Swan, Ricky (1987)
Ernest (Ricky) Swan
Remembering highlights of a baseball career 20 years removed requires some thinking. Former Westbrook High athlete Swan tapped his memory for these: Striking out eight in a row as a Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm hand.
Being told at age 18 by Maine Baseball Hall of Fame charter member Clyde Sukeforth that he had more potential than blazing fastballer Sandy Koufax.
As a pitcher in Spartanburg, S.C., hitting a home run and drawing from his battery mate, (who had caught on the Arizona College team with Reggie Jackson), ‘‘I’ve never seen a ball hit so far.’’
Being selected for three straight years to play in the instructional League. The top 30 players in the organization or top prospects were picked.
Pitching and winning the first three games in the Telegram League as a senior, cracking a home run each time.
Beating Portland in the bottom of the tenth inning with a home run over the Warren League field’s right field fence. He became only the second batter to reach that distant barrier, and broke the then-league homer record of four.
Colby College’s Bill Bryan signed Swan to a Pirates’ contract after strong recommendations from longtime Westbrook High coach and athletic director John (Paddy) Davan and area coach Ash Atherton.
Swan, who resides in Windham with wife Vicky and daughters Whitney and Payson, has owned his own logging business for 15 years.
From the left side, Swan knew how to put the lumber to a baseball. He was all-Telly in 1963 and 1964.
Even though he was a pitcher, Swan enjoyed hitting more. One of his minor league managers, Waldoboro native Clyde Sukeforth, often used him as a pinch hitter when he wasn’t pitching.
Swan chuckles at the instruction he received in the minor leagues compared to what today’s players get.
He said a roving pitching instructor with the Pirates would visit the different minor league camps.
“I threw 90-plus with good movement. I had a curve that they wanted to have a quicker break. The pitching coach would ask, ‘How you holding the ball, how you holding the ball?’ Then he said, ‘I’ll see you in the big leagues.’
“There wasn’t a lot of instruction. You would just go play and learn from your mistakes. It’s altogether different now.”
In his time in the Pirates’ organization, Swan played with future major leaguers Bob Robertson, Steve Blass, Al Oliver, Freddy Patek and Don Money.
An item in the July 23, 1967, edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram said: “Ernie Swan of Westbrook, pitching for the Pirates’ farm team at Gastonia, N.C. in the Western Carolinas League, has won five and lost two in 10 starts. He has fanned 43 in 56 innings and has a brilliant 2.57 earned-run average. Swan, a hard thrower who has always tried to blow the ball past the batters, suddenly has developed a change-up and a slider, and chances are he’ll move up to a faster league before the season ends.”
A year later, his career was heading in a different direction. In 1968, after a Double-A game in Macon, Georgia, Swan and a teammate were driving to a Marine Corps Reserves meeting when their car collided with a van.
“We were coming up over a hill and the van was in our lane. We swerved off to the side but the van did, too,” said Swan.
He and his teammate were lucky to be alive. Enough damage was done, however, to soon spell the end to Swan’s major league aspirations.
“I dislocated everything on my right side,” he said. “I came back too soon and hurt my arm. At the time you don’t realize you’re all done. Then you slowly realize it and it’s frustrating.”
The arm injury ended Swan’s career after five professional seasons. After the Pirates released him in 1969, Swan returned home and soon started working for the Portland Boys’ Club as physical education director. Before long he became a self-employed logging contractor for 25 years.
“I loved working in the outdoors,” he said.
Swan worked in circulation for the Portland Press Herald as an area collector for 14 years before retiring.
Swan played several years in the Portland Twilight League, first for Yudy’s Tires as a player-manager and then for Haverty Buick, where he still was a feared hitter while doing some relief pitching.
“There were some great players in the Twilight League in the 1970s,” he said.
Today, Swan and his wife, Victoria, live on a 35-acre farm they purchased in 1981. They have two daughters, Whitney and Payson, who were star athletes at Windham High. Swan coached his daughters in Little League softball, calling it “the most fun he had in sports.” The team won a state title in 1990.
Swan was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Another Westbrook High teammate, Ken Luce, said when he thinks of Swan as a high school baseball pitcher, the word “intimidation” comes to mind.
“Rick was very tough on left-handed batters,” said Luce.
“He would just stare them down. He threw hard with a lot of movement. I was a left-handed batter and I felt fortunate at the time that I didn’t have to bat against Rick.”