Lynch: Joe Sewell, the man with the eagle eye

From SABR member Mike Lynch at The National Pastime Museum on January 17, 2018:

Ask the average fan what Joe Sewell was known for and you’d get two answers—1) He was the guy who replaced Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman after Chapman tragically died less than a day after being struck in the head by a Carl Mays pitch in August 1920, and 2) He rarely struck out.[1]

The Alabama native debuted with Cleveland on September 10, 1920, with his team clinging to a slim one-game lead over the soon-to-be decimated Chicago White Sox and a one-and-a-half game edge over the New York Yankees. Sewell was terrible in the field over his first 22 games, but his bat more than made up for it as he hit .329 and reached base at a .413 clip. The Indians won the pennant, then easily took the World Series over the Brooklyn Robins. Sewell fanned in only 4.8 percent of his plate appearances, which proved to be a career-worst.

In his first five seasons from 1920 to 1924, Sewell averaged an amazing 17 strikeouts per 162 games with a career high of 20 in 1922. Not only would he never reach that total again, but he wouldn’t reach double digits ever again. But on May 13, 1923, the unthinkable happened—Sewell fanned twice in a game for the first time in his career. To that point in the season, he’d struck out only twice in 93 plate appearances, but he doubled his whiff total against a 30-year-old journeyman southpaw named Cy Warmoth, a career minor leaguer with a couple cups of coffee in the Majors before breaking camp with the Washington Senators in 1923.

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Originally published: January 17, 2018. Last Updated: January 17, 2018.