Year Inducted: 1977 (Veterans Committee)
In 1920, the baseball world would feel tremendous tragedy for one of the first times in its history. Ray Chapman, a star shortstop for the Cleveland Indians, was struck in the head by a pitch from Carl Mays of the New York Yankees. Chapman died due to his injuries, becoming the first and still only player to die from a baseball injury caused on the field in a Major League game. As horrific and terrible as that was, Cleveland filled that hole in the team with a little known shortstop called up from the minors. That shortstop rode his opportunity all the way to the Hall of Fame by being a smooth fielding shortstop and a strong contact rate. That man was Joe Sewell.
Sewell was a top shortstop during the 1920’s and 1930’s. He hit .312/.391/.413 with a wRC+ of 111 in 14 seasons for both the Indians and Yankees. In his 7000 at bats, he collected 49 homers, 436 doubles and 68 triples. While not a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, Sewell drove in over 1000 runs and scored 1400 times, despite being a below average runner (74 steals to 72 caught stealing). In the field, Sewell was a good fielder, being worth 86 runs defensively.
Sewell was famed for his ability to make contact with the ball. His career high in strikeouts was 20. He struck out fewer than 10 times in all but four of his seasons in the big leagues. He claimed that when first called up from the minors, he was given a bat from a teammate and used it throughout his career without ever breaking it. What’s even more remarkable was that he did this while playing almost every day. From the time of his callup in 1920 until 1929, he was in every game for the Indians. In each of those years, he hit no lower than .299 and an OBP no lower than .372. It was on the strength of this stretch that he gained a resume for the Hall of Fame.
Upon his retirement, Sewell was well regarded for his bat work and his glove. He still had to wait until 1977 for enshrinement for some reason. He probably didn’t hit for enough power to get noticed by the BBWAA, and a shortstop with no power and not having 3000 hits made it difficult for the older BBWAA to take notice of him. Still, he was an excellent pick for the Hall of Fame.
Stay tuned for the next update.
On deck 10/14/16 This right fielder was one of the most reviled choices of the recent BBWAA.