Swanson had left the Atlanta Braves to sign a seven-year, $177 million deal with Chicago in December, in part because it was the city where his new wife, Mallory Pugh Swanson, played professional soccer for the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars.
Dansby was just two weeks into his first season in Chicago; Mallory was preparing to play for the U.S. women’s national team in a World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand. Together, they were looking forward to their first of many summers in Chicago.
Then, on April 8 before a game against the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field, Dansby and his teammates gathered in the clubhouse to watch Mallory play in a friendly against Ireland and the mood changed in an instant.
Mallory went to the ground with a nasty left knee injury, after a collision with Ireland’s Aoife Mannion. Teammates and coaches surrounded her as she was carted off the field. The stunned Cubs watched it all unfold on television.
“It was definitely intense, especially because we were watching the game together as a team,” recalled Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner. “It turned from a cool thing and looking forward to the World Cup to immediate concern for a teammate.”
The news that Mallory had torn her patellar tendon added an unexpected challenge to the couple’s lives and completely altered Dansby’s early months in Chicago. Now, two months into Mallory’s minimum six-month rehab, Dansby is making his mark on the surging Cubs, and Mallory is well enough to join him in England this weekend for MLB’s London Series between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.
“She’s played and trained there [London] so I’m happy she can go,” Dansby said earlier in the week. “And I’m happy she can enjoy the success she’s getting in rehab — it’s been a grind, for sure.”
SLEEP WAS SCARCE during those early days in April, when Dansby Swanson had to play major league baseball while his wife underwent surgery and began her recovery. On April 12, Swanson even missed a game, his first since 2021.
“It’s been incredibly tough,” Swanson said. “When you see the person you love the most be hurt like that, it’s just emotional. Just devastating.”
His professional athlete wife now needed help in almost every aspect; just moving from room to room was a challenge. It added an element to Swanson’s daily routine that made playing baseball that much harder.
On the day of Mallory’s injury, Swanson led the Cubs to a resounding 10-3 victory over Texas. But he went hitless in four of his next five games, a stretch in which manager David Ross gave him a rare day off.
“The difficult part just comes in being pretty fricking tired every day,” Swanson said “She was up [at night], I’m up … It’s truly the sickness-and-health part.”
As Mallory settled into her physical therapy routine, Swanson’s mind returned, in part, to baseball, where there was work to be done. The Cubs finished April with an acceptable 14-13 record but went just 10-18 in May.
“I care a lot about my wife and [her] health, but I also care about this,” Swanson said, pointing to the diamond from the home dugout at Wrigley Field. “It’s just been a new challenge, each day giving as much as you can and more, and then getting your rest and doing it again the next day.”
June (12-7) has been more promising. The Cubs are just 3.5 games behind the first-place Cincinnati Reds as they attempt to build a winning team again after their historic run last decade.
“I hope that everyone can see that,” Swanson said of the Cubs’ recent climb. “I feel like things are on the up-and-up. We’re establishing what we’re all about. This is the Chicago Cubs brand. Bits and pieces are falling into place.”
SWANSON LEFT A good thing in Atlanta for a team trying to find its way back to prominence. Leadership from the former No. 1 overall draft pick was expected from day one. In his mind, the best way to lead is to be there, doing it. It’s why missing even a single game — despite having a good reason, with his wife’s injury — didn’t sit well with him.
“Atlanta taught me consistency, especially when Freddie [Freeman] was there,” Swanson said. “Just the consistency to show up every day and do the same things, and kind of live in a gear three or four and not be in a one or a six.”
That’s not the only thing Swanson brought from Atlanta. He has been in the middle of the Cubs’ stellar defense this season, following up his Gold Glove year in Atlanta with one that possibly has been even better. He has been a vacuum at shortstop, thanks in part to the pregame routine from Braves coach Ron Washington he brought with him.
It’s a simple enough drill: Before the game, players get on their knees just a few feet from a coach while he hits short hops to them. Forehand and backhand. Side to side.
“It’s not strenuous,” Swanson said. “It’s a lot of good rhythm and mental prep work. I’ve seen that work for so many different players.”
Swanson, who had four outs above average through June last season, has 10 already this year, tied with Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes for the most in baseball. And he just ended a 54-game errorless streak that spanned two months. He has made the highlight-reel plays, leaping to nab liners and ranging deep into holes to snare hard-hit grounders, while also making the routine outs look … routine.
“Great defense is fun,” Swanson said. “Great defense, to me, isn’t just diving plays. Great defense happens at all times. It happens in the moments you’re not watching.”
“No one is close to him on defense,” one NL scout said. “There may be some better on offense, but he owns that position right now.”
He’s not content to settle there, though. In his opening news conference, Swanson also expressed a desire to get better at the plate — specifically hoping to cut down on strikeouts: He had 182 last season after previously setting a career mark with 167 the year before.
That’s improving in Chicago, too: His strikeout percentage (22.6) is the second lowest of his career, and his walk rate (11.3) is his highest. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that walk-to-strikeout rate has nearly doubled from last season — at 185%, it’s the seventh-largest increase among all players.
“The way you walk more is being more ready to hit,” Swanson said. “Being more ready to hit and proactive means you’re going to be better at taking the balls and swinging at the strikes … Maturity as a player comes into play. It’s not a one-stop answer.”
Swanson has heard the theory that drastically improving plate discipline at the major league level sometimes isn’t attainable. That it’s already part of your DNA when you arrive. He doesn’t buy it.
“If you are who you are, then how do you get any better?” he asked.
But with the improved walk-to-strikeout ratio has come less power. Swanson belted 25 home runs last season and 27 in 2021. He has just seven this year — but he doesn’t believe he has sacrificed one for the other.
“A lot of good pitches to drive, I’ve either just hit a hard line drive for a single or I’ve fouled it off,” Swanson said. “That’s where the lack of power comes from.”
As Dansby Swanson looks to improve every aspect of his game and the Cubs continue their climb back to relevance, Mallory is moving just as quickly in a positive direction. The couple has even begun to enjoy Chicago, exploring their neighborhood more than they could in their first days living in their new city.
“She’s doing well,” Swanson said, allowing himself a slight smile. “Moving around well. And I think things will consistently keep getting better and better.”