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Knowing the Strike Zone - Joe Sewell Knowing the Strike Zone - Joe Sewell

Hall of Fame Shortstop struck out less times in his 14-year career than today's sluggers do in one season...

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Then and Now: Baseball History

The 5-ft, 6 1/2 inches, 155-pounds Joe Sewell, a shortstop with the Cleveland Indians, holds baseball's all-time record for fewest career strikeouts...

Sewell fanned just 114 times in 7,132 times at-bat, in a career spanning 1,903 games. He collected 2,226 hits, walked 842 times, lined 553 extra base hits, scored 1,141 runs, and had 1,055 RBIs while compiling a .312 lifetime batting mark. The following from Microsoft Complete Baseball:

Shortstop Joe Sewell was not only a smooth fielder and a life-time .312.He was, without a question, the hardest man in the history of the game to strike out. Even considering the standards of his day, his bat control was remarkable, and by contemporary standards his strikeout ratio is unbelievable.

Sewell fanned only once in every 62.6 at bats. Second on the list is Lloyd Waner at 44.9. One of the best of the post-expansion era was Felix Millan at 23.9.

His ability to make contact resulted in seasons when Sewell fanned only three or four times. In one year, during which Sewell struck out only four times, three of them occurred on called strikes. In only one case did Sewell swing and miss. And at least one of the called third strikes was highly questionable.

'The ball was right at the bill of my cap,' recalled Sewell. 'Umpire Bill McGowan said, 'Strike three, you're out. Oh my God, I missed it Joe.' But I didn't say a word. I just walked back to the bench. And the next day he came out and apologized and I said, 'Bill don't worry about it. You were honest about it.'

Sewell felt there were three key factors in batting: knowing the strike zone, making allowances for the umpire behind the plate, and keeping your eye on the ball. 'I hit the ball just about every time I swung at it,' he contended later in life. 'I could see a ball leave my bat. A lot of people don't think that's possible. But it sure is.'

'All you have to do is watch it. It doesn't disappear when you put the bat on it. I watched a big league game not long ago and I saw some boys striking at balls that I swear they missed by a foot. They couldn't have been looking at those balls. You just know they couldn't.'

Alabama-born (on 10/9/1898 in Titus... died 3/6/1990 in Mobile) Joseph Wheeler Sewell, named for a Confederate cavalry officer, was the son of a country doctor. The elder Sewell encouraged sons, Joe, Luke and Tommy to attend the University of Alabama. All did, and all became major league ballplayers. Luke, an American League catcher for 20 seasons, shares the major league record for the most career no-hitters caught, with three. Tommy had only one at bat in the majors, with the Cubs during the 1927 season.

After graduating from Alabama in 1920, Sewell after being recommended by coach Zinn Scott, signed with the New Orleans Pelicans of the Southern Association. He had been there for 92 games and was hitting .289 when he was ordered to report to the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians were battling the Yankees and White Sox for the pennant and desperately needed a shortstop. The popular and talented Ray Chapman had been killed by a Carl Mays pitch on August 16, 1920 and light-hitting Harry Lunte pull a hamstring and was out of action.

Manager Tris Speaker inserted him into his lineup against the A's. The first time up Sewell lined a hard-hit ball to center, but it was caught. In his second at bat he hit a pitch over third into the left-field corner where it rattled around and enabled Sewell to reach third base.

'Boy I went around the bases just like I was flying. Not even my toes seemed to touch the ground. When I got to third base I said to myself - 'Shucks, this ain't so tough here.' - And, from that day on, I was never nervous again.'

In 1920 Sewell hit .329 as Cleveland captured the pennant. in the World Series, however, he hit only .174 and committed six errors. Despite Sewell's poor performance, the Indians won the Series, defeating the Dodgers in seven games.

For a man his size, Sewell was a remarkably durable player. he had run up a streak of 460 consecutive games when he was spiked by St Louis Browns pitcher Elam Van Gilder and missed the next game. He then put together a streak of 1,103 straight contests. 'And I played almost a month with my shoe cut open before I was back to normal. But I played,' said Sewell, who finally was put out of action by the flu. His streak is the sixth-longest in major league history.

Sewell hit at least .315 each season from 1923 through 1929. Converted to a third baseman, Sewell was released by Cleveland in January 1931and signed with the Yankees.

In the 1932 World Series against the Cubs he hit .333. That was the Fall Classic that featured Babe Ruth's fabled 'Called Shot' home run off pitcher Charlie Root.

'Do I believe he really called it?' asked Sewell... 'Yes sir. I was there. I saw it. I don't care what anybody says. He did it. He probably couldn't have done it again for a thousand years, but he did it that time.'

Sewell was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

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