Full Name: Nicholas Thomas “Nick” Swisher
Position: Right fielder
Born: November 25, 1980 (Columbus, OH)
Yankee Years: 2009-12
Primary number: 33
Yankee statistics: 598 G, .268/.367/.483, 134 2B, 4 3B, 105 HR, 128 wRC+, 11.9 rWAR, 14.4 fWAR
One of the most popular players on the Yankees’ 2009 World Series champion team was outfielder Nick Swisher, whose power and patience at the plate combined with his jubilant nature made him a fan favorite in a hurry upon his arrival in New York via an under-the-radar trade with the White Sox. Swisher’s terrific approach from both sides of the plate made him a crucial member of the Yankees during his four-year tenure.
Swisher was born in 1980 to Cardinals backup catcher Steve Swisher and his wife, Lillian Malizia. Steve had been an All-Star backstop for the Cubs in ‘76 after hitting .268/.304/.346 in the first half, and while he did not have terrific numbers during his career, he stuck around in the league for nine years from 1974-82, retiring after spending the ‘83 season with the Braves’ Triple-A Richmond team. Swisher and Malizia raised Nick in Ohio until he reached eighth grade, when the parents decided to divorce. To keep Nick in a united house, they sent him to live in Parkersburg, West Virginia with his paternal grandparents, Betty and Donald Swisher.
Unsurprisingly to those who knew him later on, Swisher was a wild child who often had to be kept in line by his grandmother for talking too much in school. It took some effort to calm him down, but given the final product, his grandparents did an admirable job. Swisher ignored offers of Division I football scholarships to play safety at highly-regarded places like Notre Dame, and returned to his roots at The Ohio State University, where he excelled for Buckeye baseball.
Although Swisher was undrafted out of high school, he caught the attention of many teams with his performance at Ohio State from the get-go. As a freshman in 2000, he hit .299/.389/.549 with 10 homers, and he was named the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year. Swisher then batted .322/.492/.672 in 2001 and .348/.470/.620 in 2002 while earning All-Star honors each year. He clubbed 35 homers during his collegiate career, and almost every MLB team agreed that Swisher would be a first-round pick in the upcoming 2002 MLB Draft.
Swisher’s popularity as a draft prospect was well-documented in the acclaimed book, Moneyball. The old-school scouts and modern sabermetric analysts came to a rare consensus on Swisher, whose raw ability and supreme confidence earned praise with the former and whose plate discipline and statistics won him points with the latter. Athletics general manager Billy Beane had a particular affinity for Swisher and was determined to select him with the 16th overall pick. Concerned that other teams would further realize Swisher’s talent, the A’s kept Beane away from actually seeing Swisher in person as part of their own “Operation Shutdown” to raise doubts about their connection.
On draft day, there was some concern that the Mets would draft Swisher with the pick ahead of Oakland, but they decided to take high school lefty Scott Kazmir when he fell to them. The A’s drafted Swisher with the next pick, and Beane’s draft was saved.
Already a polished prospect from his collegiate days, Swisher did not spend much time in the minors. He jumped from Short-Season-A to High-A to Double-A within two years, and like many prospects, pummeled the ball in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. In his first PCL season of ‘04 with the Sacramento River Cats, he led the minors in walks with 103 and hit .269/.406/.537 with 28 doubles and 29 homers.
Swisher’s fine work in Sacramento earned him a September call-up, and he showed signs of what was to come by notching a 104 wRC+ in 20 games with four doubles and his first two career homers, which came against Toronto’s Sean Douglass and Cleveland’s Bob Howry, respectively.
Swisher was named Baseball America’s 25th-best overall prospect headed into the 2005 season, and after a brief stint back in the PCL in May of ‘05, he was in the majors for good.
Realizing Lofty Praise
Moneyball was widely circulated by Swisher’s first full season in the majors, so many people in the game knew about him, leading to high expectations at the beginning of ‘05. He got off to a slow start, but rebounded to have a fine rookie campaign. Still, he endured a tough loss away from the field, as his beloved grandmother Betty passed away in August due to brain cancer. In his first game back with Oakland after a few days on the bereavement list, Swisher had two doubles and two RBI in a 4-0 win.
Overall, Swisher belted 32 doubles, third among rookies, and 21 homers, tied for the rookie lead and the first of eight consecutive seasons with at least 20 dingers. He spent time at both right field and first base, and was worth 2.2 fWAR. He earned a pair of second-place votes for AL Rookie of the Year, a sixth-place finish overall behind the winner and Swisher’s teammate, closer Huston Street.
In the 2006 offseason, Oakland signed 16-year veteran Frank Thomas to be their DH, and the power-hitting veteran served as a mentor for the 25-year-old Swisher. Under Thomas’ tutelage, Swisher avoided the classic “sophomore slump” with an even better season than ‘05. His walk rate rose, his wOBA jumped 37 points from .332 to .369, and he finished eighth in the league with a career-high 35 homers. Swisher split time between left field and first base, missing just five of Oakland’s games that year.
