If you’ve ever met me in your life or seen me play, the story I’m about to tell you won’t surprise you one bit.
So last summer, my brother-in-law and I and some of our friends are on a train back to Chicago from his bachelor weekend — we had hit a round of golf up at Whistling Straits outside of Milwaukee — and I think I hear one of the guys mention slow-pitch softball. I pop my head up like, “What are you guys talking about?”
“Aw, nothing,” one of them says. “Just softball stuff. You won’t want to play.”
“Bro, I’m so in. Where you need me?”
They tell me their season starts in a couple of weeks and that they need another outfielder, and I’m all jacked, like, “Let’s go!” It just sounds like so much fun.
So the first thing I do when I get home is call my guys at Marucci, Tucci, New Balance and Louisville Slugger, and I get loaded up with softball gear. If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it right, you know?
So the first game comes, and I’m out there, hat on backward, trying to be incognito. Nobody knows who I am. The guys put me out in centerfield — the only centerfield I’ve ever been able to play. Hahaha. But I figured I could handle it in softball, right?
No lie … first inning, a ball gets blasted on a line to my right, and I get a killer jump on it. I dive — I mean lay out, full extension — and make the grab. Then I get up, forearms scratched up and bleeding under my shirt, and I throw my hands up and flex, tongue out, like, Yeeeeaaahhhh! … pumping up all three people in the crowd. It was sick. I love that feeling.
Then, in my first at bat, I get to the plate toting one of my fresh new sticks, and … first pitch, bro … I go deep. Like, deeeeep. A no-doubter. And the catcher — who still doesn’t know who I am — says, “Wow, man … that’s a really nice swing.”
I’m like, “Thanks, dude. I’ve been working on it.”
And I just laughed all the way back to the dugout.
It was the best.
And the reason I say that anybody who’s ever met me or seen me play won’t be surprised by that story is because that’s the kind of energy and passion I bring to the game of baseball every time I step on the field. I guarantee you’re gonna have a hard time ever finding somebody who had as much fun playing the game as I did.
And now I’m gonna bring that same energy to everything else I do … now that I’m officially retiring from Major League Baseball.
That felt goooood. It’s like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. I mean, your body tells you when it’s time to call it quits. And this off-season, my body was screaming, “The dream is over, baby!” And I can’t argue with that. My dream was to play until I was 40 years old, and to be honest, I’m 36 now, and I’m lucky to have played as long as I did. I was never really hurt much in my career, and I didn’t spend a lot of time on the disabled list.
Until I had surgery on both my knees in August, 2014.
I had never undergone a major surgery before, so I remember going in and lying on the operating table, like, “Damn, this is crazy … but I’m gonna be O.K. This isn’t gonna faze me.” I honestly believed that, too. I was positive that I was gonna come back better than ever.
Then I showed up to spring training in 2015 and I felt like a piece of glass. Plus, I just didn’t have that same spring, that same pop. And when you’re used to being able to do certain things physically, and then suddenly you can’t, it’s soul crushing. And once you start thinking like that, it’s tough to get out of your head. It starts affecting your mentality. And when that happens….
The dream is over, baby!
You try and hang on for as long as you can, and I’m glad I did, because I had so much fun last year playing with those young guys in Scranton, Pennsylvania. When you’ve been the young punk in the locker room before, and then the roles reverse and the young guys are like, “Hey man, you O.K.? Can we help you off the bus?” That’s full circle.
I remember my second full year in the big leagues, with the A’s. It was one of my better years — I hit 35 bombs that year — but it was also the year that Frank Thomas came over from the White Sox. I was geeked up to be playing with him. I mean … it was the Big Hurt! I had Frank Thomas posters in my room growing up, and now I was sitting next to him in the dugout, and we were hitting back-to-back in the lineup? That was crazy to me.
Then 11 years later, I was the “old guy” with bad knees playing first base on a Triple A field in God knows where, and these kids were coming to first base, like, “Swish … I remember watching you play when I was in high school.”
And I’m like, “Bro, you just made me feel both awesome and terrible in the same sentence….”
Full circle, brother.
But that’s what a career should be. It should be a roller coaster. It should be crazy. I was a first-round pick, had a few good years in Oakland and signed a big deal. I was like “Yo, I made it! I’m in!” That roller coaster was going straight up.
Then, out of nowhere, Billy Beane trades me to the White Sox in 2008.
That one hurt because I wanted to try and be that guy who stuck with the same organization for his entire career. I wanted to have those roots. So it was kind of a reality check.
Then I got another reality check when I got benched late in the season in Chicago.
My roller coaster was starting to take a nosedive.
Then I got a phone call that off-season that changed everything.
It was shortly after my horrible 2008 season had ended when I get a call from Brian Cashman. He’s like, “Swish, we believe in you and we feel like you’re going to have a great comeback year for us.”
