Oh No, Bro: Nick Swisher and The Persona Cleveland Has Come to Hate

Baseball, more than any other sport in my opinion, loves to throw around the idea of pressure. Specifically in regards to players and how they perform.

Every year on multiple occasions there are situations in which a team signs a player who just didn’t really fit into what his old team was about. Whether it was because he didn’t fit into the clubhouse culture, or the organization “didn’t favor him” for one reason or another, or, my favorite, he received too much attention or pressure from the media and the outside.

Pressure. Dude, that’s everywhere. Even if you play in New York or Tampa Bay, there’s pressure to produce. I get the argument, have made it myself in defending players or giving reasons why one person may succeed in a different environment. It is most definitely true. Everyone feels pressure though. There may be different kinds of pressure, which is a way better to summarize that, rather than to pigeon hole it into one “he can’t deal with the media” stereotype.

Carl Pavano was the best example of “Well, the New York Media was just too brutal for him” argument and given that he had success pre-New York, and post-New York…but he was also hurt a lot there.

As I said, everywhere you go there, there will be pressure, because the media or the fan base is ultimately not the one signing the paycheck or making sure you are employed. The team is, and if you aren’t making the team’s expectations, they will be the one that tells you this partnership isn’t working out. It is up to that particular athlete on how hard that pressure will be applied.

I’m saying all this, because I think people often describe Cleveland as a lower-pressure situation. Yeah, a guy like Pavano went from New York to Cleveland and succeeded. The media isn’t as brutal, that is for sure. Again, I get it, that argument is most definitely valid.

Cleveland is not this low-pressure situation that athletes, regardless of sport, can run to though. I don’t know when it ever was decided that it was, but it most definitely is not. In fact, if you want pressure, go to Cleveland. Even though, year-after-year, this city has expectations that never get met and they crawl back feeling defeated, the mentality never changes from the onset.

This city needs a winner, There’s always next year, This is our year, Bring us a championship, are as much a part of the Cleveland vernacular as Hello, How are you, and Goodbye are part of the English language.

Two things Cleveland fans are not though. Patient and understanding. Largely, I think. Don’t even come at a Tribe fan if you are a fan of any other team other than the Cubs and whine about a World Series. Don’t ever say anything along the lines of suggesting that just because LeBron James is back, the Cavaliers will win it all soon, because soon isn’t soon enough. Don’t mention the Browns unless you want to lose a hand.

Winning must happen yesterday and if it doesn’t, there will be hell to pay somewhere. The players who are on the teams that aren’t winning better produce, or they are part of the problem, not the eventual solution.

You know who has become a problem as of late? Bro? Do you know?

Nick Swisher’s name evokes an opinion, one way or another. It evokes an emotion for Cleveland fans to want to say something about him. Most of them, think he is a problem.

Nick Swisher is the anti-Carl Pavano. The thing is, Swisher doesn’t really need to worry about his situation with the media or a fan base. Because the thing is, Nick Swisher, what we see, I don’t think is all that real. I’m speaking only based off an assumption and a summation of what I perceive and feel, but I think this whole persona of Swisher is completely warped and untrue to Swisher himself.

I’m not saying Swisher is fake. In fact, I think he is very much real. But I think he has this masked front he puts on in order to the play the game. Which is why he has survived as long as he has in this game in the markets he has played in. You most definitely have to be a certain type of person to play in New York and succeed for awhile, especially if you don’t produce every single day. I mean, look at the ballad of Alex Rodriguez.

I think Swisher’s personality is genuine. He is a nice guy who loves the game of baseball. That is at the core what he is all about. But this frat boy front he displays with the whole Brohio thing? That’s how he deals with the pressure, at least that is how I perceive it. It is a warped version of his fun-loving personality. Let me take you back to when the Indians first signed Nick Swisher in the winter of 2012. I think it is important to remember not just how we felt, but how Swisher acted.

