Swift, Herbert W. (1976)
Swift, a southpaw ace in the postwar Twi League hurled 38 one-hitters. Vern Putney PPH 12/1976
When Bill Swift was just beginning a career that would ultimately establish the South Portland native as a dominant Major League pitcher, his father, Herb Swift, was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.
The supposedly immortal Ty Cobb, ferocious competitor, reportedly more than once said if he were stealing second base and his mother had the ball, he would go in full speed and with spikes high. At least one member of the current generation has a considerably softer approach.
Bill Swift, a 20-game winner last season with the San Francisco Giants, in a family softball game refused to hit a home run off his mother.
"I never took her deep," Swift insisted. "We just tried to play it safe."
Billy Swift, growing up in South Portland, Maine, had an idyllic boyhood. He played baseball and basketball and ran cross-country. And there were the family softball games. He has nine sisters: Helen, Peggy, Alice, Nancy, Rosemary, Shirley, Cathleen, Mary and Arlene. And five brothers: Herbert Jr., Bobby, Johnny, Mike and Peter. Bill is No. 14, next to the youngest.
"We always had games going on. A lot of great softball games. The nine girls were on one side. They were very good athletes. All of them were all-state in basketball. We picked up a few boys and had enough for two full teams."
His mother, Dorothy, and his father, Herbert, were the opposing pitchers. There was only one concession: One of the boys positioned himself in front of his mother to protect her from line drives. "The boys didn't always win," Billy said. "It was great competition."
But he conceded that the boys and men didn't always take a full swing against mom.
"She's too sweet," he said.
Growing up in a family of 15 children, Swift says, was a big advantage.
"A lot of people have one brother or one sister. Or they're an only child. It must be lonely for them."
Was he ever shut out at the dinner table?
Swift laughed: "I developed a long reach to get those bread rolls. And I was quick."
“How did I end up with 15 kids?” Herb was once asked. “I had a good woman.”
Herb organized the family chores like an assembly line. “You just had the older ones take care of the younger ones. Soon as you were old enough to hold a plate and a towel, you had a job.” “It was almost like we ate in two shifts,” Billy, as he was called then, remembered.4 But even Herb was hard-pressed to name them all until he consulted Dorothy. Young Billy grew up with sisters Helen, Alice, Arlene, Peggy, Mary Francis, Shirley, Rosemary, Nancy, Cathleen, and brothers Herb Jr., Michael, John, Bobby, and Peter. “I still ask them why they had so many,” Swift pondered in 1992. “They really haven’t given us a good answer. They were good Catholics, I guess. They didn’t believe in birth control.”
Herb made billboards for a living to support his large family. “We struggled a little bit,” Billy remembered. “We didn’t have the best of everything, but my parents did good for as many kids as they had to feed. I wasn’t embarrassed.”He learned baseball from Herb, who had once been a left-handed pitcher for the Portland Pilots, a Class B farm team of the Philadelphia Phillies, in the New England League. But the rigorous Mainer would pitch anywhere for a few bucks. “I'd pitch doubleheaders. I had a rubber arm. Fifteen dollars a game,” Herb remembered. “Teams would pick me up to pitch for them. Barnstorming. All around Maine. I was all junk. A left hander, all over the place, no control. A guy would yell, ‘Let me see your fastball.’ I'd say ‘That was it.’” When Billy was born, Herb named him after the greatest Red Sox player of them all. “I named him after Ted Williams. We'd used up all the names of the saints. I wanted William for Ted Williams. My wife wanted Charles. That's his middle name. William Charles Swift.”