The Post-Journal

Frankly Speaking

Eric (Swat) Erickson was one of those sort of homely, home guys who radiated so much quiet personality he stood tall in any crowd, his 6 feet-plus notwithstanding. He had known bigness in the athletic world, but retained his "farmer" humbleness through it all from the day he first broke into the major leagues until the grim reaper scored the third out yesterday. "Sure, I remember Swat Erickson," an old time ball player told us in Pittsburgh at the World Series. "Once you met Swat, you never forgot him," he added. That seems to fit one of Jamestown's finest contributions to the big leagues- it fitted him when he reported to the New York Giants in 1914 and it fitted him when he reported to his God yesterday.

Most who knew Swat recall that he played for the Washington Senators, which he did. But he first moved to the Majors with John McGraw's Giants of '14, and later hurled for Detroit before joining Washington in 1919. He was a teammate of the famed Indian athlete, Jim Thorpe, while with the Giants.

Erickson, like the area's other major league standouts, Ray Caldwell and Hugh Bedient, moved from the local sandlots to the big time. Swat was pitching for Leroe's Semipros at Celoron in 1912 when Jack Curtis, an oldtime Texas League infielder, spotted him. Swat was a flame thrower in those days. "Do you think you can throw that hard and get away with it at Dallas in the Texas League?" Curtis asked. "I think so," Swat replied. "At least, I'd like to try." That's how Eric George Erickson launched a baseball career.

"Leroe was paying me $3 a game so the $60 per month Dallas offered me looked pretty good," Swat laughed in later years. Swat worked one game for the Giants after a highly successful Triple A start during which he set what is still a professional baseball record-winning 20 games in 40 days. The Giants dealt him to Detroit. He reported to the Tigers in '16 after a year in the Pacific Coast League. The Tigers were "home" for the next three seasons, interrupted by his military hitch. Swat (they never called him Swat, he was known as Swede in the big leagues) eventually hit the bargain block again. This time it was to Washington in a straight player trade for Doc Ayers and Eddie Ainsmith.

During his four years with Washingtion, Swat faced the hitting terrors of his time on many occasions - Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, George Sisler, Harry Heilman - the time-tested giants of baseball. One time we pressed Swat for the word of his success against the immortals of the majors. "Well," he drawled typically, "sometimes I did all right, then at others they'd whale the living daylights out of me," laughing merrily.

Swat's most active season in the big leagues was at Washington in 1920, when he appeared in 49 games, won 12 and lost 16. He played against Caldwell (New York Highlanders and Cleveland) many times in the big leagues, but missed Bedient (Boston) because Hugh now living in Falconer, had shifted to Buffalo of the Federal League before Swat came into the American League.

One of Swat's favorite stories involving Caldwell was about the day he (Swat) fanned Ray in three pitches yet lost the game. Caldwell, a dangerous hitter, played the outfield in those days when he was not pitching. Ray, then with Cleveland, came in to pitch hit against Washington with men on second and third, two out, last inning and the Senators on top by a run. "Ray swung and missed the first two pitches, then decided to take one," Swat related. "I got it right down the middle so good that Ray headed for the dugout. But the umpire called it a ball. Ray hit the next pitch down the right field line for a two run single."

One of Swat's biggest regrets was missing the World Series by two years and one of his biggest thrills came at the old Celoron Park before the home folks. Swat left Washington in 1922 and in '24 Bucky Harris, the "Boy Wonder" manager brought the Nats home on top where they beat the Giants in the series.

The years were pilling up when Swat, pitching for the Spiders faced the Boston Braves at Celoron on Aug. 8, 1930. But the big Swede still had it - he was king again for a day. The Braves went down before the Spiders and Swat's one-hit pitching. The score, 3-0, a nine-inning game played in 1:20 before 1,787 fans. Bill McKechnie was managing the Braves, who had just signed Danny Hansel, a fine prospect out of Villanova College. McKechnie started Hansel and Swat beat the youngster and the Braves with his arm and his bat, for the Dean of Matson Road tripled with the bases loaded.

Swat will be laid to rest Saturday. The "game" has ended here. But it was played by a gentleman who was a credit to baseball and our community: who dignified everyone and everything he was associated with. It's hard to imagine a more fitting way to face the "third out."

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