I do this exercise because, unknowingly, I saw a lot of this coming. It is only now that I realize what I was getting at. Remember how “excited” Nick Swisher was to be in Cleveland? So excited, that was the only word he seemed to be able to say throughout the entire press conference with any sort of consistency.

Two years ago, this was part of my initial reaction to the Swisher press conference, having watched the entire thing.

Maybe, but I’m just trying to temper things. I’m excited. This team was able to nab the perfect fit. He’s excited to be here! What’s to be down about?

I’m not down. I’m rather up, but I was struck with an odd chord after watching Swisher’s introduction to Cleveland. It was refreshing, but peculiar.

Nick Swisher, with a smile as wide as wide can be said he was excited to be playing in Cleveland. He came to Cleveland. Yet, he did so in a rather “I’m just here for the food” type of way. I’m not saying he was genuine or anything, but to me, it came off as very hired-gunish. The Indians wanted Swisher more than Swisher wanted the Indians, it was clear when he said at some point, you just have to stop denying it. 

He was the fit offensively into the lineup that the Indians needed. He was also a name and a face for the club that they needed at a time where Grady Sizemore was gone and the young guys were not established enough to be name-recognized beyond the semi-casual fan.

Photo Credit – Chuck Crow via Cleveland.com

Following our initial introduction to Swisher, there was a bit of a “savior” label that the Indians fan base put onto the Swisher box, whether they outright collectively called him that or not, it was kind of how we treated him. Was it not? It was kind of how the club treated him too, putting his face everywhere. Was it not? Brohio became more than just a silly t-shirt and catchphrase. It evolved into that cheap persona of Swisher. He was that guy that went around calling everyone “bro” with a cheesy smile on his face.

Many fans right now, call him the most overpriced cheerleader in professional sports. Because of that persona and that character he became. Was it all Swisher’s fault? No, not in the least bit. But that is how he has always coped with these pressure situations. He turns on the charm. He acts like the overly excited frat dude that is cool with partying even if there isn’t a reason to party, because that is what is expected of him. That is what he is. He isn’t going to turn sour, because he’s probably learned turning sour does him no favors.

What else was he going to do? In New York, he blended in because he was one of many. He appeased that crowd because they liked his attitude and, not to mention, he played well and they won games. There were other characters there too.

In Cleveland? He’s the man in Cleveland. The Indians paid Nick Swisher all that money and him alone. He’s the team’s highest paid player and from the start of his arrival, he was trumpeted as a savior-like character that was going to help turn the franchise around. Shoot, Nick said it himself. For the first time in all of his career. He was the man.

What did Nick say?

Front and center?

“I never thought I’d be part of a press conference like that,” Swisher said with a laugh. “I was front and center. Front and center.”

Front and center…

Is this all bad?

And the ominous foreshadowing on my part? I swear I’m not a fiction writer, nor was I going for an unpopular opinion to stir up something. Because at the time, Swisher was incredibly loved. The fans were all in on Swish and there was so much, that word again, excitement, over making a big splash in free agency. Not to mention the player they were getting. A guy who brings energy and a positive attitude and that overall feeling that he “wanted to be in Cleveland” because for some reason, Cleveland was home?

I asked back then, if all this was bad. And well, now I think I can answer my own question. Yes, that was all bad. It was all bad because it didn’t go the way that everyone hoped it was going to go. Or at least, it hasn’t gone the way everyone hoped it was going to go. For awhile, it was fun. Swisher was okay offensively. The team played well, there was a new found energy. In fact, if I can present to you one more little point in all of this.

There is a culture here now with Terry Francona at the helm. And remember, that team in 2013 went to the playoffs. And they did it largely on this idea beyond talent. There was a big push in the clubhouse culture changing when Tito took over. But remember, once again, what the situation was when the Indians signed Swisher. In addition to there being really a lack of face for this franchise, there was a lack of personality in the clubhouse. I’ll once again reach back into my time machine and mention that when the Indians brought in Nick, there were players on the team at the time that said the club lacked a presence in the clubhouse, player wise.

