Sewell a Strong Piece to Bench of All-Time Team
By Ronnie Tellalian
Joe Sewell is a much forgotten figure in the Indians landscape. He was a fantastically skilled and dedicated hitter. In an era where teams played only 154 game seasons, Sewell played 152 or more games in nine straight years of his 11 year career in Cleveland. One of the few Indians hitters to still hold Major League records, Sewell would be a fine addition to any offense.
Utility Infielder: Joe Sewell
Joe Sewell was first brought up to the Indians on September 10th, 1920. His early debut was due to the tragic death of Indians shortstop Ray Chapman. Ray Chapman was the only professional baseball player to be killed by a pitched ball. An outstanding shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, Chapman was the leadoff batter in the top of the fifth inning in a game against the New York Yankees at the Polo Grounds in New York City. New York Yankees pitcher Carl Mays, using his distinctive submarine style, threw a pitch that came high and inside.
Chapman, possibly due to the dirty, tobacco juice soaked baseballs they used back then, didn’t see the pitch, and never reacted to the throw. The ball struck his head with such a loud crack that Mays thought the ball hit his bat. As the ball dribbled toward Mays, he fielded it and threw to the first baseman. When Chapman fell to his knees in the batter’s box, the Yankee infielders realized that the sound wasn’t made by the bat at all. Chapman passed away 12 hours later on August 17th 1920. Less than a month later, Sewell took the field for the first time in his Major League career.
The Tribe won the Pennant that year with a 98-56 record. Under then Major League rules, Sewell would not have been allowed to participate in the World Series. The rule was waved by Brooklyn manager Wilbert Robinson in light of the Chapman tragedy.
In the 1920 World Series, with just 22 games under his belt, Sewell got four hits in the seven game series and the Indians went on to earn their first World Series title in franchise history.
The 1921 season was Sewell’s first full year in the Majors. Taking over at shortstop, Sewell scored 101 runs, emased 182 hits and 12 triples. He batted .318 on the year and struck out a mere 17 times in 683 plate appearances. The low strikeout totals would become a theme in Sewell’s career. Surprisingly, 17 was the second highest total of his career.
Sewell experienced what could be considered a sophomore slump in 1922. He batted only .299 and struck out a career high 20 times. Despite his lower numbers, he earned himself four votes for the MVP award.
He began to tare up the American League in 1923. Sewell hit .353, scored 98 runs, hit 41 doubles, 10 triples, and struck out only times on the season. He capped the season off with a fourth place finish in the MVP race. Success continued in 1924. He hit .316 and led the league with 45 doubles. He struck out 13 times, the last time in his career he would finish a season with double digit strikeouts.
1925 was a record breaking season. Sewell batted .336 and earned a career high 204 hits. He finished third in the MVP voting, but his biggest accomplishment was a Major League record four strikeouts in 699 plate appearances.
Sewell put together a string of season where he played at least 150 games, batter .300 or better and stuck out less than 10 times. In 1926 he hit .324 with 41 doubles and six strikeouts. In 1927 he batted .316 with 48 doubles and 7 strikeouts. In 1928 he hit .323 with 40 double and nine strikeouts.
The last of these seasons came in 1929. Sewell hit .315 with 90 runs scored, 38 doubles, led the league with 155 games played, and stuck out a mere four times in 671 plate appearances. He accomplished maybe his most amazing feet, when he struck out on May 17th of that season, then didn’t strike out again until September 19th setting a Major League record of 115 consecutive games without a strikeout.
Joe Sewell played his last season with the Indians in 1930. He hit .289 in 109 games and struck out only three times. He retired after the 1932 season with .312 career batting average, 2,226 hits, and only 114 career strikeouts in 8333 plate appearances. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 by the Veterans Committee. The University of Alabama, Sewell’s alma mater, named their baseball stadium Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Crimson Tide fans have nicknamed it “The Joe”.