Positions: Shortstop; Third baseman
Teams: Cleveland Indians, 1920-1930; New York Yankees, 1931-1933
To those who never saw him play, Joe Sewell’s Hall of Fame credentials may seem insufficient. Although a steady .300 hitter, he was active during an era when many players hit over .300. It may seem that the chief reason for his enshrinement would be his incredible proclivity for almost never striking out.
Joe Sewell and his brother Luke played
together for Cleveland for nearly
a full decade.
The holder of every major season and career record for fewest strikeouts by a batter, Sewell fanned only 114 times in 14 seasons and 7,132 at bats, an average of only one whiff for every 63 plate trips. Sewell was considerably more than the hardest player in history to fan, though. During his peak years in the mid-1920s, he was also the best fielding shortstop in the game.
Joseph Wheeler Sewell (1898-1990) was born in Titus, Alabama, and was a three-sport athlete. He went to the University of Alabama, where he played football and basketball. Crimson Tide football coach Xen Scott got Sewell a tryout with the Indians in 1920.
When Sewell signed with Cleveland in 1920 his future with the club seemed unclear. The Indians already had Ray Chapman, the best shortstop in the American League and only 29 years old at the time. Sewell was unimpressive in spring training, and was sent to Cleveland’s New Orleans farm club.
The Indians were in a tight three-way race for the AL pennant when Chapman was tragically killed in mid-August by a Carl Mays fastball. His replacement, Harry Lunte, injured his leg on Labor Day; Cleveland had no choice but to summon Sewell from New Orleans. Joe hit .329 in the remaining 22 games of the season and otherwise filled the hole Chapman had left so capably that the Indians won the first pennant in Cleveland history.
The following year, Sewell was joined on the Tribe by his younger brother, Luke, a catcher. Another brother, Tommy, played one game in the bigs. In his 10 full seasons with the Tribe, Joe hit over .300 eight times, had over 90 RBI five times, and scored over 90 runs five times. His slugging percentages were consistently in the .400s. He was moved to third base in 1929, and traded to the Yankees a year later.
In his three seasons with the Yankees, Sewell struck out just 15 times in 1,511 at bats but otherwise continued his general decline. His high point with the Bombers came in 1932, when he fanned a record-low three times in 503 at bats and then hit .333 in the World Series that fall against the Cubs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Here are Joe Sewell's major league totals:
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