Book excerpt: Cheers to the author of the Southern League’s first perfect game

“Never a Bad Game,” which chronicled the first 50 years of the Southern League, has been updated and re-released. (Ordering information below). Over the coming weeks, I’ll present excerpts from 10 of my favorites of the 50 stories told in the book.

Next time you’re having one of those TV nostalgia nights, watching some classic old show, notice when the credits roll around. The name Chips Swanson will likely appear on the screen.  Maybe it’ll be at the end of “Cheers” or “Wings” or “Frasier,” one of the 100 or so TV shows on which Swanson worked as music editor.

He would be the same person who gets this credit in the Southern League record book:

            PERFECT GAMES

            August 14, 1970 Chip Swanson, Montgomery (vs.) Savannah W, 3-0

Swanson was the only pitcher in the first-half century of Southern League play to have authored a nine-inning perfect game.

“It didn’t set in that night,” Swanson said. “It took a couple of days before I realized what happened.” Rather than a massive celebration after his teammates had carried him off the field on their shoulders, he went to a friend’s house for dinner, politely refusing a couple of TV interview requests. He didn’t think to collect and store any mementoes from the win.

The day before, Swanson and other Montgomery pitchers were lolling about in the bullpen and Swanson thought aloud to his teammates, “I wonder if anybody is going to pitch a no-hitter in the league this year?”

“He said he just felt it for some reason that someone was going to pitch one real soon,” teammate Bill Gilbreth said.

Swanson, 22 years old at the time, needed just 87 pitches to blow away the Indians. It took a mere 1:29 to finish the game, played in a near vacuum at Paterson Field in front of just 556 fans.

Swanson mixed things up to keep the Savannah hitters off-balance, with a steady dose of sliders to right-handed hitters and curveballs to lefties to complement his fastball. The breaking pitches weren’t always a part of his arsenal. He was primarily a power pitcher when the Braves drafted him in the second round of the 1967 draft out of Los Angeles Valley College but later developed a curve. Perfecting the curve, with the extra strain, likely shortened his career. After arm surgery and a hand injury, and with two young sons, he retired following the 1975 season, when he was Triple-A Evansville.

Chips Swanson – his given name is Charles – already had a fall-back position. His father Bob was an Emmy-winning film editor and producer on such 1960s classics as “The Untouchables” and “The Fugitive.” (It was Bob Swanson who nicknamed his son and requested the “S,” often dropped in historical records, be attached to it.)  Chips had made contacts in the TV industry through his father and was working studio jobs in the off-season, working in the music editorial department.

Though he “had no music background,” Swanson had some sort of preternatural abilities when it came to music selection.     

“Basically what I did for the studio was two jobs,” he explained. “One, I would work with a composer where I would go through a show and decide where the music goes, relay that to the composer and we would talk about it and he would write the music and I would put it in. The other side of the job, they would send me a show and from libraries I would go through and find music for the shows and put them in the show, cut them and make them fit.”

You could almost put together some back-of-a-baseball-card sheet for Swanson:

            Charles D. Swanson

            Born: Dec. 13, 1947

            Bats: R Throws: R

            1976-83: Laverene & Shirley,     144 episodes

            1977: Happy Days, 2 episodes

            1979: The Bad News Bears 12 episodes

            1983-93: Cheers, 248 episodes

            1990-97: Wings, 170 episodes

            1993-2004: Frasier, 250 episodes

            1995-97: Almost Perfect, 19 episodes

            1999-2002: Becker, 6 episodes

“What they liked was I had a sense of the way, as they would describe to me, what should go where and what fit musically as far as moods or atmosphere or whatever,” he said. “They said I had a pretty good sense of feel for the show, and I had a pretty good sense of where to start and end music.”

Television credits that roll by quickly are not a place where everybody can know your name. Now, should you spot Chips Swanson’s name at the end of a rerun, having added the perfect subtle atmosphere to the show you’ve just watched, you can connect it to a night of perfection on a baseball diamond in 1970.

To order a personalized copy of Never a Bad Game, email markfmccarter@gmail.com and provide an address, and we’ll bill $22 via PayPal or Venmo (postage included). Or send check or cash to me at 604 Vance Road SW, Huntsville, AL 35801.

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