Swoboda in 2009
|Born: June 30, 1944|
|April 12, 1965, for the New York Mets|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 30, 1973, for the New York Yankees|
|Runs batted in||344|
|Career highlights and awards|
After graduating from Sparrows Point High School, one season at the University of Maryland, and a stellar showing in the AAABA tournament in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Swoboda was offered a $35,000 contract to sign with the New York Mets and scout Pete Gebrian on September 5, 1963.
He spent only one season in the Mets' farm system in AA with the Williamsport Mets before making the Major League team in spring training, 1965. He made his major league debut as a pinch hitter in the season opener, and lined out in his only at-bat. He pinch hit, again, in the second game of the season, this time hitting an 11th-inning home run (the Mets still lost, as the Houston Astros had scored four runs in the top of the inning). He homered again in his first at-bat on April 18, giving him two home runs in his first four Major League at-bats.
He had 15 home runs by the All-Star break, the most ever by a Mets rookie in the first half as of 2010, ahead of Benny Agbayani (11 in 1999) and Ike Davis (11 in 2010). After he commented during a TV interview that he loved hitting fastballs, he began seeing a lot more breaking balls, and hit only four more on the season. Still, his 19 home runs stood as a Mets rookie record until Darryl Strawberry's 26 in 1983. His rookie fielding percentage was a below-league-average .947, however, he had nine outfield assists. For his efforts, he was selected to 1965 Topps All-Star Rookie Team. His 1966 Topps baseball card was imprinted with a gold trophy symbol. In the 1966 movie Penelope, Natalie Wood as the title character, opens a pack of 1966 Topps baseball cards, sees Swoboda's rookie card, and asks police lieutenant Horatio Bixbee (Peter Falk) "Who's Ron Swoboda?"
Swoboda wore number 14 as a rookie in 1965. When the Mets acquired third baseman Ken Boyer from the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the start of the 1966 season, they granted him number 14, as he'd worn it in St. Louis. Swoboda wore number 17 briefly during spring training in 1966, then switched to number 4. His home run drought continued through the 1966 season, when he hit only eight home runs and batted .222, with fifty runs batted in.
During his early years with the Mets, he acquired the nickname "Rocky" as a result of his less-than-reliable fielding. Although he possessed a strong, accurate throwing arm, a fly ball hit in his direction was, by no means, a sure out. After having spent most of his time in left field his first two seasons, Swoboda was shifted to first baseman in 1967 to make room for newly acquired Tommy Davis in left. Swoboda's fielding at first was no better, and he was soon shifted to right field. Offensively, he had perhaps his best season, hitting .281 with thirteen home runs and 53 RBIs. He led the Mets with six triples and a career-high 59 RBIs in 1968, and also had a career-high fourteen outfield assists.
By May 21, 1969, the Mets won their third game in a row for a .500 winning percentage 36 games into the season for the first time in franchise history. This was followed by a five-game losing streak that saw the team fall into fourth place in the newly aligned National League East.
The Mets then went on an eleven-game winning streak that brought them back into second place, seven games behind the Chicago Cubs. On September 10 the Mets swept a doubleheader against the Montreal Expos. Coupled with a loss by the Cubs, the Mets found themselves in first place for the first time in franchise history. On September 13, Swoboda hit a grand slam against the Pittsburgh Pirates to propel the Mets to a 5–2 victory. Two days later, as the St. Louis Cardinals' Steve Carlton struck out a record nineteen Mets batters in a losing effort, the Mets defeated the Cards 4–3 at Busch Stadium on a pair of two-run home runs by Swoboda. On September 24, facing Carlton and the Cardinals again, this time at Shea Stadium, the Mets clinched the NL East as Donn Clendenon hit two home runs in a 6–0 Mets victory. The Mets won 38 of their last 50 games, and finished the season with 100 wins against 62 losses, eight games ahead of the second-place Cubs.
1969 World Series
Swoboda did not appear in the Mets' 1969 National League Championship Series three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves to reach the World Series. The Mets were heavy underdogs heading into the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles. In Game 4, Swoboda, not known for his fielding, made a spectacular catch of a ball hit by Brooks Robinson in the ninth inning to stop an Orioles rally. The Mets won the game 2–1 in ten innings, and subsequently, the World Series. For the World Series, Swoboda batted .400. His only RBI was the game winner of the fifth and final game.
A photograph of Swoboda, stretched almost horizontally, just inches off the ground, became an iconic image for Mets fans. The Right Field entrance gate of Citi Field, the current home of the Mets, features a metal silhouette of a baseball player making a diving catch similar to the one Swoboda made during the 1969 Series.
In March 1971, Swoboda and minor-leaguer Rich Hacker were traded to the Montreal Expos in exchange for young outfielder Don Hahn. Three months later, the Expos traded Swoboda to the New York Yankees in exchange for outfielder Ron Woods. He was released by the Yankees at the end of 1973, and signed with the Atlanta Braves during spring training of 1974. The Braves, however, released him on March 25, 1974, after which Swoboda retired from baseball. He attempted an unsuccessful comeback with the Mets during spring training in 1976.
After his retirement from baseball, Swoboda worked as a television sportscaster in New York City on WCBS-TV, Milwaukee in Wisconsin on WISN - TV and for many years at WVUE in New Orleans. He also worked at Cox Sports Television. Ron is currently the color commentator for telecasts of games played by the New Orleans Baby Cakes, the AAA farm club of the Miami Marlins. He was also a recipient of the Thurman Munson Award, in February 2009.
He is mostly remembered for his dramatic defensive gem during the 1969 World Series. In a guest column for the New York Daily News, Swoboda wrote, "I'm kidded, occasionally, by folks who wonder: 'How long are you going to keep living off of one catch?' My answer: 'How long have I got left?'"
- "Los Angeles Dodgers 6, New York Mets 1". Baseball-reference.com. 1965-04-12.
- "Houston Astros 7, New York Mets 6". Baseball-reference.com. 1965-04-14.
- Doug Miller. "Surging Niese squares off with Zito". MLB.com. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2010.
- "Ron Swoboda". Baseball-reference.com. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- Mark Armour (December 16, 2016). "Natalie Wood and Ron Swoboda". Society of American Baseball Research. Retrieved April 19, 2017.
- "New York Mets 5, Pittsburgh Pirates 2". Baseball-reference.com. 1969-09-13.
- "New York Mets 4, St. Louis Cardinals 3". Baseball-reference.com. 1969-09-15.
- "New York Mets 6, St. Louis Cardinals 0". Baseball-reference.com. 1969-09-24.
- "1969 World Series Game Five". Baseball-reference.com. 1969-10-16.
- Vecsey, George. "Amid Great Postseason Defense, Recalling Swoboda's Catch," The New York Times, Thursday, October 15, 2009.
- "Big Shots". Everybody Loves Raymond. 1999-03-01.
- "Amazin' Met Ron Swoboda writes about his 'catch' of a lifetime in '69 Series". New York Daily News. 2009-10-17.