It has been 22 years since South Portland native Billy Swift threw a pitch in the major leagues.
The former three-time, second-team All-American at the University of Maine spent 13 seasons in the big leagues with three teams. He appeared in 403 games and compiled a 94-78 record and a 3.95 earned run average.
Swift eventually embarked on a coaching career, spending 12 years at Scottsdale Christian Academy before moving on to the college level at Arizona Christian University. He spent five seasons before retiring after the 2018 season.
“It was time for a break. I was getting burned out,” said the 58-year-old Swift.
He and wife, Michelle [Kenney], live in Paradise, Arizona. Occasionally, they trek 5 1/2 hours to California to help daughters Aubrey and Mackenzie, who own Details Darling, a full-service wedding planning company.
The Swifts’ youngest daughter Brynlie is in college.
Swift said his major-league career is a distant memory.
“It’s funny. It was so long ago that it’s like I never even played the game,” said Swift, the 14th of 15 children raised by Herb and Dorothy Swift.
“I had a good career. It obviously blessed my life,” Swift said. “Being the 14th of 15 kids, I couldn’t have dreamed about doing what I did.
“God gave me an arm to throw, and I used it wisely, I guess,” he said.
Swift was the second overall pick in the 1984 draft by the Seattle Mariners. He featured a nasty 92 mph sinker and a slider, along with a change-up. On May 28, 1988, he set a record when he induced 22 ground-ball outs against the New York Yankees.
“And it was in the Kingdome, no less. It was like pitching on a cement block,” Swift quipped.
Kevin Bernier, one of Swift’s former UMaine teammates, faced him when they were playing for different summer league teams.
“It’s not much fun hitting against him. I could never hit him. His sinker disappeared. He never threw anything straight,” Bernier said.
The Mariners used Swift as both a starter and a reliever, and his 1990 and 1991 seasons were impressive.
After going 6-4 with six saves and a 2.39 ERA in 1990, he posted a 1.99 ERA in 1991 with 17 saves and a 1-2 record.
Swift’s best years were just ahead, after the Mariners traded him to San Francisco.
In 1992, Swift’s 2.08 ERA with the Giants was the lowest in the majors. He was 10-4 in 30 appearances including 22 starts.
The next season was even more memorable. He went 21-8 with a 2.82 ERA and finished second to Atlanta’s Greg Maddux for the NL Cy Young Award. He and teammate John Burkett (22-7, 3.65 ERA), combined for a 43-15 record.
The Giants went 103-59 but the Braves won the NL West with a 104-58 record. There were no wildcard teams then, so the Giants missed the playoffs.
“I got my 20th win against the [San Diego] Padres and any time you win 20 games [it is a noteworthy accomplishment],” Swift said. “That whole season was just a blur. It seemed too easy. Our team was so good. John and I expected to win every time we went out there. It seemed like we always had a lead. And we had a great defense behind us.”
Swift then was plagued by injuries. He appeared in only 17 games in 1994 before becoming a free agent and signing with Colorado. He spent three injury-marred seasons pitching at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
He returned to the Mariners for his final season in 1998, going 11-9 with a 5.95 ERA as their fifth starter.
“I went into spring training in 1999 feeling great,” Swift said. “But the Mariners had traded Randy Johnson for [pitchers] Freddy Garcia and John Halama and they released me.”
Swift said the Red Sox planned to sign him and send him initially to Class AAA Pawtucket.
“I didn’t want to be away from Michelle and the kids, so I decided to walk away. Most have trouble doing that, but it was pretty easy for me,” Swift said.
He had also played in the outfield at UMaine and hit a respectable .210 as a pitcher in the majors.
Swift, who is in several halls of fame, enjoyed a legendary career at UMaine. He went 27-8 and owns or shares the school record for wins, complete games in a career (26) and a season (9), and single-game strikeouts (17, against Harvard).
In 1982, he was 10-1 and beat Stanford in the College World Series.
“We always had good teams at Maine and we had awesome guys,” said Swift, who said he benefited from the exposure he received from going to four College World Series and was grateful to head coach John Winkin for giving him the opportunity to pitch.