Born: November 2, 1847
Died: March 30, 1908
Charles James Swasey was born November 2, 1847 in Newark. The city was a hotbed of baseball during his boyhood, and he was part of a group of boys who became extremely skilled at the finer points of the game. Charlie was always a strong hitter for his age, but his greatest talent was snaring short flies behind his position of choice, second base. In the days before fielders wore mitts, this was a highly prized skill.
Charlie and one of his childhood pals, Andy Leonard, were good enough to be paid under the table as professionals by their late teens. In 1868, at age 18, Charlie joined the Irvington Club; Leonard accompanied him there after the season started. They helped the Irvingtons defeat the powerhouse Brooklyn Atlantics, creating quite a stir. In 1868, Charlie and Andy joined the Cincinnati Buckeyes, an amateur club that in all likelihood compensated its stars by arranging employment with local companies. Charlie and Andy became hatters after landing in the Queen City. By this time, Charlie's last name had been appearing in box scores as "Sweasy"for a couple of years.
In the late 1860s, western baseball clubs were making a push to prove their mettle against the more established eastern clubs. This culminated in the formation of the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first openly all-professional team. Charlie and Andy were recruited by manager Harry Wright for the club. They joined first baseman Charlie Gould, who had been the star of the Buckeyes prior to their arrival in Cincinnati.
The Red Stockings went on an eastern tour in 1869 and defeated all comers, finishing the season with a perfect 65–0 record. Charlie earned $800 as Wright’s second baseman. He was second on the club in home runs that year, and over the winter he demanded a raise. He became baseball’s first holdout until Wright relented.
The team’s first loss came in 1870 against the Atlantics. In the bottom of the 11th inning with a man on first, a Brooklyn batter lined a ball that Gould could not handle. He made a desperate throw to second but Charlie could not control it. The ball trickled into the outfield and the runner came around to score the deciding run.
Charlie was one of the 1870 team’s best power hitters for the second year in a row, leading the team with 18 homers. In an August game against the Riverside Club of Portsmouth, Ohio, Charlie hit a ninth-inning grand slam with two out and Cincinnati trailing by 2 runs. The Riversides were a third-rate team, and the next morning as the Red Stockings gathered for breakfast in the dining room of their riverboat (The Fleetwood), Charlie criticized his teammates’ lackluster play. A fight broke out and the boat captain threatened to throw the players off. The team pulled Charlie out of the lineup as punishment, making him the first suspended player in the history of pro baseball.
The 1870 Red Stockings were successful on the field, but not at the gate. The club disbanded in 1871, the year that marked the beginning of the National Association of Professional Baseball Players, or National Association for short. Baseball took off as a result, and many new players entered the game. Wright took many of his Cincinnati stars to Boston, where he reconstituted the Red Stockings. Charlie was not one of the players he asked to join him.
Although Charlie’s fielding was still top-notch, his hitting could not keep up with the rising skill level of the game. No longer a feared slugger—and increasingly noted for his drinking and fighting—he struggled to find playing time. Nevertheless, Charlie continued to be employed by pro teams from 1871 through the 1879 season, including the Washington Nationals (1871), Cincinnati Reds (1876) and Providence Grays (1878).
Charlie moved back to Newark and played some ball with local teams, but his body was stiff with rheumatism and his sobriety continued to be an issue. He made a living selling oysters for many years, worked as a night watchman in Irvington and regaled the denizens of various watering holes with tales of his glory days with the Red Stockings. He passed away in Newark in 1908 from tuberculosis at the age of 60.