FORMER MET CRAIG SWAN IMPRESSED WITH HARVEY
Added by Guy Kipp on June 17, 2013.
For the first month of the 2013 MLB season, it looked like Mets pitcher Matt Harvey might be on his way to duplicating Dwight Gooden’s remarkable 1985 season.
Instead, it now looks like the hard-luck campaign of the brilliant 24-year-old right-hander is following a far more similar track to the season of another Mets pitcher from the past—Craig Swan’s 1978 campaign.
Last Thursday June 13th, Harvey finally lost his first game this season, 2-1, to the Cardinals and superstar right-hander Adam Wainwright, whom Harvey matched virtually pitch for pitch for seven brilliant innings. But, although this was the first game in which Harvey (5-1, 2.04 ERA, 0.91 WHIP) was charged with the loss, it was yet another incidence of Harvey pitching nearly flawless ball for seven innings with no margin for error. He has already left a seemingly inordinate number of games this year after seven innings with the score 1-1 (or 2-1, or 1-0).
And those kinds of low-scoring, snake-bitten excursions into the land of the well-pitched no-decision (Harvey has eight no-decisions in 14 starts) are games that Swan recalls all too well.
DoubleGSports.com recently caught up with Craig Swan, who was the National League earned-run average champion in 1978 with a 2.43 ERA—even though Swan’s record for the dreadful Mets that season was just 9-6, with 13 no-decisions in 28 starts.
Swan’s name might not be as familiar to Mets fans who aren’t of a certain age. He doesn’t have a plaque in the franchise’s Hall of Fame adjacent to Citi Field’s Jackie Robinson Rotunda, and because Swan toiled in the noble, but thankless role of staff ace for some truly hideous teams in the late 1970s. But, before tearing his rotator cuff in the middle of the 1980 season, Swan was one of the best pitchers in the National League. He was a husky, hard-throwing right-hander with an electric fastball and good command of it.
“I was 1-5 at the All-Star Break with a 2.50 ERA,” Swan said with a laugh as he spoke from Greenwich, Conn., where he has his own practice as a rolfer, a specialist in structural alignment of the body. “We just weren’t very good. I won eight games in the second half that year. I think I only had one bad game all season.”
Although Harvey’s record right now is the reverse of Swan’s mid-July mark 35 years ago of 1-5, the pattern of brilliant pitching blended with rotten run support links the two right-handers as historical brothers in arms. And, just as Dwight Gooden has frequently taken a seat behind home plate for several of Harvey’s Citi Field starts this year, Swan has also followed the progress of the Mets’ pitching prodigy from his perch 30 miles away in Connecticut.
“I like to listen to the games on the radio, but, sometimes, if Harvey’s pitching, I do watch,” Swan said. “For me, what he’s going through now will make him a better pitcher, because those types of (low-scoring) games will force him to buckle down.”
A perfect example of the run-starved misery Swan soldiered through in the Summer of ’78 came in the nightcap of a July 4 doubleheader that year, when the last-place Mets were playing the division-leading Phillies (who were en route to their third straight division title). Swan had given up two hits and no runs through seven innings on that cool, misty evening at Shea Stadium. He was touched for a Garry Maddox solo home run in the eighth inning, but still took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and got two quick outs, leaving him one out away from a victory with no one on base.
“Oh yeah,” Swan recalled. “That was the Jose Cardenal game. We had them, 2-1, in the ninth. With two out, Bob Boone hit a chopper over the first baseman’s head for a double. Then Cardenal came up (pinch-hitting for former Met Bud Harrelson) and hit a home run.”
Swan finished the game with a five-hitter and 13 strikeouts. That loss left Swan at 1-5, but, although he may have been lamenting his lousy luck on the inside, he maintained a positive outlook to the rest of the world.
“At the time, the ownership, the Paysons and the deRoulets, they just didn’t want to get involved with free agency, and they didn’t for another four years when they signed George Foster,” Swan said. “I was from Southern California, and when I got to New York and (the Mets started losing), I thought, ‘Geez, these fans are serious out here.’ But when the crowds were small back in those days, I’d talk to fans before the games and tend to my vegetable garden out in the bullpen next to (coach) Joe Pignatano’s tomato garden.”
Swan followed his ERA-title campaign with another good season for another terrible team in 1979, going 14-13 for a 63-99 team and posting a 3.29 ERA. He was still pitching well in 1980 when, midway through the campaign, he injured his shoulder.
“I had a rotator cuff tear in 1980, and Dr. (James) Parkes decided not to do surgery on it,” Swan said. “There was no option to clean it out with arthroscopic surgery yet, so he just prescribed nine months of no activity and I kept my arm in a sling. The nine months was exactly what I needed, and it led me to learn about rolfing, which is about setting the body right with efficient movement in the things we do all day long.”
Swan pitched three times late in the 1981 season, then had a heartening comeback season in 1982, when he managed to go 11-7 for another bad team with a 3.35 ERA despite a considerably diminished fastball (he was down to just 3.6 strikeouts per nine innings that season) after his injury.
“I was the first pitcher to come back from (a torn rotator cuff),” Swan said.
While Swan’s pitching mechanics were something less than textbook—he’d fire the ball with such force that he was falling off the mound almost parallel to the ground when he finished his delivery—he is impressed with what he sees from Harvey.
“Harvey just launches the ball,” Swan said. “He doesn’t have a jerky delivery; he’s not overthrowing. He looks good, and it seems like he’s got his head on straight. He’s not full of himself. If he stays healthy and stays in the game, hopefully they can start getting some runs for him.”