There was a feeling that Swisher would fill that, especially with Tito on board. And the feeling, at least from how I looked at it, was that Swisher was going to be Francona’s tool to utilize. And I don’t say that in “Nick Swisher is a tool” way that you would make you think he is that overzealous frat boy stereotype, but rather a tool from a tool box that a carpenter would use to build a shed.

Yup, there it is. Francona knew what Swisher could to for his own cause. He knows that if he can get someone like Nick Swisher on board and on his side, what he has to accomplish here is going to be a whole heck of a lot easier. Swisher is a franchise changer, not in that he is an Albert Pujols-like free agent with mega production. But he’s a player that fits what Cleveland needs offensively, position wise, that has the ultimate upside in terms of what he brings to a club in terms of his intangibles.

And that is exactly what happened. Francona built a great clubhouse and Jason Giambi had a big part too, but Francona had his main tool. He had the guy he needed to get the clubhouse to where he wanted it. The heavy lifting was going to be easier. He also had a guy that the fan base could get behind to make that easier. And if he produced, even better. Problem is, Swish didn’t exactly produce like everyone thought he would. Problem furthered a little more when they didn’t have the ability to properly build around Swish.

That man belonged nowhere near the middle of the lineup without adequate support. You could hit him 2nd or 5th in those Yankee lineups. You can’t hit him cleanup in Cleveland behind a rotation of three-hole hitters. In the first 20 games of the season, all of which Swisher was hitting fourth, six different players hit third. Your best most consistent hitter is your third hitter. Who was he protecting? He wasn’t, and therefore was left to fend for himself. Swisher is and was a role player offensively, but he was not being treated as such.

That is where the spiral starts. The spiral starts because the Indians are paying him to be the man. The fans look at that too and expect him to be the man. The team’s most highest paid player has to produce. He has to be the man. He should be hitting third or fourth and producing as such. I don’t need to remind you how much Swisher is getting paid, but I do feel the need to remind you what some people said about how much the Indians were paying him.

I’m not sure how much the other side things came into play, but I can’t imagine anyone else gave Swisher the same sort of deal, which is ultimately why he is a Cleveland Indian today. And don’t for a second believe Brian Cashman when he says that the Indians got a bargain for Nick Swisher. I’ll eat my shoe if he is worth more than $15 million a year. Because friends, $15 million is no bargain.

I don’t think anyone will challenge me on having to eat my shoe, do you? How is the team’s highest paid player a bargain? It isn’t, not in Cleveland. Remember, pressure is everywhere. Pressure is anywhere you go. There is less pressure for a guy like Swisher in New York because he doesn’t have to be that guy. He may have to deal with the media, but Swisher can do that. He’s shown he can do that. He’ll flash a cheesy smile and answer the question. He can turn it on and go into Swisher mode.

But guess what. That doesn’t work in Cleveland. There is a different kind of pressure. He can pass with flying colors in the media and he may not let that stuff get to him. But when things aren’t going well and he gets asked, the response is the same. The act is the same. And that Brohio persona gets amplified and becomes more annoying than lovable. It now seems even faker than it did when you first saw it. It seems fake because the situation that is occurring doesn’t call for the reaction that he is giving. The reaction is the same as if things were going good, but it isn’t going good.

That is the pressure that Swisher is dealing with. And Swisher is continuing to play the same character, because that is what he is used to. One more re-call.

I just genuinely do not like Swisher. And hey, I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But man, the guy has always irritated me since his days with Oakland. From there to Chicago when he was with the rival Sox and even with the Yankees, I’ve never liked him.

And I think it has everything to do with the way he plays the game. If it is one type of person, it’s tough and gritty, and underdog-type stuff. If it’s someone like Nick Swisher, it’s annoying, pest-like, completely irritating.

Like I said earlier, Swisher plays the game the right way. He loves the game, he loves baseball, he plays hard, he enjoys what he does. He takes that baseball metaphor of “playing a kid’s game” literal and has a blast with it. But there’s that charm to him, like I said, that makes him a pest and annoying when he’s either not on your team, or on your team and not playing well. If he’s producing, it is endearing and fun and exciting to watch and be a part of. It was easy to get behind Brohio last year because it was cute and Swisher played and at least contributed.

