Paul Dickson first authored the New Baseball Dictionary in 1999 and it was most recently updated in 2011. “June Swoon” makes an appearance as a popular baseball term and it can be summarized thusly:
“Falling apart after Memorial Day by a team that got off to a good start.”
I remember reading this spinoff in my youth: “They are in a swoon in June and they are going to die in July.”
Nothing like that popped up in an internet search, and I can recall neither the source nor the team, but I found it very catchy and worth repeating when summers have turned long for our hometown Twins.
Art Rosenbaum, a columnist and sports editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, is given credit for making much use of variations of June Swoon in the late ’50s and into the ’60s, when the Giants would tear it up in May and fade in June on what seemed an annual basis.
These were the Giants of Mays, McCovey and Marichal, loaded teams that rarely could get through June with a winning record for the month.
Rosenbaum admitted that Bob Stevens, the Chronicle’s baseball writer and the 1999 winner of the Hall of Fame’s Spink Award, might have been the first to put “swoon” and “June” together after the Giants arrived in San Francisco in 1958.
In Year 1 in the Bay Area and still playing in ancient Seals Stadium, the Giants were 27-17 and tied for first place in the eight-team NL at the end of May, then went 10-17 in June — and the tradition was started.
Yet, I do find it hard to fathom with masters such as Ring Lardner and Frank Graham and Walter W. “Red” Smith writing baseball over the decades that someone didn’t put June and swoon together before the Giants moved west.
The standards for a memorable June Swoon certainly have changed with baseball’s expanded playoff fields. Consider:
When the Twins arrived in 1961, it was a 10-team AL and if you faded in June, it generally was fatal. In 1969, two divisions arrived, and failure in June remained punishing.
The postseason field doubled to four teams for each league in 1995, and moved to five teams with the addition of a second wild card in 2012. June Swoons are more easily forgiven, particularly in a division as unimpressive as the AL Central in 2019, but they still can have their impact in the three-division/wild-card era.
A Ken Fidlin column in the Toronto Sun in 2012, marking the Blue Jays’ fourth consecutive June failure, summarized the concept succinctly:
“The reasons for those June failures have varied but, in general, results tend to reflect the realities of a long season on a flawed lineup. Weaknesses are unmasked and exploited.
“If players have flaws, and they all do, then they will be revealed. And if a player, or even an entire lineup, is playing beyond a modest talent level, then a regression is all but guaranteed.”
Those of us old enough to be original Twins followers from 1961 were indoctrinated immediately into owner Calvin Griffith’s paranoia over a June Swoon.
Calvin’s Washington Senators had averaged 35 games under .500, 38½ games out of first place and finished eighth (last) four times in the six seasons from 1954 to 1959. Thus, when they went 73-81 and were fifth in 1960, Calvin was convinced he was moving a team on the rise to Minnesota.
The 1961 Twins started 9-3 and were in first place for a moment. They were 18-14 and tied for second in the 10-team AL on May 20. Then, they hit the skids, 1-10 for the rest of May, and here came June — make or break, not in the pennant race, but in Calvin’s dreams of .500.
The Twins had opened June with six more losses, including back-to-back doubleheaders in Detroit and New York, and putting the losing streak at 11 games. And then this happened:
Calvin ordered manager Cookie Lavagetto to come back from New York to the Twin Cities for a one-week “vacation.” Cookie was pictured in the Minneapolis Tribune at the airport (Wold-Chamberlain), being greeted by Calvin, and vowing:
“I’m not here to fish or play golf. I’m here to roll up my sleeves and work.”
The losing streak reached 13 before Camilo Pascual shut out the Yankees. Coach Sam Mele went 2-5 as the interim manager, then Cookie was reinstated and the Twins won four of 10.
And that was it: Griffith fired Lavagetto on the morning of June 23, stating, “We expect Mele to take a firmer hand.”
The Twins finished June at 10-21, ending the season at 70-90 and 38 games out of first place.
And now, 58 years later, we original Twins followers still awake at this time in the season and whisper in a ghostly voice, “Beware the Swoon of June.”