Missing the playoffs for the first time in thirteen years was certainly not the right way to close down the old Yankee Stadium. And since it was evident that George Steinbrenner was not calling the shots any more, we Yankee fans were left to wonder how his heirs would react to the failure. Within a few short postseason months we had our answer. We got Sabathia, we got Burnett and then we got Teixeira. It was powerful three part testimony that even though there had been a changing of the guard at the top, the Yankees were still in it to win it regardless of cost. So why I asked myself were we starting the 2009 season with a guy named Nick Swisher as our starting right fielder?
Since I had been a kid, the Yankees were most successful when they had studs playing right field. Roger Maris from 1960-’64, Reggie from ’77-’81, O’Neill from ’93-2001 and then Sheffield and Abreu. These guys were all third-in-the-lineup type hitters who could carry a team on their backs for long stretches. Nick Swisher was simply not that type of player. Fortunately, he did not have to be.
The 2009 Yankees’ offense was designed to be generated by its $100,000,000 infield. Throw in the rejuvenated starting pitching staff and the cutter-throwing legend in the bullpen and Brian Cashman was figuring he could play Luis Polonia in right field and still make fall ball happen in the new Yankee Stadium that October. New York had traded for Swisher in November of 2008, sending Wilson Betemit and two pitching prospects to the White Sox in exchange for the then 28-year-old switch-hitter. The deal took place before New York decided to go hard after Teixeira and their original intent was to play “Swish” at first base. Once they signed “Tex,” Swisher became part of that year’s outfield mix which included the veteran Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and the youngster, Brett Gardner.
Fortunately for Swisher, he started the 2009 season on fire, averaging over .400 with four home runs just two weeks into the season. And although his bat cooled off, his defense, hustle, and clubhouse charisma helped keep him in the lineup and he ended up playing a pivotal role in that glorious 2009 Yankee championship run. He followed that first season in pinstripes up with a great regular season performance in 2010, hitting a career high .288 with 29 home runs and 89 runs batted in. Then for the second straight season, Swisher’s bat pretty much went silent in the postseason, especially against Texas in the 2010 ALCS. After another solid regular season performance in 2011, Swisher’s postseason blues continued against the Tigers this year as well, when he hit just .211 and failed to deliver at some critical moments with runners in scoring position.
As I see it, Swisher has been a gigantic plus for New York and his acquisition should be considered one of the better deals in franchise history. He’s played above expectation since he first put on the pinstripes and even though he’s struggled in October, he’s helped New York get to three straight postseasons.
He also shares a birthday with two other Yankee legends. This outfielder
was also a much better regular season performer than he was in October and this infielder
hit one of the great postseason home runs in Yankee history.