Mike Lynch is the founder of the popular and highly respected web site, Seamheads.com. His first book, Harry Frazee, Ban Johnson and the Feud That Nearly Destroyed the American League, was published by McFarland Publishing in 2008 and was named a finalist for the 2009 Larry Ritter Award in addition to being nominated for the Seymour Medal. His second book, It Ain’t So: A Might-Have-Been History of the White Sox in 1919 and Beyond, was released by McFarland in December 2009. His work has also been featured in SABR books about the 1912 Boston Red Sox and 1914 Boston Braves.
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.
When Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts ripped a first-inning single to left field off Colorado Rockies hurler Jon Gray on May 26, he extended his hitting streak to 19 games. Bogaerts’s streak would have been more impressive were teammate Jackie Bradley not on an historic 29-game streak that had him one game from tying Tris Speaker and Nomar Garciaparra for second place on the Red Sox’s all-time batting streak list.
In a year that brought the world the Eskimo Pie, Reader’s Digest, James Joyce’s Ulysses, the rise of Benito Mussolini, the formation of the Soviet Union, and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, 1922 was also a banner year for Major League Baseball. It marked the first time that the league reached 1,000 home runs, boasted three .400 hitters for the only time in the modern era, and saw both batting champs hit .400 for the only time.
Baseball history is replete with brothers who enjoyed successful Major League careers—the DiMaggios, the Alous, Paul and Lloyd Waner, Irish and Bob Meusel, Jim and Gaylord Perry, and Phil and Joe Niekro, to name a handful. Other brothers have served as a punch line: Christy Mathewson won 373 games in a brilliant 17-year career, while his brother Henry appeared in only three games and went 0–1 in a cup of coffee over two seasons. Hank Aaron belted 755 career home runs over 23 seasons and reigned as the all-time home run king for 33 years.
Baseball history is littered with hitters who seemingly came out of nowhere to achieve improbable feats. In 1912 Pirates outfielder Chief Wilson set a modern-day record for triples when he clubbed 36, five more than any other batter had ever recorded and 10 more than any hitter since 1900. Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field was a great park for triples, but Wilson had averaged “only” 11 three baggers a season in his first four campaigns, and there was little evidence he’d set the all-time record.
Going into their game against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 25, 1922, the Chicago Cubs were still within sniffing distance of first place, sitting only six games behind the front-running New York Giants and a game and a half behind the second-place St. Louis Cardinals. At the close of play on August 24, the Cubs ranked fourth in the National League with 595 runs and averaged 4.9 a game, but only the Phillies and Boston Braves allowed more runs than Chicago’s 596.
In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, young Archie Graham (played by Frank Whaley) excitedly lists off the names of some all-time greats standing on a baseball diamond carved out of an Iowa cornfield. “Hey, that’s Smoky Joe Wood. And Mel Ott. And Gil Hodges!” he says of the ghostly ballplayers who would soon become his teammates and opponents in a mythical game captained by “Shoeless Joe” Jackson.
Bill James once dubbed Virgil “Ned” Garvin “the tough luck pitcher of the decade [1900–1910], if not the hard luck pitcher of all time,” and it’s easy to see why. His earned run average was better than league average in each of his six full seasons (he played in seven seasons but tossed only 13 innings in his rookie year), and three times it was outstanding—he finished second in ERA in 1900 and 1904 and fifth in 1902. Yet he went only 58–97 with six different teams, a winning percentage of only .374.
On the morning of October 4, 1902, the Pittsburgh Pirates stood among the all-time great teams with 102 wins, only one victory from setting a new Major League record for wins in a single season. Only Boston’s Beaneaters of 1892 and 1898 had won as many, and the Pirates needed only to cop their final game of the ’02 campaign to become the first Major League team with 103 wins.