Photo Credit – Cleveland Indians via MLB.com Advanced Media

By the end of the year though, he didn’t. So where is Brohio? Established 2014, Abolished 2014.

The same qualities that make him great, have started to cultivate him into a character that this fan base would rather hate than get behind and support. A fan base that, again, is quick to dismiss and give up on rather than exercise patience. This is sports after all. You try telling fans who have never been able to witness a championship to wait.

And then you have someone who is out there, or in last year’s case, not out there, with this chipper and positive attitude, laughing all the time. Good grief, you would think he is insulting us all. We suck, I know it, but guess what? Here’s a joke. Wasn’t that funny? Great, now I’m going to go drive away in my sports car, see ya tomorrow for another round of this, bro.

Obviously, that is not the exact case. Swisher doesn’t have that attitude. But as they always say, perception is the reality, especially with sports figures. And the perception on Nick Swisher is that he is an overpriced cheerleader who isn’t helping the team on the field at all, or at least as much as he is getting paid to.

Ahh yes, the value of his contract versus his production. That is the exact reasoning that the Indians looked into trading Nick Swisher, or, at least were reportedly looking to trade Swisher. It would make good business sense to unload Swisher’s contract, especially if you can’t count on him to produce. It would have been dumb baseball maneuvering to not go out there and see if someone was willing to take on Swisher’s salary or see if a deal could be swung to get something for him and maybe pay a little bit of the remaining two guaranteed years on his deal.

In the end, the Indians didn’t find a match and even with roster construction in mind, feel that he can still fit into their plans for 2015. It will likely be primarily in Designated Hitter role, maybe even some first base or right field here and there. You have some flexibility, but given him missing a lot of time last year and for the sake of keeping him healthy, DH seems more of a likely scenario more days than not.

If they had found a suitor and Swisher was dealt, this narrative would have a different ending. It would have ended with the abolishing of Brohio. That would be the story. Nick Swisher came in on a white horse, with a grin on his face holding up an O-H. But then the fans realized that was simply a brown horse painted white, the grin was that of a con-artist, and O-H was nothing but his own propaganda that the people wanted to hear. O-H…N-O more.

The great part about sports though is that there is always an opportunity for redemption. There’s always another opportunity. There is especially opportunity in that of situations that seem like no one is on your side. There aren’t very many people on Swisher’s side right now. He isn’t a con-artist, and despite this entire story chronicling him as more of a fraud than a hero, there is one thing that Nick Swisher is. He’s a baseball player. Those qualities that make him great are derived from him being a ballplayer.

They seem fake. His introduction to Cleveland to me was phony. The entire pitch to get him to come to Cleveland seemed ridiculous. The Brohio, the overuse of the word excitement. There was a lot of fun to some of the stuff involving Swisher. I repeatedly used the picture of him acting like an airplane and attached a positive quote to it. But really, all of it, looking back now and seeing how fishy the start of this was, it all seemed fake.

It seemed fake because Swisher became a caricature of himself. This all seems much more apparent now as he speaks.

“No, actually the chip is gone. The chip is gone. I think all that stuff kind of let the chip kind of go away. People have their opinions and I’m fine with that. I know who I am and I know what I bring to the table. I’ve done a lot of thinking about all that stuff. I was fired up about it a little bit, but then after doing all that, it’s like you’re putting your energy in the wrong direction. So, I just think with where I am right now, and with everything that did go down, I learned a lot. The chip is gone, man. I’m going to be a happy, go-lucky guy. I’m going to have a blast. I’m not going to stress about things anymore, man. I’m going to go out there and play the game that I know how and the game that I love every day, because when you’re going through those tough times, the love and the passion for the game start to go away a little bit. You have to find something inside yourself to bring all that back. Whatever it was, man, I found it and I have it again and I could not be more happy for that.”

