You’ll have to forgive Nick Swisher for being excited. It’s just that … he’s Nick Swisher. He doesn’t know any other way. The former big leaguer can probably mount a passionate, bro-heavy tirade about the relative benefits of 93-octane gasoline compared to 87. At least in this case, he’s going on about the greatest year of his professional life, when he felt rescued from a bad situation in Chicago, then got the uncomfortable benefit of a good friend’s injury and rode that opportunity to a dream season that culminated with the 2009 World Series title.
Now 10 years later, Swisher is happily retired and happily married with two happy kids, and he couldn’t be happier. Life’s been good to him so far. But no memory on the field can compare to that instant when the Phillies’ Shane Victorino grounded a ball to Robinson Canó, who threw over to Mark Teixeira to secure the Yankees’ 27th championship. A decade later, Swisher literally breaks out in goosebumps discussing it. So, enjoy this trip down memory lane with our old buddy Swish, as he recounts the greatest memories and craziest times from an unforgettable year.
You were traded to the Yankees in November 2008, immediately after the team missed the postseason for the first time in 14 years. Was there any part of you that worried, “Wait a minute, did I miss the boat here?”
Well, you’ve got to remember, at that point, I didn’t care what the New York Yankees were doing at the time. I was just busy having one of the worst seasons of my career in Chicago. So for myself, I was worried about a little more than just what was happening in New York at the time because I knew my career was kind of in limbo at that point.
There were such great players already on the roster -- Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mariano Rivera, you name it. Then the team adds CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. Did you watch the offseason unfold like a player, or like a fan?
Well, like a player and a fan! I’ve always kind of been like that. I knew the honor that I had playing for this organization the moment I stepped through the Spring Training doors. You look around the lockers, and you see Jeter, you see Rivera, you see [Jorge] Posada and [Andy] Pettitte. Rodriguez, Robinson Canó. And then you’ve got Johnny Damon and Swish in the corner. So I immediately knew where I was, and I could not have been more excited.
How cool was it to be here for the first season in the new Yankee Stadium, and was there any part of you that wished you could have spent a year playing at the old Stadium?
No. What? No! That’s not my style. You get so many different types of people that say, “I liked the old Stadium more.” But I’m a new-school guy. I want the new-school swag. And the greatest thing about that Stadium was that it was ours. I didn’t play for the Yankees in the old Stadium. I had no ties to that Stadium. But guess what? The new Yankee Stadium -- that’s our Stadium. I knew how awesome that was. And on top of everything that happened on the field in 2009, dude, that’s when I met my wife. That’s when I fell in love. That was when I knew who I was going to marry.
Not a bad year.
Not a bad year at all!
For as much as you would become a fan favorite in New York, you broke camp without a starting role on the team.
I was the fourth outfielder.
Are you the type of person who ever goes back and wonders, what if Xavier Nady has a great year and doesn’t get injured? What becomes of my career then?
Of course! You can be the Monday morning quarterback and play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game. But for myself, that’s how it happened. And what’s even more funny was that at the time, I was living with X! He was such a good guy, and his family, everyone was so great. They treated me so amazing. The year he had [in 2008], are you kidding me, bro? We’re talking about X-Nady. This dude was a stone-cold G.
I was under contract, I had kind of established myself as a name a little bit. I could have been all [ticked] off or I could have done exactly what I did, which was just shut my mouth and go back to the drawing board. I took advantage of every opportunity that I got. I got a start in my third game, and that was when I went 3-for-5, hit the homer and drove in five. That hot start propelled me for what was to come.
And by the way, I pitched in Tampa, bro! I pitched! I’ve got a better ERA than Mariano Rivera.
You’re clearly comfortable in your own skin. Joining a team where you’re surrounded by absolute giants of the game, were you comfortable right off the bat?
I think I hit at the time when things in New York were starting to loosen up a little bit. It wasn’t as uptight. It wasn’t as stuffy. You brought over personalities that had never played here before that had the respect for what the NY logo meant, but also brought a little swag to the party, as well. Guys like CC, guys like A.J. Burnett. Myself. As much as I love Tex, his swag level was kind of low, but still. And I think the greatest thing about that year was what we turned it into. And I think you have to give credit to the veterans, the Core Four, because those guys let us be us. And I’m sure that might not have happened in the past. We started with the pies. A.J. was slamming everybody with those. The walk-offs -- we had 14 or 15 walk-off wins that year. That was just a magical year.
Right around mid-June it seemed like was when you guys clicked--
--And then you come out of the All-Star break and win eight in a row. Whose voice was the most helpful in that clubhouse, getting you guys through some of the early-season struggles?
