Baseball’s Mr. Contact: Joe Sewell and His Incredible 4-Strikeout Season
Hall-of-Fame Infielder Joe Sewell struck out just four times in 699 plate appearances in 1925
Baseball Hall-of-Fame shortstop and third baseman Joe Sewell was a good defender, who hit .312 during a 14-year big league career. However, he is perhaps best known for his aversion to strikeouts, as he whiffed a microscopic 114 times in 8,333 plate appearances.
The 5’6” left-handed hitting Sewell played his first 11 seasons (1920–1930) with the Cleveland Indians, starring as a consistent offensive force in the infield. He spent his final years (1931–1934) with the New York Yankees before retiring at the age of 34. In addition to his .312 average, he belted 436 doubles, 49 home runs and drove in 1,054 runs.
In 1925, while with the Indians, he hit .336 and came to the plate 699 times, only striking out a total of four times. No other batter in MLB history has ever put the ball in play at a higher rate. But what were the nature of those strikeouts and who claimed the honor of sitting down the man who seemingly always put his bat on the ball?
Sewell’s first strikeout of 1925 came on April 18th in just the fourth game of the season, a 5–3 victory against the Detroit Tigers. Having already singled twice, he faced Ed Wells in the top of the seventh inning. Cleveland had already scored three times in the inning before he took a called third strike, ending the rally.
The left-handed Wells was a journeyman, posting a combined 68–69 record in 11 big-league seasons. He was also no strikeout artist, fanning just 2.9 per nine innings in his career. In 1925, he struck out just 45 batters in 135.1 innings, but was able to slip one past the king of contact.
On May 1st, Sewell added to his strikeout total. In the first inning, once again facing Wells and the Tigers, he went down without putting the ball in play. During the remainder of the game, he went on to contribute a single and three walks, as the Indians eked out an 8–7 victory.
It remains to be seen what made Wells so tough that year. Sewell hit him well throughout his career, with Baseball Reference showing he had 20 hits in 55 at bats (.364 average), although Wells struck him out a total of three times. Lefties were also no problem for the future Cooperstown inductee, and he hit them just as well as righties.
On May 30th, Cleveland was getting pummeled 9–2 in the second game of a doubleheader against the Tigers (Again!), when Sewell went down looking in the top of the sixth inning at the hands of Dutch Leonard. He did not reach base during the game that the Indians went on to lose 10–2.
The left-handed Leonard was a solid hurler for 11 seasons, winning 139 games with a 2.76 ERA. He was also a strikeout pitcher, leading the American League in strikeouts per nine innings twice. 1925 was his final season and he made just 10 more starts after the game where he struck out Sewell.
In game 102 of the season, Sewell struck out for the fourth and final time that year. Playing at Yankees Stadium against the New York Yankees, he struck out against Bob Shawkey to end the top of the eighth inning. Cleveland went on to win 3–2.
Shawkey, a veteran right-hander was in his 12th season. He had won a total of 110 games over the previous six seasons, but at the age of 34 had finally lost his effectiveness. He was just 6–14 with a 4.11 ERA in 1925, strikeout out 81 in 186 innings, He finished his career with 195 wins and a 3.09 ERA.
During the final nine years of his career, Sewell never struck out more than nine times in any one season, and a grand total of just 48 times despite being a full-time player. He had seasons where he struck out just four times each in 1929 and 1933, but both came with fewer plate appearances than 1925. He was the greatest contact hitter the game has ever seen and his ability to avoid the whiff is a feat that will never be matched.