Powered by Swisher and Thomas, who finished fourth in AL MVP voting thanks to a 39-homer, 140 OPS+ comeback season, the A’s spent just one day after June 15th outside of first place and won the AL West division title. In the playoffs, Swisher helped Oakland finally exorcise their ALDS demons in a three-game sweep of the Twins by hitting .300/.417/.500. A few days later though, he, Thomas, and most his teammates disappeared in the ALCS against Detroit. The Tigers turned the tables and swept Oakland themselves as Swisher could only manage a .100/.400/.100 showing. It was unfortunately the first of many disappointing playoff series for him.
The A’s offered Swisher a five-year, $26.75 million contract extension in May of ‘07, and Swisher accepted. The deal was more than worth it, as Swisher put in superb production for a comparatively low price tag (which included a $10.25M option for a sixth year, too). Despite the deal, Swisher played just one more stellar year in Oakland; he had the only 100-walk season of his career, helping him reach a career-best .381 OBP. He also reached career-highs in doubles with 36 and rWAR with 4.4.
The A’s took a step back from their best season in 16 years though, and injuries plagued them as they tumbled under .500.
Realizing that their farm system was drying up, Beane was convinced by White Sox GM Kenny Williams to deal Swisher to Chicago in exchange for prospects. It was difficult for Beane to give up Swisher, but for him, the return of Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, and Fautino de los Santos made the deal worth it. Swisher was not in Oakland for very long, but he set a franchise record for switch-hit homers with 80. Bearing no ill will to the team that gave him a shot, he moved on to a new challenge in the Windy City.
From Baseball Hell to Baseball Heaven
On paper, Chicago’s decision to acquire Swisher was wise. He was an up-and-coming player on an inexpensive contract who could help the 2005 champions return to the playoffs after consecutive off-years. The White Sox sought more outfield production, and Swisher brought versatility at first base as well. The cliché about best laid plans came true though, and the 2008 season was a disaster for Swisher.
Plagued by a career-low .249 BABIP and whiffing at a higher rate than any other time during his career, Swisher fell to a .219/.332/.410 triple slash with a 93 OPS+ and -0.2 rWAR. He feuded with intense manager Ozzie Guillen, who clashed with Swisher’s personality and decline in production. Their relationship deteriorated to the point when Guillen began to start DeWayne Wise over Swisher in the late September. Chicago needed a one-game playoff to win the AL Central title over the Twins, and Swisher made a mere cameo appearance at first base as a defensive replacement. The Pale Hose fell to the upstart Rays in a four-game ALDS that saw Swisher come to bat just six times.
Swisher and Guillen could not coexist, so Williams sold low and traded Swisher to the Yankees in the offseason. The return was minimal: utilityman Wilson Betemit and underwhelming relievers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Núñez.
The trade was an absolute steal for the Yankees and one of the best deals of GM Brian Cashman’s career. The Yankees were quietly interested in first baseman Mark Teixeira, but they wanted insurance in case someone else signed the big-time free agent. The move also gave the Yankees another outfield option with Hideki Matsui shifting to an everyday DH role.
When the Yankees indeed signed Teixeira, some people thought they might just immediately flip Swisher somewhere else to avoid paying a multi-million dollar deal for a bench player, but they held onto him. That decision paid dividends when Opening Day right fielder Xavier Nady’s elbow blew up in mid-April. Swisher was off to a fast start and immediately found himself in the everyday lineup with Nady done for 2009. Swish hit .312/.430/.714 with eight doubles and seven homers (and a 0.00 ERA) in his first month in pinstripes.
Rejuvenated, Swisher quickly formed a great rapport with the “Bleacher Creatures” in right field for his salutes and won the rest of the fans over with a huge season. He bounced back from his disappointing ‘08 in a huge way, crushing 35 doubles and 29 homers in a 125 wRC+ season. His contributions gave the Yankees one of the most formidable offenses in the game as they christened the new Yankee Stadium with a franchise-high 244 homers while rolling to the AL East division title, Swisher’s third playoff berth in four seasons. They were known for their late-game heroics and pie celebrations, as they belted eight walk-off homers; Swisher had one for himself on September 8th against the Rays.
The Yankees excelled in the playoffs in spite of Swisher, who slumped in his worst month since May. He went a mere 1-for-12 during the three-game sweep of the Twins in the ALDS and 3-for-20 during the six-game ALCS victory over the Angels. After an 0-for-3 in World Series opener against Cliff Lee and the Phillies, manager Joe Girardi decided to give him the day off in Game 2.
The wake-up call worked, as Swisher stormed back in Game 3 in Philadelphia with a two-hit game, leading off the Yankees’ three-run fifth inning against Cole Hamels with a double and belting a solo homer off J.A. Happ an inning later to extend the lead to 6-3.
The Yankees won the game and the series, though Swisher was quiet the rest of the way. While Swisher did not have a good October, the Yankees helped carry him to his first career World Series ring, and his strong regular season was vital to the Yankees reaching October baseball in the first place.
Swisher cherished his experience, as noted in his foreword to Mark Feinsand and Bryan Hoch’s book about the 2009 run:
So many amazing things happened to me that year, and in my mind, it’s all because of New York and the Yankees. I’ll always love that city. I’m not a boy from the Bronx, but I feel a connection with that place and its people. There’s something special that’s almost hard to explain ... When you win a World Series with the New York Yankees, you’re remembered forever.
