What I love about Bill Swank’s story is tracing his journey from the San Diego County Probation Department to his “retirement career” as a writer. Best known as a baseball historian and author of seven books on the subject, one of Bill’s ongoing projects is the memoir-sequel of Dion Rich, self-proclaimed “world’s greatest gatecrasher” and former strip-club mogul. Now in his 80s, Dion is writing a sequel to his first memoir with Bill’s help. An hilarious excerpt, “Dion’s Dialogues with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle” is provided below. —Elaine Ash
BILL SWANK: As a probation officer, I wrote and reviewed thousands of court reports over the course of a 31-year career. It was always a dream to some day write a book. I assumed that when I retired, I’d write about my experiences in law enforcement.
True-crime author Ann Rule has been a friend of mine since the 1980s when she presented some training classes for our department, “Why Women Kill” and “Serial Killers.” It was back in the days when I used to carry a cooler of beer in my truck. After training, I helped carry her stuff and we shared a few brewskis, and she stayed in touch with my wife and me.
The next time Ann taught in San Diego, I invited her to stay with us. My wife knew that Ann had appeared on Oprah and was a little apprehensive about having a famous author as a houseguest.
When my wife got home from work, she found that Ann had kicked off her high heels. She was relaxing in our easy chair with her feet stretched out on the ottoman. In her hand was a tumbler of vodka and ice cubes. Ann was our type of gal—very real and down to earth. I told her it was my dream to write a book. She was most encouraging.
Retirement was coming up fast and the department gave me a replica of my badge on a plaque in 1994. I’d tried writing a short story which I sent to my friend, Bill Kinsella, the author of Field of Dreams, and his advice was, “Keep your day job.” But then I was unexpectedly asked to write an article about the old Pacific Coast League Padres for the San Diego Historical Society. They had a baseball exhibition coming to their museum and needed something for their quarterly journal. I’d never even heard the term “baseball historian” at that time.
Right: Bob Feller, Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher. I’m bearded out for Christmas and was introduced as Santa Claus at the “When Baseball Went To War” conference and exhibition in New Orleans at the WWII Museum, 2007.
Over the next two years, I worked on a two-volume history about the PCL Padres with a history professor. I was disappointed in the finished product and wanted to do my own book. I mailed my Journal of San Diego History article to several publishers who specialized in baseball books. To my surprise, three companies wanted my work. Instead of rejection, I had to make a choice.
Echoes from Lane Field was published in 1999. Bill Kinsella wrote a nice blurb for the back cover. The book was listed at $34.95 retail. Book stores paid $20.97 wholesale. My share on each sale was $1.05 before taxes! My wife hoped my royalties would pay for a kitchen remodel. I bought her a gallon of paint and a new electric can opener.
Ann Rule wrote a nice blurb for the back cover and said that I tracked down baseball players the way she tracked down serial killers. She added, “…his book is a lot more fun than mine are!
Elaine: I think a lot of readers will wonder, when they hear about your background in law enforcement, “Has he written a mystery yet?”
Bill: Instead of using my investigative skills to track down crooks, I went searching for old baseball players. I got enough murder-reading at work to last me a lifetime. I find baseball a good escape from crime.
As a young probation officer, I handled a burglary case that involved a fat mother and her two fat daughters. The girls were put in Juvenile Hall for filling the booster pockets inside their long coats with bottles of booze, six packs of beer, 5-pound canned hams, roasts, etc. from the local Safeway.
Their mother owned a restaurant. She was also a thief. It was a way to keep her overhead low. Buying food can be expensive when you are running a restaurant. I had to keep the girls in custody, because the mother was also in custody. There wasn’t anybody I could release the girls to…
The mother was brought to Juvenile Court from jail. Before the hearing, I was chewing her ass and telling her that she was a terrible mother. I didn’t get the impression she was paying attention, but she was. I remember her taking a drag on her cigarette and then defiantly blowing the smoke right into my face.
She said something I never forgot. “If it wasn’t for mothers like me, you wouldn’t have a job.” Bitch was right.
BS: Dion is a genuine, old-fashioned character with a heart of gold. He’s a self-made celebrity. He needs attention like you and I need oxygen. There aren’t many of these guys around any more. He’s crashed Super Bowls, Academy Awards, the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs… I think Dion’s been to more parties at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion than Hugh has.
A month or two ago, Dion crashed a sky box at the NCAA Regional Basketball Tournament in Anaheim. Nobody knew who he was and everybody assumed someone else had invited him to share their luxury. The box belonged to a high priced Orange County lawyer who was pleased to learn his party had been crashed by the World’s Greatest Party Crasher. Dion has brass balls.
Against my advice, Dion wanted to add his “wisdom” to the new book, so here it is for Ashedit readers:
It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
Success should be measured by the amount of friends you have.
My old friend, Dr. Michael Zirpolo, once said, “If you’d slow down, Dion, you’d live longer.” Yeah, but I wouldn’t have as much fun.
Another ex-girlfriend named Beth asked why we hung around with old people. I said, “What do you mean? These people are younger than me.”
I’m getting so old that I’m afraid I might forget the name of the young honey I’m taking out. I write her name on a queue card and stick it in my pocket. I just have to remember which pocket I put it in.
I’m getting so old that my biggest fear is dating the oldest, fattest chicks with the most tattoos.
Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.
Never trust a fart….especially an old fart!
A life well lived is a life without regrets and at my age… I’m living on borrowed time with a high-rate of interest.
You know you’re getting old when you start receiving discount cremation applications in the mail.
If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’d probably come back as a CIA agent or, perhaps, a fireplug.
When I was a kid, a laundromat was a scrub board and a clothesline.
When you came from a poor family and stayed in cheap motels, you’d always take the soap.
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.
To be content with yourself in life, you must be able to admit when you are wrong.
The six most beautiful words in marriage are, “I love you” and “You are right.”
If everyone thought the same way, there would be no change.
If everybody likes you, you have no backbone.
This is an important question: Who has time to get organized?
I’ve been notorious for years. Now that I’m over 80, people have asked why I keep crashing and when I’m going to retire?” The answer is, ” A little while after I expire.”
Bill, thank you so much.
A William (Bill) Swank Bibliography
- The Pacific Coast League Padres, Lane Field: The Early Years (1936-1946), Volume I, Ray Brandes and Bill Swank (1997)
- The Pacific Coast League Padres, Lane Field: The Later Years (1947-1957), Volume II, Ray Brandes and Bill Swank (1997)
- Echoes from Lane Field, Bill Swank (1999)
- Gold Leather Helmets – Black Hightop Shoes, Bill Swank and Bill Rice (2003)
- Baseball in San Diego: From the Padres to Petco, Bill Swank (2004)
- Baseball in San Diego: From the Plaza to the Padres, Bill Swank (2005)
- Bob Chandler’s Tales from the San Diego Padres, Bob Chandler with Bill Swank (2006)