At that point in time, you’re playing for the New York Yankees. You don’t need anyone to tell you what you need to do. That was the unwritten rule. All you had to do was just look around, and you’d see the way Derek was going about his business, the way Jorge was, Andy, Mariano, the way those guys set the tone in the locker room, it was easy to follow those guys. Because they were leaders. And that’s what you’re looking for in a locker room.
On Aug. 6--
Bro, 2009, that was 10 years ago! You expect me to remember something from a specific date?
Trust me, I think you’ll remember this. The Red Sox are coming to town. You guys are 0-8 against them on the season. Four-game series. Do you remember what happened?
Yeah, we swept them.
I remember that! I don’t necessarily remember those four games, I just remember the rivalry itself. It’s like Ohio State–Michigan, man. There’s no bigger rivalry than that in college sports. There’s no bigger rivalry in baseball than the Red Sox and Yankees. And when both teams are playing well is when our game is at its best. That’s what happened last year. So in 2009, it was great, as well. They had a perennially great team, just like we did. So for us to start off as bad as we did, and finish as strong as we did, I think that might have been something that got us over the hump.
When the series started, you were up 2.5 games on them. By the end, obviously, it’s 6.5. What do you think you guys knew about yourselves on Aug. 9, after those four games, that maybe you didn’t know for sure yet on Aug. 6?
Nothing. We might have been playing better, clutch hits, the whole nine. The one thing we knew on Aug. 9 that we didn’t know on Feb. 25 was the roles. Who slots in where? Who does what? What to expect from each other. I think we became a full squad through that series.
You made the playoffs with both Oakland and Chicago, but what was winning in New York like?
Different, man. Nowhere on the planet do they celebrate winning like they do in New York City, nor is there anywhere on the planet where you’re expected to win like you are in New York. We’re 10 years later, and we haven’t had a championship since. You know how things go in New York, people love winners. It’s so fun to sit here and talk about these old times, but I think to myself, the coolest part about all of this is that, in my opinion, walking in that locker room this year is the best squad that they’ve put on the field in years.
You had moments that postseason, but you struggled overall. Does any part of that stick with you?
No one’s going to remember my struggles. They remember the championship. Walter Payton doesn’t have a touchdown in the Super Bowl, either. Some of the best players don’t always have the best numbers. Alex Rodriguez had a horrible postseason career up until 2009. So for myself, yes. Obviously when you’re going through those times, it sucks. But at the end of the day, you don’t look back on the negative parts.
It’s not like they put you on a smaller float in the parade.
That’s what I’m saying! It’s not like they’re saying, “Well, this guy’s not part of the team!” So I think for myself, at least in the ’09 World Series, I got a couple of extra-base hits, hit a home run, scored some runs. Did my part. But we’re not always going to have success. And sometimes in the postseason, it’s just a little more glorified because it’s under more of a microscope than usual.
You had Jay-Z and Alicia Keys on the field, all the pregame pomp and ceremony. How much fun did you have in the World Series?
Dude, Jay-Z and Alicia Keys at second base? Let’s go! If you can’t feel the excitement through my voice, then it’s hard to explain how else that feels. Because, by the way, man, maybe my excitement level is so high because I understood how fortunate I was to be part of that. Not many people get the chance to do stuff like that. People don’t have the opportunity to play for the New York Yankees. People don’t have the opportunity to play in the World Series. I’m just a punk kid from Parkersburg, West Virginia, bro. All of a sudden, I’m standing in a float with the New York Yankees? With somebody holding a sign saying, “I’d give my first born to party with Swish!” That’s what sticks with me.
In those final moments, those last innings and last outs of Game 6, when everything you’ve worked for is a couple minutes away, how are you staying composed? What are you holding on to in that moment?
I can honestly say that the ground ball to Robbie Canó, over to Mark Teixeira off of Shane Victorino’s bat was the loudest sound I’ve ever heard in my life. That roaring boom that came from Yankee Stadium after the last out of Game 6 was made -- I have goosebumps now, bro. You’re taking anywhere from 30 to 50 guys from all different parts of the country, all different parts of the world, all different walks of life, and you jell together for nine, 10 months, to win a championship.
I think, in my mind, I had a pretty good career, but I wasn’t a perennial All-Star. You win a World Series with the New York Yankees, you’re a legend for life.
You dream about winning a World Series your whole life; when that ball settles into Teixeira’s glove, what’s the actual moment like? How does it compare to what you imagined?
You don’t know how to act! You really don’t. You don’t know what’s going to come out. Some guys drop to a knee, some guys jump up in the air, which is what I did. Some guys run around like a chicken with their head cut off. The emotion is so great that it’s hard to explain to somebody. You almost just lose control. Everything just becomes numb.
So it’s more of a release than a reaction?
That’s it! And after the whole celebration, all you do is just sink into whatever you’re sitting in. You just have nothing left to give, emotionally, physically. It’s the best, man.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.