Keep in mind, the whole time he’s talking, I’m thinking, Holy s***. This is Brian Cashman. This is the New York Yankees.
To this day, I don’t know why he had so much faith in me. He must have seen something in me that I couldn’t see myself. But I’m so grateful that he did, because I feel like that move put me on the map. Once I got to New York, everybody was so amazing that it just allowed my personality to come out.
And that was a team that already had Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera — legends, bro. Legends who knew how to win. I mean, you don’t just get to the big leagues and start winning. You have to learn how to win. And it was an honor to learn from those guys, and to eventually win with them.
That off-season, after missing the postseason for the first time in God knows how long, the Yankees loaded up and brought in Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett.
Three monsters, and a punk like me.
I wasn’t even a starter at the beginning of the 2009 season. I pinch-hit in the first couple of games, and in the third game of the season I went 3 for 5, blasted a double and a home run and drove in five runs. Then, Xavier Nady had Tommy John surgery, and I became the everyday rightfielder.
I love X. I mean, this was a guy who was gracious enough to let me come stay with him and his wife and their one-year-old when I first came to New York. Just the best dude ever. And as much as it sucked to see him injured, it was a major break for me. Sometimes that’s just how the game goes. I mean, I got my first call-up to the big leagues with the A’s because Jermaine Dye broke his thumb and I happened to be hot in Triple A at the time. That’s the business.
When X went down, I knew that was my shot.
And I’ll get to what happened the rest of that season in a bit … but the best thing ever was when they brought me in to pitch. It was the first week of the season. We hadn’t even played a home game yet, and we were down in Tampa. I’m standing by the bat rack in the top of the eighth inning, and Joe Girardi is going haywire because we’re losing like 15–5, and suddenly he turns around like he’s looking for somebody and he locks eyes with me and says, “Can you pitch?”
And I was like, “Oh, hell yeah, baby!”
“O.K.,” he said. “You’re going in. You’re gonna pitch but if I catch you trying to throw hard, I’m going to take your ass out.”
I hadn’t pitched since my freshman year in high school … but I didn’t tell Girardi that. I was just like, “I got this, Skip.”
So I’ve been a Yankee for like five minutes, and I’m out there on the mound at Tropicana Field, and I look down at my jersey and see the NEW YORK across my chest, and I say to myself, Bro, look where you are right now. How the f*** did you get here?
And today I can say that I’m calling it a career with one punch-out and a 0.00 lifetime ERA.
But when I think about that ’09 season, I gotta think about the World Series against the Phillies. That was the pinnacle. It was sick. I remember Cliff Lee just dominated us in Game 1 at home, and we won Game 2 and traveled to Philly with the series tied 1–1.
And I’ll never forget when we rolled into Philly and got off the train. I didn’t think anybody knew when or where we were coming in, but I was mistaken. There were loads of Philly fans at the train station when we arrived. And as soon as I took one step off the train, this guy on the platform to my left points at me and says, “F*** you, Swisher. I f***ing hate you!”
I immediately turned to my right and was like, “Woah, bro, guess I’m going this way….”
But I loved that stuff. You gotta love going into a hostile environment with everything on the line. If you don’t get up for that, you don’t have a pulse. Your heart ain’t beating, bro.
And then after having not played in Game 2, I come in on the road in Game 3 and go deep and we win? Are you kidding me? That was the dopest thing ever. I just remember running around the bases like, Oh. My. Gosh. What just happened?
And then Hideki Matsui basically won us that World Series. No lie. Godzilla. Dude was 8 for 13 with three homers and eight RBI in the series. It was ridiculous.
To this day, every time I see him, I still say “Thanks for my ring, bro!”
Man, what an awesome experience — and to wrap up a World Series title in Game 6 at home, and to do it with that group of guys? That was special, man. My roller coaster ride was at its peak that year. I never got higher than that, and baseball had never been more fun.
I could sit here all day and talk about that ’09 season, honestly, or about my career in general. I mean, for 12 years I got to play this game — me, of all people. I have so many great memories that I’ll have for the rest of my life, and I met so many incredible people along the way … too many to mention here. But they know who they are.
There are really three people I need to make sure I mention: My wife JoAnna, my father Steve … and the fans.
I’ll start with my wife, Jo.
She’s my rock. Period.
We met when I was about halfway through my career, and since that day, I’ve felt like everything in my life has just been better. Even when I wasn’t playing well in Cleveland. Or when I had my knee surgeries. Or when I was 35 years old playing in front of 20-30 people in Scranton or wherever. Even during the most difficult times in my life and career, everything was all good because she was there right by my side, every step of the way.
And that’s one of the reasons that this is a big day for me … because for me to have had a rock of a woman like her in my life and career, I think it’s only fitting now for me to come home and be the rock for her and her career, and put her on that pedestal that she deserves to be on. Because it’s tough to find a good woman, and I feel like I’m fortunate to have found one.
