The youngest member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team, Swindell was the Cleveland Indians‘ top pick in the June 1986 draft and was brought to Cleveland on August 21 after just three Class-A starts. His career was a tale of peaks and valleys, beginning as a dominant starter and concluding as a consistent relief specialist. Indisputably chubby, the 6’3″ Swindell acquired a nickname he hated, Flounder, after the glutton from Animal House. But the front office stopped worrying about the youngster’s weight when he struck out 15 Royals in a May 10, 1987 game.
Like Roger Clemens, Swindell came from the University of Texas, where he would pitch a complete game one day and relieve the next. Resembling Clemens physically and wearing the Rocket’s number 21, Swindell suffered the same medical fate as the Boston hurler when elbow ligament damage ended his first major league season on July 2, 1987 but not after posting a horrendous 3-8 record with a 5.10 ERA in 16 games.
Swindell rested, slimmed down, and became the first major-league pitcher to reach ten victories in 1988. He did not win again for almost two months, but finished 18-14 with a 3.20 ERA. That season, he pitched a career-high 242 innings with a career-high 180 strikeouts and only 45 free passes. He was rewarded for his efforts with a trip to the All-Star Game, where he struck out three in 1 1/3 innings. The next season, Swindell pitched well for a second straight year, posting a 13-6 record and a 3.37 ERA but his strikeout total dipped to 129 and he walked six more batters than he did the previous season. After his ERA jumped over 4.00 in 1990 and his record dipped to 9-16 in 1991, the Indians traded Swindell to the Cincinnati Reds for Jack Armstrong and Scott Scudder on November 15, 1991.
Swindell pitched very well in ’92 and was one of the premier free agents after the season. He and Doug Drabek both signed with the Houston Astros, giving them what many thought would be a devastating pair of aces. Unfortunately, Swindell flopped big-time. In 1993, Swindell posted an ERA over 4.00 and pitched under 200 innings for the first time in three years. In 1994, a strike-shortened season, he showed exceptional control by placing fifth in the National League in fewest walks per inning but he again posted an ERA over four and struck out only 74 batters in 148 1/3 innings. In December, Swindell put a sour taste in the mouths of many fellow ballplayers when he said he would cross the spring picket lines if the strike continued.
Luckily for Swindell, the strike ended and the teams played a 144-game schedule. He tasted his first winning season in an Astros’ uniform in 1995 but his ERA rose to 4.47 and he struck out only 96 players, his second lowest total since his rookie season. He was hammered even harder in 1996 before losing his spot in the rotation and finally being released. Swindell was picked up by the Indians twelve days later, but he didn’t pitch any better in his second tenure in Cleveland as he went on to post a 6.59 ERA in 28 2/3 innings pitched.
Swindell rediscovered himself as a left-handed specialist and long reliever for the Minnesota Twins in ’97 after signing as a free agent. For the first time since his pre-Houston days, Swindell posted a sub-4.00 ERA in 115 2/3 innings as a reliever. Although he pitched well for Minnesota the following season, he was dealt to the Boston Red Sox at the trading deadline. There, he scraped together a 2-3 season with 18 strikeouts and 13 walks and reached the postseason for the first time.
Granted free agency yet again, Swindell signed a three-year deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and in 1999 had his best season in the major leagues. Pitching out of the bullpen, he had his first sub-3.00 ERA season, posting a miniscule road era (0.74) and a 1.32 ERA down the stretch.
In 2000 Swindell was extremely tough on lefties, holding them to a .159 batting average. But overall, the season was mediocre. He posted only a 2-6 record and slowed considerably as the season progressed, accumulating a 4.17 ERA in the second half. Although he was diagnosed with anemia and an ulcer in early 2001, Swindell walked only eight batters in 64 appearances that season.