An All-Star, and Then An Adieu
In 2010, Swisher had the best season of his Yankee career as the Yankees returned to the playoffs. He sent 29 out of the yard again while hitting career-highs in slugging percentage (.511), wOBA (.379), wRC+ (134), and fWAR (4.4). Swisher hit .298/.377/.524 with 20 doubles and 15 homers in the first half, and thanks to a successful “Send Swish” Final Vote campaign, he made what turned out to be the only All-Star Game of his career (and also made a brief appearance in the Home Run Derby). In doing so, he and his father became just the 13th father/son combo to both make the All-Star team.
Swisher had a couple other memorable moments in 2010, most notably when he drilled a walk-off single in the first game after the deaths of both longtime PA announcer Bob Sheppard and owner George Steinbrenner, and when he stunned the Orioles with a walk-off two-run homer a year to the day of his 2009 walk-off bomb.
It appeared as though Swisher had moved on from his playoff struggles in the ALDS against the Twins. The Wild Card Yankees swept Minnesota aside again, and Swisher hit .333/.385/.750 in the three games. During the ALCS against the Rangers though, Swisher was as quiet as ever, struggling to a .091/.200/.273 line in the disappointing six-game loss.
Swisher put up two more productive seasons in 2011 and 2012. hitting a combined .266/.369/.461 with 66 doubles, 47 homers, and a 122 OPS+ in nearly 300 games. The man was consistent, and it was an easy decision for the Yankees to pick up his option in 2012. He wasn’t belting quite as many homers as he did from 2009-10, but he made up for that value with his plate discipline and consistent doubles — Swish never hit fewer than 30 doubles in any of his four seasons in the Bronx.
To some fans though, Swisher was a constant disappointment due to his unending playoff struggles. The Yankees won the AL East in both seasons, but against the Tigers and Orioles in the 2011 and 2012 playoffs, he continually put up meager numbers. Once Swisher’s contract expired after 2012, he became a free agent, and citing the plan for a future lower payroll, the Yankees decided not to pursue their hard-hitting outfielder.*
*As a parting gift, the 2013 free agent compensation draft pick that the Yankees were awarded from letting Swisher walk turned out well. His name is Aaron Judge.
Swisher went back to Ohio on a four-year, $56 million deal with Cleveland, and at first it looked like their front office made a smart move. He hit .246/.341/.423 with 22 dingers and a 113 wRC+ in 145 games, helping new skipper Terry Francona’s club make the playoffs for the first time in six years with the top Wild Card spot.
It was a one-and-done though, as the Rays shut them out in Cleveland to send them home empty-handed.
The contract quickly turned sour for Cleveland fans, as Swisher struggled with chronic knee problems and missed almost half his games between 2014-15. His injuries affected his play too, as he slumped to a miserable .204/.291/.326 triple slash over the two years. Management was able to unload on the Braves in August 2015 in a salary dump swap of Chris Johnson for Swisher and Michael Bourn. In what would be the final 46 games of his career, Swisher gained at least a little respectability back with four homers and a 93 OPS+.
Although Swisher was still under contract in 2016, the rebuilding Braves cut him toward the end of spring training. Searching for some depth at first base, the Yankees gave him another shot on a minor-league deal, but while he bonded with Triple-A prospects like Aaron Judge and Gary Sánchez over Waffle House and big league advice, the front office wasn’t impressed by Swisher’s .255/.297/.377 showing in 55 games. Once they were giving regular reps at first base to Rob Refsnyder, a minor prospect who had never played at first in his life, the writing was on the wall. With his wife, actress JoAnna Garcia, due with a second daughter on the way, Swisher elected to opt out of his contract and head home for the season, effectively ending a fine 12-year career.
Swisher’s frequent postseason struggles were frustrating, but they should not detract from his overall performance with the Yankees. He was almost always healthy, gave pitchers headaches from both sides of the plate, offered defensive versatility, and proved to be a constant power threat in the middle of the Yankees’ batting order. Championship clubs need glue guys like Swisher and that’s exactly what he delivered in 2009.
In just four seasons, Swisher’s 105 homers rank seventh all-time among switch-hitting Yankees, and his 124 OPS+ ranks behind only Mickey Mantle and Bernie Williams. That’s not bad company at all for the man they call Swish. As his recent work at Home Run Derby X indicates, he can still sock ‘em out if Old-Timers’ Day games ever return. He already has one on his ledger!
Staff rank: 97
Community rank: N/A
Stats rank: N/A
2013 rank: 91
This biography has been updated from an original version that I ran in 2013.
Feinsand, Mark and Bryan Hoch. Mission 27: A New Boss, A New Ballpark, and One Last Ring for the Yankees’ Core Four. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2019.
Beane, Billy. Lewis, Michael. Moneyball. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
McCarron, Anthony. “Nick Swisher Honors Memory of Woman Who Raised Him,” New York Daily News, 9 May 2009. (link)