I also have my father to thank. He was a pro ballplayer for 10 years — part of that generation of guys who paved the way for today’s players to have it as good as we do.
When I was six years old, I spent the summer with my dad when he was in the minors. We were in Waterloo, Iowa. I think that’s the first time that I really remember baseball being the coolest thing in the world to me. While the rest of the kids my age were playing baseball in Little League or T-ball, I was riding the minor league bus with my dad. I was catching fly balls in batting practice — or at least trying to. And that’s really where I developed my passion for the game. Out there, it wasn’t about wins and losses. I was just enjoying the game, having a blast.
Since that time, my dad’s been my biggest fan and my best bud. Baseball is the bond we share. We’re always swapping baseball stories, and I guess now we’ll get to swap retirement stories, too.
For me to have had a dad who was a great teacher who taught from experience was invaluable to me. Who knows if I would have made it this far or played this long without his guidance.
Something tells me I wouldn’t have.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m gonna miss playing the game. No doubt about it. But I’ll still be around. Even if they don’t want me around, I’m gonna find a way.
But the thing I’ll miss the most is running out to rightfield at Yankee Stadium in front of 55,000 people and having the Bleacher Creatures lose their s***. It felt more like a WWE wrestling match than a baseball game. I’d be out there, pumping the crowd up or whatever — I think I tried to climb the wall a couple of times … never made it — and it was on!
I had such a special, unique relationship with those fans in New York. I mean, I had my Brohio people in Cleveland, along with my OG fans in Oakland — I love you guys, always. But nothing was like the way it was when I was in New York.
You know, when I started doing the Swisher Salute, it was first and foremost a tribute to my grandfather, because he was a military man. But it was also a tribute to the fans to salute them and say, “Thank you for welcoming me into this crazy world of yours.” I mean, it’s Zoo York. Concrete jungle.
To have had a special relationship with such a big group of people is something I’ll never forget. Out of all the guys who’ve played that rightfield position in that stadium, I don’t know why they connected with me like they did, but I’m glad they did because it was f***ing awesome. Thank you!
It’s actually funny … I think the craziest I’ve ever seen Yankees fans wasn’t even at Yankee Stadium. It was at the ticker-tape parade after we won the title in ’09.
You wanna talk about feeling like a full-fledged rock star? How about being on one of those World Series floats rolling through New York City.
Bro … I’m talking hundreds of thousands of people. Me and Johnny Damon were on our float together, and I remember a fan had a sign that said, I’LL NAME MY FIRSTBORN AFTER SWISH IF I CAN PARTY WITH HIM!
And I was like, “DEAL! My middle name is Thompson! Come party!”
It was just always nothing but love from those fans. Real love.
Everything about that ’09 season professionally and personally was just magical.
Best year of my life.
Until my girls were born.
This whole retirement thing started with a decision to take a break from baseball, to come home and be a dad. Baseball and I weren’t getting along, so I figured I’d take some time off and we’d reconvene after the 2016 season.
Well, let me tell you something: As soon as you get home and you’re around your family — in my case, my brand new daughter — baseball quickly leaves your mind. So if I have any advice at all to guys who are wondering whether it’s time to leave the game or not, it’s that if you want to take a break from baseball, stay close. Because if you don’t, you’ll break up. Getting married and having kids changes your priorities quick. Your focus shifts. You don’t get to the ballpark as early. And the extra time off starts to look better and better.
But I don’t want this to be a sad thing. I’m retiring, but this isn’t a going-away party. Nobody’s dying. I’m gonna be around. I just want people to know how appreciative I am for the support I’ve gotten throughout my career. I feel like I gave everything I had, and it’s nice to be able to come home after a long career like mine and lie my head on my pillow and say, “You f****** rocked that, bro. What a blast.”
And I’m not gonna end up in the Hall of Fame or anything, but I have memories and relationships that I’m gonna keep with me for the rest of my life. That’s good enough for me.
This next chapter is gonna be badass. I’m so pumped for it. I’m excited to say that I’m going to join Fox Sports as a studio analyst for the 2017 season, so I definitely won’t be far from the game. But also, I’m gonna go do all the things I was never allowed to do when I was playing. I want to learn how to ski. I want to go skydiving. I already went swimming with sharks, and it was totally intense … afraid for my life. So I can already cross that one off.
I also want to stay at home and be Mr. Mom to my two girls and allow my wife to further her career. Maybe I’ll buy a school bus and drive all the kids in the neighborhood to school … I don’t know. I’m not ruling anything out.
This dream is over y’all. But another one is about to begin. The roller coaster is not stopping, it’s just switching tracks.
And I’m gonna keep enjoying every second of the ride.