It’s hard to imagine the 2009 Yankees without Nick Swisher. Relegated to fourth outfielder status heading into the season, Swisher became the full-time right fielder after Xavier Nady blew out his elbow and hasn’t looked back. He’s en route to what could be the best season of his career. His 59 extra base hits must have Kenny Williams wondering why the hell he traded him for Wilson Betemit and Jeff Marquez last winter.
The Yankees traded for Swisher because they thought they could get a productive player on the cheap. It was certainly a gamble of sorts, as Swisher had a horrible season in 2008. Not only did the Yanks win the gamble, but they got a dividend on their investment. Not only did they get a productive player, but they got a unique personality who brought life to the rigid Yankees clubhouse. That might not add to the team’s baseball output, but it sure makes for a great story.
Swisher is no stranger to stories. He played a big role in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, the blue chip prospect that even Billy Beane, he who drafted Jeremy Brown in the first round, couldn’t pass up. Scouts and sabermetricians alike loved Swisher for his approach and his power, and it was only after a few breaks that he even fell to the A’s. Once he made the majors, it was inevitable that he’d become a reporter’s dream.
Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated captured Swisher perfectly with a lede he wrote in 2006:
Nick Swisher is good. He is home-run-beltin’, sideburn-wearin’, nonstop-talkin’, bear-hug-dispensin’, self-proclaimin’ good. His coaches know it, his teammates know it, and most of all Swisher knows it.
The sideburns don’t fly in the Bronx, but other than that Swisher is the same guy now as he was then. It seems as though the Yankees clubhouse has come to embrace it. They have been portrayed as a rigid bunch over the years, but the off-season additions, especially Swisher, have seemingly helped turn that around. At least Johnny Damon thinks so:
“He’s had an impact on the clubhouse,” adds Johnny Damon, whose locker is next to Swisher’s. “When I came over, I mean, this place was kinda dead, you know? I almost had to watch everything I said. I didn’t want to upset anyone. But having characters in here has helped everyone. It’s kind of like how Kevin Millar helped me in Boston – we changed the way things were in Boston, but it took another guy to put it full throttle.
“It’s completely different in here now. It’s great, we’re in this new stadium and there’s a lot of room to have fun.”
Even better is what Andy Pettitte has to say about young Swisher. “Nick loves to talk, that’s for sure.” This recalls one of my favorite Swisher stories of all time, as relayed by Ballard:
In college two of his teammates offered him $50 if he could stay quiet for a long bus ride back to Columbus. “It was the hardest thing for me to do. I wanted to just shoot myself,” he says. “But”–and here he brightens up–“I got my 50 bucks, boy!”
While this was meant to be an upbeat post about the most ebullient Yankee, Swisher’s charity work also deserves a nod. He has his own charity, Swish’s Wishes, which is “dedicated to enriching lives and lifting the spirits of children who are facing vital health issues while providing care, comfort and support through the most difficult of times.” He also works with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and has donated hair to women who have lost theirs from cancer treatments — an homage to his grandmother, Betty Swisher, who died of brain cancer in 2005. A list of Swisher’s charity work is available on his website.
It might be early morning, but hey, it’s a Friday, so I propose a toast to Nick Swisher. The Yanks got him for next to nothing, and he’s been an important cog in a high-powered offense. Whether he’s slamming a walk-off home run or taking a key walk, Swisher is contributing to this offense and to the clubhouse. So let’s crown his ass. He is who he thought he was.
A great big Swisher bear hug to The Yankees Universe for the tip.