 putouts per inning
Swoboda .202
Jones .163

1969 Mets

Gaspar .200 putouts per inning
Swoboda .199 (Gaspar was a good fielder, and Swoboda is right there with him)
Shamsky .181

1970 Mets

Shamsky .239 putouts per inning (remarkable change from previous year)
Singleton .221
Swoboda .200
Marshall .189

1971 Yankees

Swoboda .225 putouts per inning
Lyttle .212
Blomberg .209 (not that bad compared to his rep)
F. Alou .178

1972 Yankees

Swoboda .241 putouts per inning
Callison .218
Torres .207
F. Alou .186

The putouts per inning ratio is not 100% dependable, since statistical variations might result in more hits going to one rightfielder than another during a particular year. But when a fielder's ratio is consistently at or near the top from year to year, the reliability of the results as an indicator of good defensive skills increases.

One should not compare ratio's from different years, since pitching staff changes and other annual variations might make big changes.

The base data for the ratio analysis was taken from baseball-reference.com.

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