He said a lot there, but he actually didn’t say much. There was a lot of “comma man”s in there and he repeated that the chip is gone a few times. Swisher owns who he is. He is that happy, go-lucky guy out there playing the game he loves. He isn’t sure what he found inside himself that brought back his passion for the game, but he found it. It all seems like stuff a guy says to himself in the mirror of his bathroom when he is trying to “psych” himself up. Total frat move, bro.

The difference between that big long paragraph of rambling about how the chip is off his shoulder and something he said a year ago though is that he seems to be owning this. This is who he is and regardless of outcomes or anything else, he’ll continue to be that way. And that is the way he is going to be regardless of how things go, but he won’t let it bother him. Or at least, that is the hope, right? There’s no real positive spin here, you just have to hope this is all leading up to something more positive.

That opportunity for redemption I was talking about? I think Swisher very much sees that it is there. I think he knows that so far, things haven’t exactly happened like they were supposed to when the organization made his face, their face. He knows that he is getting lots of money and understands there is a certain pressure that has been applied to them. It seems like he realizes it a lot more than he may have initially. He also seems to realize that there is an attitude that people have towards him because of it.

“This organization paid a lot of money for me to come over here and be on the field. And, whether I was healthy or I wasn’t, man, I wanted to be out there every single day. Maybe that was the right call – maybe it wasn’t. I’m not one to second guess myself or anybody else, but I learned a lot from that. Just with where I am right now in my career, I’ve got three more years left on this deal, man. I can promise you these next three years, I’m going to have fun and I’m going to be the guy I know I can be.”

When it comes down to it. There is nothing wrong with the way Swisher is acting. Remember, the qualities that make him great, also make him annoying. The difference is always in production. Like it is with any situation like this. In his mind, he knows he wants to be out there everyday, but that isn’t what the fans see. They see a guy struggling at the plate and don’t want him out there because of it. That is why Swisher said he is going to be the person he is and just play the game like he knows how. That is what makes him successful on the other end. If he comes out and produces, none of this cheerleader stuff is being said. No one has an issue with it. In fact, he gets embraced and his popularity is ten times higher than the amount of hatred people have for him when he isn’t producing.

When you look at his numbers, his first year in Cleveland, 2013, was not that much out of alignment with what he typically produces. You can never really pin down a consistent average for him over the years due to the different teams and situations he played in. What you could count on him to do was hit 20 home runs, knock in or score a certain number of runs depending on his spot in the lineup, and work a decently high OBP somewhere above .350. Perfect, exactly what Cleveland needs.

As I mentioned though, there was that pressure to do more because he was in the middle of the lineup, not a role player like he had been in his previous situations. The numbers took a bit of a dip with a slow start, but at the end, he is getting older, he was out of place, it is a bit understandable.

Last year was really the start of the angst though. His horrid barely .200 average was a black eye on the face of the lineup. Yeah he had a good moment here or there, but largely, Swisher’s place in the lineup was a hole. He missed some time from the end of May to middle of June and until his season was finished at the beginning of August, his numbers only became more grim looking.

You would think based off the reaction though, that we are talking about the entire two years, heck, even more than a two year stint. Two years doesn’t tell the story of a four year contract. Like it or not, the Indians have him under contract for another two guaranteed years and they are at least going to give him a chance in 2015.

So perhaps, maybe we should too. Again, I can’t look at what he’s said as a positive. I don’t know if it will translate into a change. First and foremost, he needs to be legitimately healthy. That is both, being not hurt period and being able to play without those types of injuries that hinder a performance. Every ball player will have those nagging things throughout a year you can play with, but if he’s suffering from things that are preventing him from playing to his full abilities, that obviously won’t work.

And we all know, especially here, that adds to pressure. And no one cares if you are hurt, because no one knows. We just assume you suck. And if you suck, you aren’t well liked. And if you suck and are getting paid more than someone who is afforded the opportunity to suck here and there, you are more than not well liked, you are hated.

I don’t think Swisher is hated, but if he puts up yet another 2014, bro, hate may become the choice word for more than the impatient.

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